Made my first journey outside of Galway on my own (that is to say not part of the school excursions) on Wednesday, to a town in Connemara called Spiddal. Or, more correctly, An Spideal. I am saying that the Irish spelling is more correct because even though it is only about 10 or 12 miles west, it is in a truly Irish speaking region.
I have become used to seeing Irish on signage all around Galway, where all of the signs are bilingual. But in An Spideal, the signage tended to be solely Irish – no English translations. I stopped into a pub and while the barman spoke English during our short conversation, when some other patrons came in he spoke Irish with them. Actually, it was a lively conversation of the barman and two other people that was probably 80 percent Irish and 20 percent English.
While in An Spideal I also had a sense that I was really seeing Galway Bay for the first time. Yes, the city of Galway is at the edge of the bay and from my window I can see where the River Corrib empties into the bay. But the town is sort of set into a cove, and its difficult to get a good sense of the bay as it reaches out to the North Atlantic. But An Spideal is on the shore of the bay where it really widens out. See the associated photo gallery widget to the right for some of the seascapes.
OK, I totally cheated to get that headline, using Google Translate to have it tell me how to say “Do you speak Irish?” in Irish (which Americans tend to call Gaelic). But I’ve had a couple of interesting experiences with the language recently, which is more common in the west of Ireland than in other parts of the country.
On Monday I stumbled across a trad music program on Raidio na Gaeltachta, the Irish language radio service of RTE. I stopped when channel flipping because of the music before noticing that is the station I had tuned to. I couldn’t understand any of the commentary and discussion between the tunes, and there was a lot of it, as if they were perhaps interviewing the artists about the tunes. But the music itself was good.
And then on Tuesday evening I attended a talk at the public library by Louis de Paor, director of the Center for Irish Studies that hosts my program The topic was an Irish poet named Liam Gogan, who was one of the most prominent Irish language poets in the mid-20th century. Maybe the most prominent one. But what was most interesting was hearing how much Irish was being spoken among the people who attended. Even though the talk was in English, the moderator’s entire introduction of Louis was in Irish, in fact.
When Missy and I held our nightly chat she asked if I had learned any Irish. There are words I recognize when written, so in that sense the answer to the question is “yes.” But it’s really difficult to pick up any spoken words so far. Maybe in time.
Updated 8:30 p.m. Jan. 28 to correct spelling of Gogan’s name
One of the best parts of this program is the excursions we take with students around the country; we went on our first, to Dublin, last weekend. The city actually reminded me a fair bit of London, probably because of the British influence on that part of Ireland and also because of the size and scale when I have become so used to the much smaller and less-hectic Galway.
After leaving Galway pretty early Friday for a three-hour drive we started the Dublin activities with a tour of Croke Park, center of the universe for Irish sport. That was followed by a visit to the Collins Barracks, named for Michael Collins, one of the leaders of 1916. It’s now part of the National Museum, including some interesting displays on military history (naturally). Third stop was a tour of the Guinness factory, which included instruction in how to pour a pint (and the chance to drink the same, of course).
Saturday started with a walking tour of Dublin with a Trinity College instructor who was an expert on 1700s architecture and mostly was interested in pointing out details of the motifs in various carvings/etchings on buildings. Some of it was valuable in terms of how the symbolism reflected rising Irish nationalism, and because she was a late 18th century expert she pointed out parallels that I had not been aware of among the US (1776), and French (1789) revolutions and the United Irishmen abortive uprising of 1798 that led to Act of Union and Irish representation at Westminster. We also saw City Hall, which is a magnificent piece of architecture that originally was a mercantile exchange, and Dublin Castle next to it..
The tour started and ended at Trinity, and finished with a tour of the Book of Kells
exhibit, which has some interesting interpretive panels and The Book itself, of course. But almost more impressive was the Long Hall upstairs at the library, which was really beautiful old architecture full of incredibly tall and narrow stacks and really old books.
Interestingly, an anti-water-charges protest was under way when I got there. Fees for water usage are a big controversy right now. The rally seemed mostly an opportunity for left wing parties to strut their stuff. It was a march that finished, of course, with a rally on the steps of the GPO.
