Sunday on the Prom

I stopped on the prom this morning after a quick stop at one of the local markets.  I had purchased a crescent roll at the market and a cappuccino at a seaside stall and so sat on the rocks near the beach and enjoyed my snack and people watching.  There were a number of people that were pasty white tending to lobster, small children enjoying chasing and being chased by the very small waves, larger children with boogie boards (though no waves big enough to ride them on), small inflatable rafts, and teenagers (both aloof and engaged).  I saw a nude child playing in the sand, young adults swimming in the bay, and the Galwegian women’s penchant for changing into/out of their swimsuits in full view of everyone.  I should probably explain that the women change under a towel so nothing is seen but it is a neat trick.  There was a nice breeze blowing, the sun was shining, and it was a good day for a quick study in human interactions.

— Claude

A Sunday of Historic Cycling

I have been meaning to write this post for several days and finally have the chance to sit down and do so.  Last Sunday I went on “Off the Beaten Path” an historic cycling trip with Brendan Smith, a fellow I know from DERI.  He is a fount of knowledge about local history and Irish linguistics.  We started the tour at the Castlegar area to the North East of Galway proper.

Castle at the racetrack

Before we started Brendan talked about “Bóthar An Chóiste” (the road we were on).  It means the road of the carriage.  It seems that before the famine years (1840s) the area was very much a wetlands of the Corribe river, so much so that a raised road was built across the area so that the carriages could traverse it.  This road was called …. you guessed it, “Bóthar An Chóiste.”  Brendan went on to point out that most Irish place names are descriptive: pàircmore (parkmore) — big park, inishmore — big island,  Bóthar Na Tra — road to the beach, Na Tra (Salthill) — the beach.  He later told me that Bòthar literally means big cow path where “Bó” means cow.  “Bóithrín” means a smaller road like a lane or trail and seems to literally mean small cow path.

Anyway, during the famine years public works projects built dikes that reduced the water and dried up the wetlands, and today, after the building boom Celtic Tiger years, much of the area has been subdivided and built upon.  The Galway Civic Trust has been working to preserve public access to many of the historic sites and old Bóithrín in and around Galway city.

Our first stop was the castle of Castlegar itself.  Now this is not the prototypical castle that comes to the American mind at the mention of the word.  Put Buckingham right out of your mind and think more of a square tower three or four stories high, this was to be the typical form of all the castles we saw on the day.

Next to the castle is a small road (a bóithrín I suppose) that leads down to an old well.  Before the building of the dikes the castle would have been next to the wetlands and the well would have had water for drinking or washing.  When I saw it, it was a dry hole in the ground with well worn rock steps leading down into it.  While at the well we heard the family history of a local council member who said that his grandmother (or great-grandmother) traveled to the Castlegar area by boat up from Galway and that it was a large Gaeltacht.”caisleán gearr” or short castle, not due to its stature but because the owner did not live in it long.  The story, as related to me, is that Richard Burke (de Burgo), fourth Earl of Clanricarde demanded back taxes from O Flaherty and sent his son around to collect them.   O Flaherty invited the son in for dinner, said he would pay, but during the dinner the chair on which the son sat dropped him through the floor and into the dungeon where he was executed.   O Flaherty’s men then rode to Burke’s Menlo Castle where they tossed the head in a bog over the wall saying: “There are your taxes.”  Burke is then said to have built Castlegar because it was farther from the river where the O Flahertys were but then after staying a short time (one night?) he moved on to Portumna castle.

The group walking near the racetrack

When we left the well we rode over to the Galway Racecourse, which, in fine Irish tradition, is for horse racing. Our approach was also in line with fine Irish tradition as we took the paths that the locals would have taken to the course not all that long ago – though now there are several gates and fences that must be traversed.

We then rode from through the peat bogs to the castle Cloonacauneen, a nice restored castle with a restaurant.  We rested up and then headed back to “Bóthar An Chóiste” in dribs and drabs.

