Google, that now indispensible servant for the curious seeker of information, reveals – among a myriad of other facts – that Galway is the fourth most populous city in the Republic, and the sixth most populous on the island of Ireland. From Wikipedia we learn that Galway “is known as Ireland's Cultural Heart and is renowned for its vibrant lifestyle and numerous festivals, celebrations and events”, including, of course, the internationally renowned Galway Arts Festival.
We are further told that there are “three dance organisations, ten festival companies, two film organisations, two Irish language organisations, 23 musical organisations, twelve theatre companies, two visual arts groups, and four writers' groups based in the city”, along with “51 venues for events, most of which were specialised for a certain field (e.g. concert venues or visual arts galleries ), though ten are described as being 'multiple event' venues.
Yet, despite being named in 2007 as “one of the eight "sexiest cities" in the world”, another Google search reveals that unlike Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Letterkenny, Tralee, Kilkenny, Drogheda, Sligo, Castlebar (the list is embarrassingly long ), when it comes to permanent art galleries where the work of national and local Irish artists may be seen together under one roof, Galway drops out of the running because it hasn’t got one.
This unhappy – is scandalous too strong a word? – situation was brought home dramatically at this Monday’s city council meeting when director of services Tom Connell told councillors that the Daly Collection, which included paintings by major Irish artists such as Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry and Sir John Lavery, had been returned to the estate of owner and philanthropist Peter Daly last April after lying unseen in storage for 23 years – it had been on loan to Galway City Council, then known as Galway Corporation in 1989 - because there was no place to display it.
Even more embarrassing, not only was this important collection of paintings and sculptures returned without the knowledge or consent of a number of councillors, but since leaving Galway it is in the process of being sold at auction.
So Galway, ‘Ireland’s Cultural Heart’, has lost a collection that could have – that should have - been the core of a major municipal art gallery showcasing Irish artists, old and new, as yet another jewel in Galway’s world-wide reputation.
There have been attempts to create a municipal art gallery for decades, none of which has come to anything. But it seems the shock of some councillors – including those who first learned of its return last April – may have started the ball rolling with the passage of a motion to investigate the return of Lynch’s Castle, currently occupied by AIB, to the city as a possible municipal gallery and performance space.
This is an exciting development and the Galway Advertiser warmly supports this proposal. Lynch’s Castle is one of the finest medieval town houses in Ireland, a ‘must-see’ for anyone visiting Galway. With the spacious redevelopment undertaken a few years ago (though this involved a deplorable planning decision, over the objections of An Taisce and the council’s Heritage Office, to demolish later additions to the castle ), the premises would be a splendid multi-purpose venue, and would create a superb new focus for the city’s ever-burgeoning arts scene. As Councillor Hildegarde Naughton reiterated, it is high time Galway had a gallery to showcase its rich culture heritage. If the anger and dismay over the loss of the Daly Collection results in a municipal art gallery for Galway at last, it may in future be seen as a happy irony.