Time to bring culture gong home for the west

Tomorrow five weeks, on July 15, at around ten past one, when you’re about to take the first bite of your lunchtime sandwich, with the radio on, we might might rue the fact we didn’t do more, that we didn’t try harder. Because at that moment, at that time, it will be too late to make a difference. At that time, the winner of the European Capital of Culture title for 2020 will have been announced. And in two centres, there will be crying, beating of breasts and gnashing of teeth. And in one city, there will be gnashing of breasts and beating of teeth.

In one place, people in coloured teeshirts will hug the bejaysus out of each other and cry tears of joy. In two other places, there will be back slapping, utterings of things like ‘musha, sure ’twas great while it lasted. and sure there’s always 2049 or 2082. Sure there is.” And in those cities which lose out, there will be general disappointment and inquisition as to how some other city managed to pass them out.

This is the opportunity of a generation. For a generation.

And anything that comes west, whether it be Mayo or Galway, is good for us all. If Galway wins this accolade, it will bring a boost of about €100 million to the region. And this is from cultural tourism, an aspect that we have not yet fully exploited in both Mayo and Galway.

There is no doubt that Galway has a very strong case. Put its name among the list of cities and write them down and show them to a stranger, and culture will be the first word to hop out of their mouth when they see Galway. But the perception of Galway alone as a city of culture will not be enough to win. We need to show why we want it. Really want it. The other cities feel they have equally as good as a case as we have. They point to greater infrastructure, to a wider array of cultural creatives, to a more contemporary engagement with the arts, but what Galway has is unique among those Irish applicant cities. It has a culture that is linked to the soul of everyone who lives and works here.

And here in Mayo, we are inextricably linked to Galway. from the moment we had shoes, we stuck out a thumb and headed south (even though we always said ‘up to Galway.’ ) And what many of have found there, has contributed to the betterment of all our lives. I always tell my Galway colleagues that were it not for us Mayo folks in Galway, there’d be sheep grazing in Eyre Square still.

On July 11, the team of judges will arrive in Galway, sneak into some unnamed hotel, pop their bags on the bed, throw on their comfy shoes and walk down town, where they will inhale and exhale and become infected by the Galwayness that makes living in this rocky outpost on the edge of the Atlantic what it is.

The judges will not be fooled by special events held to coincide with their events, nor do we want them to be. We want them to experience the Galway as it is now and tomorrow and the day after — a place where music and performance and art and food and sport all play a role in defining the city. All mixed up together to create the sense of Galwayness that exploded last week when thousands followed Connacht home from Ireland West Airport.

In one sense, it might seem that we should do little because what we do is so natural to us. That we don’t want to gimmick it up too much. But like the time when the driving instructor wants to make sure you’re looking in your rear mirror during your test, ’tis no harm to exaggerate things a bit to show that you are really doing what you say you are doing.

As I said here a few weeks ago about Connacht. Everything that is good for Galway is good for all of us here in the west. It creates an environment where our children can find work and find fulfilment and fun. And where the quality of life and inclusion is maximised.

When the judges come here in a few weeks’ time, we want them to be imbued with a sense of pride that we have in all our artists, past and present. We want them to feel the desire that inspired Garry Hynes and Tourmakeady’s Mick Lally; the salty air of Nora Barnacle and Walter Macken, the rustled leafyness that fed Yeats and Gregory; the modern city that gave us Julian Gough and Ken Bruen and Mayo’s Mike McCormick. And thousands of others who are inspired by it every single day.

It is this sort of madness is what makes Galway different. There is always something like this on in the city centre and in the towns and villages around the county. From Clifden to Headford to Athenry to Carrabane to Gort, Galway is hopping with cultural activity. Mayo people have been fulsome in their support for Galway2020 because we know the benefits that will come will spread past the borders at Headford and Leenane; that the ripples will grow larger across Lough Corrib and Mask, that those who will experience Galway in 2020 as European Capital of Culture will undoubtedly visit our county as well.

If Galway gets this accolade, it will set this city and region up for a century and beyond. Here in the west, things don’t come easily, you have to shout louder, to write more, to put your head further above the parapet.

Galway deserves it in so many many ways. Now it is up to us to bring it home. If only to stop us spitting out our sambos in exasperation on that lunchtime on July 15.



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