Galway is a place defined by summer. When we call to mind all that we love about the place, we see blue skies and colourful costumes. We sense the sweet smells of exotic foods cooking in a street kitchen. We hear the strumming of guitars, the banging of drums. We see the advancing battle for space on our streets as visitors flock in their tens of thousands to sample what is wondrous about here when the sun shines.
Maybe there are places in the country less defined by what happens at this time of the year; places where the pace of life beats along to a more placid and regular rhythm. Not so, Galway. It starts with the arrival of the movers and shakers in the film industry pitching their product;and within hours of that ending, the mammoth that is the Galway International Arts Festival takes off and drags us through a colourful maelstrom of excitement and music and hot summer nights and small intimate performances and the colourful takeover of Eyre Square, right up to the night before the Races would normally start.
You could almost see the flocks of one type of punter fleeing town after effectively a month of high culture, and meeting the racing fans coming in; packing out our hotels and guesthouses, tweed-dressed in Peaky Blinder clobber and bronzed from head to painted toe.
Because of this, we will find the changed circumstances even more trying. At a time when were everyone worked, annual leave was defined by the Races. The build up was dominated by the need to get things done before ‘the Races.’ Factories closed, and even builders in the boom times took time off for ‘the Races.’ The completion of a task was often defined by its promximity to ‘the Races’. “Ah now, ya havent a hope in hell of getting that done before the Races.’’
The soft putt-putt of the Guinness barrels bouncing from the trucks onto the loading mats used to break their fall, be heard all over town as locals got ready to share their space once again at the height of summer.
Stand these blue-skied weekends alongside the flashes of maroon and white on pitches up and down the country; the hackneyed summer sound of Sundays that we all grew up on; the camaraderie as our teams do battle for the greatest honours in their games. Their honed bodies working like pistons on old steam trains in sunshine, so that they can bask the winter long with the ribbons of the cup dangling in their hands.
This is Galway as we have known it for more than a century and a half. In all that time, one or all of those attrractions have scripted our summers; have shaped our mood for winter ahead.
And then when the Races would be over, the more pessimistic among us would split the creaking shortening of the evening, the darkening of the day, and the creeping advance of Christmas. But we would do so with the comfort and banked credit of joy from the summer just past.
This summer we will not have any of those joys. This winter we will not look back on sunny games and hot nights of music under canvas by the banks of the Corrib.
But still, we will look back on something. We will look back on what we have achieved in the face of the greatest threat this country has ever faced. And we do this because before we know it, the months will pass, the seasons will change, and a vaccine will be found.
And when that happens, we will all join again doing the things we love, albeit in somewhat changed circumstances. It might alter our behaviour but it will certainly heighten our appreciation of the simple things in life that we are now denied.
We are six weeks into lockdown now. With every week that passes, we adapt more to this new surrounding. We alter the way we live to make it more enjoyable and less onerous. Every day we do this is a day closer to the other side. Galway has a remarkably low rate of COVID-19 despite being a magnet for people. You have done yourselves and your county proud by the manner in which you have adhered to the practice. We deserve the pat on the back, and the odd SnackBox that is now possible to be acquired.
Keep it up. We are nearly up that hill and the slide down the other side will be marvellous.