Physically, of course, Salthill has changed dramatically since the early years of the last century when the beaches were rocky, and the scattered houses and lodges offered sea baths and confined bathing geared for the protection of women’s modesty. Men, no doubt, could show off their swimming and diving skills with abandonment, but could risk becoming the subject of comment (adverse or otherwise ) of a unique Salthill ‘People’s Parliament’ known to all as the Lazy Wall.
Sheltered from the western wind, and tucked away from common sight, the long stone seat was occupied from morning to evening with Salthill’s summer regulars, some of whom were such familiar occupants that they were known Na Fámairí. Paul McGinley tells us in his excellent history of Salthill,* that it was the country families of Connacht who first valued Salthill as a summer destination, and filled the boarding houses and pubs of the seaside village. Na Fámairí proved to be the mainstay of smaller businesses, whose seasonal earnings depended primarily on a provincial rural trade. It was the people of the land who ‘made Salthill a resort, and the Lazy Wall an institution.
Dress for North Pole
In fact country people ‘discovered’ Salthill before the people of the town recognised its potential. It was not uncommon for for farmers and their wives to rear an extra calf or two to be sold off to pay the cost of ‘taking the water’ after the harvest has been saved.
In 1909 The Galway Expresse observed that the ladies dressed in their best clothes, and as many layers that they could carry even on the hottest day….’to keep off the sun the ladies wore ‘a white linen cap’ held in place with a ‘heavy woollen head-kerchief.’ Round their shoulders they wore a shawl, usually made of cashmere wool. ‘Dark red and purple’ being favourite colours. ‘Their gathered skirts and the plainly cut bodice of early Victorian days still held sway.’ Underneath the ‘voluminous skirt’ (covered by a black cashmere apron ), a ‘heavy fleecy gay-coloured petticoat is shown, trimmed with a row of black velvet’; and the ensemble is topped off with a pair of woollen stockings, and hand-made lace boots.
The Express noted that although this attire is more suitable for North Pole exploration, the ladies carry it off without a murmur of discomfort even on the hottest day. ‘The elderly ladies sit in rows gazing dreamingly out to sea. If they talk to one another it is in the soft, low tones of their native Gaelic. Their voices mingle naturally with the soft gurgling of the sea amongst the rocks’.
Laughter in court
The Lazy Wall is a place ‘where men can can talk of crops and prices’, the Connacht Sentinel wrote some years later, a place where matrimonial matches were discussed, where family stories were exchanged, where achievements by their children were boasted, and the role they played in events of 50 years ago….’A place too where women can talk of fowl, eggs and all the other things that make up life in a country kitchen, where they can discuss their families, their neighbours and their illnesses, their own deeds, and their neighbours’ deeds and their misdeeds.’
When a visiting justice, the honourable Wyse Power, was ruling on granting a liquor licence to the new Banba Hotel, which was described as being located ‘near the Lazy Wall in Salthill,’ he looked around the court puzzled; “The Lazy Wall? Where is that?”
His query was greeted by prolonged laughter.
Next week: Salthill’s Famine Roads
NOTES: Salthill - A History, published by Carrowmore, Dublin, on sale €30.