Small minority overrule Galway music tradition

Dear Editor,

It’s appalling to once again see a minority group overrule the majority. This time it’s a very small number of business people trying to overrule and destroy the great Galway tradition of busking and street entertainment. With the help of 12 councillors who obviously have little appreciation for this city’s world famous musical heritage and traditions, they will soon introduce a bye-law which in my and many others’ opinions, will destroy this city’s busking and street entertainment and ruin the ambiance of the city which has taken years to create.

Poor blind Joe Gaynor, the first Galway busker I remember, who played his accordion for 30 years across from where Eduard and Oscar Wilde’s sculpture now sits, must be rolling in his grave, poor man.

We are told the restrictions introduced in the bye-law are because the Galway City Business Association released a statement saying buskers have caused “extended periods of excessive noise”, and would you believe, “impacted the health and safety of their employees.” Now there’s a stretch of the imagination if ever there was one, and “created obstructions to their businesses”.

I would have thought that having people milling around my business causing congestion and even obstructions would be a welcomed thing, but there you are, you can’t please all the people all of the time.

It is absolutely astonishing that these business people don’t seem to realise that a major portion of their business is coming because of these “extended periods of noise”: I dropped the word “excessive” as it is a subjective one and has not been quantified and so is really meaningless other than to hype the issue.

I would call it all the “hustle and “bustle” of a growing city and it is attracting visitors and shoppers from all parts of this city and county, and beyond, and tourists by the bus load from the four corners of the planet, literally. A business person would be insane to want to destroy what has to be a “golden goose” for them.

However, I must say that hearing the same song or tune over and over again can be annoying, so I believe all street entertainers should move around during the day, perhaps every two hours or so, which has been recommended in the bye-law. Also busking positions should not be reserved, which the bye-law also addresses and I think is fair.

I also think that “circle” events should be given an area in front of Supermacs, at the top of Eyre Square, and another on the Fish Market near the museum, in front of Jury’s hotel, to alleviate large crowds forming in pedestrian areas. Walking tours of the city, sometimes with large groups, also cause congestion; should we restrict these too? Perhaps they should only be allowed give tours after the shops close. If this arrangement sounds harsh and unworkable then think how the buskers and entertainers feel.

Perhaps these so called “obstructions” are actually caused by a different factor altogether, it being the population increase of our growing city. It is clear from the way Galway planners are restricting access to Galway city, with a huge Garda station in Renmore that prevents a key access route to the city from ever being expanded; a planned bypass that only starts at Briarhill instead of Carnmore, which ends before Barna and which will create utter chaos on the Moycullen road near the university, are also unaware of this population growth within the city and its county too. It is this population increase that is causing most of the congestion on our city streets, not the buskers and street entertainers.In 1991 the population of the city was 50,853 people, the 2016 census showed the city population to be 79,934, an increase of 57%. Now if there are 57% more people living in the city than there were in 1991 it is obvious that some congestion will occur. As I have already said the buskers and street entertainers are not the ones directly responsible for this growth. However they are responsible for creating the atmosphere that makes Galway city buzz, and make it a great place to live in. so I suppose they could be held partially responsible for the population growth and vast numbers of visitors.

Let’s hope the councillors and “City Hall” realise what they have before they destroy it. Our county population is growing exponentially too; in 1996 we had 188,000 people in the county, by 2011 it had grown to 251,000, an increase of 33%. The people living in Galway County’s 111 major towns and numerous small villages are also entitled to go into their city. They spend their hard earned cash in it, but also add to the congestion; should they be restricted from coming in to the city?

Car, bus and train travel in recent years have improved to the extent that people living outside the city can now come in for a day out, shop, have a coffee or a drink, listen to the buskers and generally soak up the atmosphere of what is now a vibrant city,

So now that the cause of congestion has been highlighted let’s talk about noise. “Noise” is defined as a “sound, especially one that is loud, unpleasant or disturbing”. It is a subjective issue; what to one man is music may be bedlam to another. However the fact that there are 18 church choirs in the city, 19 schools with choirs, at least 10 major choirs and numerous others, choirs in industry and clubs, group choirs and enough pub musicians to keep the bulk of the 80,000 city dwellers entertained seven nights each week, not to mention all the tourists and country folk, that it must be obvious that most people enjoy music and interpret this street “noise” as pleasant music, and something worth donating money to hear.

So who are these 12 councillors really representing? It definitely is not the vast majority of these music loving 80,000 city residents who they purport to represent and they apparently have no concerns whatsoever for our tourism business.

It is unbelievable that a few of Galway’s hostelries, cafés, hotels, cathedrals, and of course its shops that depend on visitors and shoppers, local, national and worldwide, are so shortsighted that they now want to restrict busking and street entertainers, the very thing that attracts their customers to the city. Unbelievable!

Why not learn from our European neighbours! Take Barcelona, or better still Madrid; now there is a city that respects its buskers and benefits financially by it. Go and see how they do things. Their councillors are obviously not pawns for a few crank rate payers.

Perhaps our sensitive shop keepers and other complainers should try working in some of the industries on the outskirts of the city for a while to fully understand the concept of noise. Work a power press punching out steel blanks for a day, or stand in the rain at a quarry stone crushing plant, or even work in a disco bar for a night, then perhaps they would learn what real “noise” is and make them appreciate how good their working environment really is.

If health and safety is your true gripe then use ear plugs. They allow speech to be heard but limit background sounds. They are small cheap discreet devices available from most chemists, or even find a different job.

The new bye-law prohibits buskers from using any type of backing tracks or amplifiers during the daytime, which is absolutely absurd. This ruling shows how little those drafting the bye-law rules actually know or understand about sound, modern music or its technology.

Amplifiers and backing tracks are a vital feature today for buskers and street entertainers, and banning them is preposterous. In fact most singers and musicians use them because they add a fuller spectrum of sound which enhances the whole listening experience thus making it more entertaining. As I stated earlier, a realistic, easily measured system to limit sound levels is what should be introduced.

It is ridiculous to think that those drafting a bye-law concerning sound obviously have a total lack of knowledge on the topic or experience in the music field. Why were they let draft this bye-law?

It would be ludicrous to watch a dancer perform without music?

This whole bye-law in its current form is humbug, and perhaps even discriminatory!

With councillors like the 12 who voted for this bye-law which, unless edited, will destroy a musical heritage started long ago by poor old Joe Gaynor, God be good to him, it’s not surprising that Galway doesn’t have a large theatre like perhaps the Waterfront in Belfast which has 2,241 seats, or Derry’s Millennium which has 1,000 seats and the largest stage in Ireland. Limerick’s University Hall and Cork’s Opera House, both have 1,000 seats. Dublin of course has its NCH with 2,000 seats, Bord Gais has 2,111 and the O3 has 13,000.

Galway has of course the Black Box with a staggering 600 seats, well done City Hall.

To conclude can I ask the general public, all the musicians, choristers, street performers, and all the other Galway people that do appreciate and want our buskers and street performers to remain on our streets, to demand that councillors repeal their hideous, short sighted, biased and unworkable bye-law.

More importantly be careful who you elect next time.

City of Culture my ass!

Yours,

Tommy Cormican,

Ballinasloe.

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