It was a wonderful day and I would recommend Brendan’s tours to anyone who has the chance to participate.

— Claude

Small town in a big city

This morning Claude was headed off to work as usual when, at the side of the road, he heard a phone ringing.  He stopped to investigate and discovered a woman’s clutch purse, jacket and pumps at the side of the road.  He didn’t get to it in time to answer the phone so he brought it all back to the house for safekeeping.  I looked through the handbag for a quick inventory: make-up, a few paper euros, a credit card and an iPhone.  The phone was locked but the card had a name on it.

Even though I had no intention of going out today, I couldn’t stand the thought of this poor woman panicking all day wondering where her things had been left.  The sun was shining and it was really quite warm out so I decided to walk into town and drop the things at the Garda station.  The prom was jam-packed full of people mostly in a state of undress, at least as skimpily dressed as I have yet seen them, en masse.  The beaches were bustling with sunbathers and kids playing in the surf and sand, there were a number of people swimming in the bay.

Upon my arrival at the Garda station I spoke with a young (and I mean young, like no more than 22) woman and told her about Claude finding the belongings.  She said she thought she knew who it was who lost the items and began pulling on a pair of latex gloves to investigate the purse; when I said the name I had read on the card she just pulled the gloves back off her hands and said she was right.  She seemed actually to be gloating, as if she was going to give the owner a healthy ration of teasing when she contacted her.  I gave the Garda woman our names and mobile number and went on my way, grinning at our encounter and shaking my head at the small town nature of our adopted big city home.  And relieved at the happy ending for the woman who could have had a much worse outcome.

— Cindy

Another beautiful day in Galway

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Had an early doctor appointment this morning.  When I looked outside I saw that it was soft out – that means it was just barely sprinkling rain and only slightly windy – and even though it looked cold it wasn’t even close to being chilly.  I donned my fleece and headed to the bus stop.  It was a productive visit, met with a lovely young woman doctor who said the recurring cough is likely associated with the MS, but could also be a result of sinus blockage.  She gave me a prescription for nasal spray and an inhaler and sent me on my way.  Got to love the efficiency of the health system here, if nothing else.  No mincing words, no dinking around, straight to the point.

Filled my script and by then the sun was out, the wind still blowing.  But hey, we’re right next to the bay, the North Atlantic ocean, the wind is always blowing!  So I grabbed a yummy almond & chocolate croissant at Gourmet Tart and headed to the prom for my walk home.  It’s amazing to me that I now choose to walk the 1 km home instead of waiting for the bus because 6 months ago I wouldn’t even have considered that walk!

Some people enjoy the smell of the ocean, and at times I do as well, but sometimes it has this rank seaweed and dead things odor coming off the shore that makes it a bit unpleasant.  The bay had that smell to it today.  But the walk was still quite refreshing with the brisk sea breeze and the sun just warm enough to make it comfortable.  And in the early parts of the day the prom is virtually empty, making the time spent even more enjoyable.

I’m still taken aback by the fact that walkers here don’t really acknowledge each other as they pass, even though the Irish people are generally very friendly.  But every once in a while I pass a person willing to meet my eye and smile or murmur a greeting and that makes me happy.

When I got home I decided that it has been too long since I have had fresh flowers on the mantelpiece, so I picked a few wildflowers and have them in a pretty vase cheering up the house.

Next week I’ll be back in Colorado for my son’s wedding, then returning to Galway with my mother, uncle and niece.  Then we get to adventure through Ireland some more!

— Cindy

St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church

(Photo courtesy of Google search)

Today I had the great pleasure of finally venturing inside the above-named edifice due to the fact that the Galway Civic Trust is holding the Festival of Heritage this week.  Today’s tour was dubbed as a “secret history” and was conducted by a young man named Conor Riordan, who billed himself as an “astroarchaeologist and historian.”  Wikipedia has a listing for archeoastronomy, which seems like the same thing as Mr. Riordan described.  Anyway, he’s a guy who studies how ancient people viewed the skies and how that affected their lives and beliefs.

