Just as if to show that nothing much changes, there was heavy traffic too on the first morning I came to college in Galway 36 years ago this week. The September sun was shining, and a band of us packed into the back of a mate’s car were winging our way to a new city and new life. As we swung around by the Galway Shopping Centre, the local radio station WLS was blaring out We Built This City (on rock and roll ) and life seemed good.
While in reality the city was built on more than rock and roll, the foundation of the city as we now know it is linked in no small way to the presence of the third level colleges which bookend the city. Every year, this trek brings fresh faces, injecting new energy into the place, bringing in thinkers and do-ers and people who want to learn and who also want to have fun.
The same trek is happening this week but this year it is different. This year, even those who were here before have a fresh look about them, having being cocooned away from campus for the past year and a half.
It is so delightful to talk to so many students these past few weeks and share their excitement at being able to go back onto campus, after 18 months of sitting at home or in a small expensive bedsits bluefaced from the glare of the screen which has acted as their college gate.
For those who choose to go to college, it is a wonderful time of self-discovery and advancement. You make friends you keep for life, you get to know the ways of the world, and you shake yourself free of whatever shaped you in the place that you call home.
Not more than ever, this is important. Now, at a time when we need new thinkers to shape a post pandemic world after a long reminder of our own vulnerability.
For the past year, I was a student myself at NUI Galway, but alas I never got to meet my Masters classmates, or indeed to set foot on the campus at any stage. This is ok for the likes of auld fogies like myself, but for those for whom college is more life defining, it was a much more difficult time.
So we welcome you back with open elbows, and nods and a new way of living safely. We hope that you all embrace the liberties you have so missed. Our streets have felt empty without your colour and your sound.
The Advertiser too owes a great debt to the student population. For decades, it has been a rite of passage to find a home or a bicycle in our small ads. Hundreds and hundreds queued up each year in those early months. We are fortunate to live in a city that possesses the vivacity created by students. Long may that last.
So we issue a loud Cead Mile Failte to the thousands of students who are returning to college and campus this week at all levels. To those who are arriving here for the first time, our welcome is even more intense. Explore Galway, get to know it and use it as the springboard for making yourself the best possible version you can make. Enjoy all the fun and activity there is to enjoy, but do so safely. Know too that there are many people who will help you, if you need help. And everyone needs help.
In your time here, we hope that this city will make you feel welcomed, will not infringe on any of your rights, will keep you safe when you are feeling down and become a place that you can truly call a second home.
Welcome to Galway. Let it shape you.