Impressions of Galway – a spontaneous visitor notes…

A number of reputable guidebooks praise Galway, the capital of the West of Ireland as a ‘delight’, a home for a bohemian ‘crowd of artists, musicians, intellectuals’. Well, it’s probably the matter of a taste, but I couldn’t experience that ‘delight’ – maybe – encouraged by such a promising intro I was looking too hard to see it embodied. On the other hand, my main aim was to reach Ireland’s two wonders of nature – Connemara and Aran Islands, both further west of Galway. Yet, being a spontaneous visitor I hit the wall – it proved to be impossible to leave the city in those directions after 12 o’clock (by public transport), contrary to what most of the booklets say. I wonder – it’s the a peak of a tourist’s season!

Letting myself flow with the crowds of visitors (for I just couldn’t come across that ‘crowd of artists’) I set off to explore the city. Its first striking feature was the tourists-orientated display of ‘Irish-ness’ – unfortunately in its most shallow, cliche, kitsch rendition. But that is easily explainable, for this area is virtually flooded with foreign guests, not all of them necessary recognise Oscar Wilde in a sitting figure, whose sneering grimace decorates the main street (my interest in the sculpture caused a little gathering of passersby… all asking themselves who was it).

But pretty alarming was a virtual lack of an acceptable (not to mention ‘high’) visual art to view/ buy. Commercial galleries are not even worth mentioning, in the City Museum the wall-space usually reserved for paintings and artefacts has been taken by informative boards describing, in huge writing, the history of the region. It looked like the lack of an actual objects of interest had to be ‘filled in’ that way. Arts Center was in the middle of installing something quite average (as for my taste). And it’s difficult to imagine than now, when I’m writing these words Galway hosts international Arts Festival (14-27 July).

Its programme looks reassuring, yet what I would propose to organizers is a sort of a carnet-system, an all-events ticket with a proper discount. It’s frustrating that in a country as wealthy as this one the access to some more ambitious cultural phenomena is restricted due to the considerable charges. Ancient Greece should serve as an example here, where free-access amphitheaters were built in dozens to cater for everyone willing to participate in an artistic feast. Maybe that’s why this civilization could ever been a birthplace for tens of highly sophisticated souls and minds. An from my own experience I know about many delectable concerts, street-theaters or other artistic performances available still free to the public throughout the Center and East Europe. For there is something deeply wrong with that, so popular now procedure of pushing arts, which are designed to be public by its raison d’etre (there is a different case with usual theater or opera performances) on a highly commercial route and virtually selling it like any other commodity. Indeed, one cannot help thinking that those hugely promoted summer Arts Festivals are meant to squeeze money out of the public, just like modern, well-organised shopping centers do.

To finish more optimistically: even being deprived of going far West to the touristic “must-s”, it’s enough to make one’s, usually long way up to Galway to experience those moody, watery lands, hauntingly hilly and rocky from the South and North, deliciously open, airy and green from East as unique and unforgettable. It was on a bus back – we got caught into a ferocious storm, I watched mesmerised like streams of water unified empty sky with the empty land beneath and filled it at once with a strange and wild presence of a dream-like reality. I’ve got a felling of my journey being like a dream, and each of ours journeys being like a transitional suspense in what’s life and human beings’ duty. Just being carried away… the destination at the same time known and a complete mystery… Probably that’s why so many former passengers, just off-the bus, train, plane have that melancholic air around them. For the trance is gone and they are obliged to look and behave like those who know exactly where and why they go…

St. Nicholas (Market St.), one of the illuminating places in Galway

Despite their rather stony appearance these street-performers (and many others alike) help to keep the city alive with some creativity.

Woody, human-made places are not a threat in Ireland; fortunately one is always close to some good quality open spaces…

Watery lands, dreamy lands…

About kasia

Born in Poland. Lives in Ireland, Cork. Visual artist. View all posts by kasia

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