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The Pull of the City of the Tribes

By Cormac MacConnell

Cormac MacConnell
Cormac MacConnell
Galway was busy and buzzing in all its streets - it was the run up to Saint Patrick's Day. My eldest son Cuan and I, gently and peacefully, are in Mick Taylor's famous pub in the West End, and we will be in the Crane Bar later, and, as always, the atmosphere is dyed green and special, not just in Taylor's and in The Crane, but just about everywhere. Every evening is Saint Patrick's Evening in Galway. There is no need at all to rush into the business of drowning the shamrock.

In one of the bars there is a young American man sitting on a corner stool. He is heavily bearded and long-haired, with a gentle reflective face such as one sees in the corner of the old paintings of the Last Supper. He is rolling his own cigarettes, talking to the barmaid easily, and there is a designer type of rent in the knees of his jeans. I've not seen him before, I reflect quietly to Cuan, who has also never seen him before, but, yes, I have seen so many other young world wanderers, physically so like him, over the last twenty years in the City of the Tribes.

And that leads me into the thought of that other Tribe of Galway, the young ones from all over the world who come to this magic town, often on holidays, just for a week, and are captured by some gentle barb that Galway is equipped with, and stay, and stay, and stay. One week turns into a month and the next thing you begin to know their faces, and the next thing they are part of the social landscape. And they add an extra colourful dimension to the old Celtic town.

Cajun fiddles they add, blues and lonesome guitars, buskerology in the rain, ponchos and serapes and jeans with the rent in exactly the same place about the knee, or pied piper trousers. And silver rings about their thumbs, face-painting, making necklaces, playing small strange harps, adding their captured essences to the mix that is the Western capital, their ringlets and long ponytails and Faginised beards jerking and bobbing to the jigs and reels and hornpipes of the City that, maybe mercilessly enough, spears their souls and roots them to itself day after day after night after summer after winter. And you see them coming, these gentle ones, boys and girls, from Germany and France, from Italy and Holland and Spain, from Japan (and it can make their Oriental faces as alive, too, as any from Connnemara!) and from New Zealand and Down Under. And you see them staying, tanned in summer, heavy-wrapped in winter, and when you talk to them, as I have a thousand times, they will tell you they never wish to leave.

They were coming before there was an economic boom to create jobs. They were coming and getting tangled up in the web of the place, probably since the start of the century, maybe before. And sitting with Cuan in the awakening bars of the evening, I was thinking to myself that I have never yet been made aware of any of them leaving. Maybe they leave as unheralded as they come. I know many of them stay more or less permanently, these Captured Children of the Corrib, becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves in the old cliche. But some of them, maybe even the majority of them, do leave, do catch that bus away, that train away, that plane from the Airport that breaks the spell.

There is a German man I know, a lovely man, older than most of them, who keeps coming back every available day and night, and is building a house in Connemara, yet still works and exists in Germany. But he says that he was hooked by Galway from the first time he came, more than a decade ago, and he has never been able to break the spell at all. And now he does not want to.

I look at the young bearded American I know so well, but do not know. He looks back at me and smiles broadly and says it is a great City. I ask him how long he has been here and how long he will be staying. It is a kind of test. He came, he says, in the last week of February and only intended to stay for two or three nights before going off to tour Ireland. And he will stay, he says, at least until after Saint Patrick's Day.

You'll stay much longer than that, is what I think in my head. And yes, I know I'm right, and I will probably see him again, a lot browner, deep in the heart of the Galway summer, still not wanting to leave.

Cormac MacConnell can be contacted at cormac@clarefm.ie

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