On Saturday evening we took the students to an Abbey Theatre performance of GB Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell,” a late 19th century social satire comedy that was classic Shaw with send-ups of English upper crust pretentiousness. Hilarious stuff, and incredibly well acted. One of the actors was Nick Dunning, who played a pretty prominent role in the first couple of seasons of The Tudors as Lord Boleyn, Anne’s father.
On the return trip Sunday we visited a couple of famous archeological sites. Newgrange is a 3300 BCE vintage megalithic burial site and Clomnacnoise is the remains of a Christian monastery on the River Shannon that was in its heyday from about the 8th century to the 13th century. This makes it one of the first such in Ireland, and it is still fairly well preserved. Both were actually very interesting archeological sites to behold.
By the time we returned on Sunday– I finally got home about 5:30 p.m. – we were all very tired from three long, packed days.
Ireland has been wracked by winter storms this year, essentially hurricanes but with winds that are not-quite hurricane force. (By definition, a hurricane has winds of more than 75 mph; these storms have clocked in around 60-65 mph winds.)
Like hurricanes (and now some US winter storms), they are named. When Storm Desmond hit around Christmas, a Galway-based reporter for RTE (Radio Telefis Eireann, the national broadcaster) named Teresa Mannion gave a live report from Salthill amid high winds and lashing rain. For some reason, the report went viral, with many people doing all manner of mashups and remixes based on her initial report with its strident warnings: DON’T make unnecessary travel, DON’T drive on treacherous roads, STAY OUT of the water.
When I visited RTE’s bureau here in Galway on Friday (Jan 21) to meet some of the journalists who work there, Teresa was among them. When I talked to her, she had just finished recording a series of road safety PSAs. And that’s no irony; she was enlisted to do that did so because of her notoriety about warning people to stay off treacherous roads.
Here are links to the report and some of the mashups:
A visit to the Crane has been on my list of things do to since my first trip to Galway back in April, and it was very much worth doing. Even then, when I had been here only a few days, I heard of the pub’s reputation of hosting the best sessions in Galway. And Friday was a terrific session, in fact. But a couple of conversations with a couple of people at the bar proved even more interesting.
One took place with Bob (whose last name I did not get), who is a Cork native and also a lecturer at Tralee Institute of Technology and a documentarian. He was in Galway for two days of film seminars. He told a great story about one of his recent projects that centered on how a Japanese samurai sword ended up at a West Cork pub after World War II.
The sword was brought home by an Irish doctor who served with the British forces. The doctor, whose name Bob didn’t mention (or at least I didn’t catch it) first served in France, where he was part of the Dunkirk evacuation. He later was sent to Asia, where he was captured by the Japanese and was in a prisoner of war camp near Nagasaki when it was hit by the atomic bomb. When the Japanese surrendered a few days later, and the prisoners were released, he went to work as a doctor helping the victims. Somehow one of the families he helped or one of the Japanese doctors he worked with gave him the sword.
The doctor died a number of years ago, Bob said, but the documentary is really about how his family and the family of the man who gave him the sword came to connect with one another. Just a great story, well-told by Bob over a pint — which makes me sure it will make for a wonderful documentary film.
Another conversation involved myself, Bob, and Stella, a Galway native who has lived and worked in London for a long time but was back in Galway visiting family. Stella introduced Bob and me to an older gentleman wearing a Notre Dame cap and sitting at the end of the bar.
His name was Dessie O’Halloran – I actually wrote it in my notebook so I would not forget – whom Stella said was a famous singer and player. “Google Dessie O’Halloran and you’ll see he’s famous,” she insisted.
So I did, and he is all that she said. Dessie has played with Sharon Shannon (whose work I don’t know well but whose name I certainly recognized) and had a tune of his own that reached the top 10 on Irish charts a number of years ago, according to his Wikipedia bio. Clips of him performing that tune at sessions can be found on YouTube
I didn’t have much of a conversation with Dessie; the pub was kind of loud and crowded and he was sitting a few spaces away from me. But I did shake his hand and exchange a brief hello. Quite an interesting night overall.