A collegiate church is one that is run by a group of ‘secular’ clergy approved by the Pope.  This church is dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of children (Santa Claus) and of seafarers – apropos considering that Galway is a port city.  It has been dated back to its dedication in the year 1320 but there is a portion of the church (the apse) that is thought to have been built and used as a small parish church as far back as the 12th century.  Conor showed us some features on the exterior of the building that lead historians to believe this origin.  The church holds and is surrounded by 450 graves and tombs, all of which are situated with the deceased’s feet pointed toward the west and head toward the east.  That’s a lot of dead folk for such a small property!  No one has been buried there since the early 20th century.  St. Nicholas is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland in continuous use as a place of worship.  It started as a Catholic church but now belongs to the Church of Ireland.  The baptismal font is over 400 years old.

The first stop was at the celtic cross that was erected as a memorial for the members of the Connaught Rangers, nicknamed “The Devil’s Own,” who had lost their lives in World War I.  The carvings on the cross originate from the Book of Kells (which is on display at the Trinity College Library in Dublin).  The regiment was populated by men from the west of Ireland, particularly Galway.  One tragic story sees a brother from one family die at the outset of the war and his elder brother die at the end.  The church displays banners from the regiment as well as flags that were carried into battle and are much worse for the wear in their present state.

Conor pointed out to us a walkway that was once dubbed the “Leper’s Gallery” because some said that’s where lepers had to stand to worship.  However, there were only two leper colonies in Galway at the time the church was built and those who suffered would never have been let inside the city walls.  It’s really just a walkway to get to the belfry.

He led us to the center of the nave, where he showed us the pillars that hold up the church.  It was pointed out that all of the pillars are round with the exception of the one on the southeast.  This one bears the shape of a cross, which some say is associated with the Masons and the Knights Templar.  There is a great deal of Mason history associated with the church; whether it is true or not is information lost to history.  However there are a number of Masonic tombs and one which is said to be that of a knight.  Conor took us outside to show us a tomb that is one of the best known examples of a Masonic burial dating back about 5 centuries.  The most famous visitor was Christopher Columbus, who stayed in Galway for a week and likely worshipped in the church in 1477.

While we were outdoors, he also took time to point out that there are only 3 clocks on the 4 sides of the belfry.  They say that the Protestants took the clock off the south facing side of the tower because most of the people living on that side of town were Catholics – the Catholics then coined the saying that they “couldn’t even give them the time of day.”

We went back indoors and looked at the Lynch transept, dedicated to the Lynch family, one of the Tribes of Galway and a very old and revered family line.  Folks believe that it was the Galway Lynches after whom the term lynching was named.  Stephen Lynch’s memorial is in the transept, but it was defiled by the Cromwellians when they took Galway and attempted to wipe out all traces of Catholicism, most tragically for the church by knocking all the heads and hands off the angels carved on the pillars and walls.  One angel managed to escape their wrath and survives to this day.

The family for whom the main town square of Galway is named, Eyre, are also memorialized and buried in the church.  It is said that Charlotte Bronte came and spent some time in Galway and had occasion to see the large memorial plaque to Jane Eyre on the wall, and thus used this name in her famed novel.  Alas, this is not likely to be true – but it sure makes for a good story!

At the end of the tour Conor took us out to the Lynch Memorial Window and imparted the story of Mayor Lynch taking justice into his hands and hanging his own son, Walter, from the window.  Once again, this story is not likely to be true, but it makes for some great storytelling – and there’s the wall to commemorate it!

St. Nicholas’ is a lovely, well-maintained old church in the heart of Galway; it is open every day of the week and people are welcome to visit.  You can purchase a trinket or hand-made piece of food inside.  Instead I left a small donation as a thanks for allowing me to spend time there.  If you ever find yourself strolling Shop Street and you find you cannot face one more moment of shopping, stop in at St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church and indulge yourself in some fine history.

— Cindy

Here’s the link to the photos on Flickr!