No Bother

Over the last fifteen years, Galway turned into a big small town. It wasn’t like that in the early nineties, when Ireland boasted only two highways, inexplicably called the M1 and M50—for decades, the nation puzzled over the other forty-eight.

Back then, the road was an endless succession of tractors and villages, but now Galway chokes well before the city limit because the town expanded but the road system didn’t.

But despite the US tech companies, the industrial parks, and the massive influx of tourists, the town remains easy to love, and it’s not hard to find refuge from the Twitter and Trip Advisor brigade—twice I drove out to Moran’s on the weir to eat the native oyster, a rarity in my part of the world.

Although Brexit made some headlines in Ireland, since the Irish are the last man standing between the EU and Britain, the main news was characteristic of the Emerald Isle. As I drove up from Dublin, I was delighted to learn that the Gardai, or Irish constabulary, had become the butt of protests, political mayhem, and of course good craic.

On my outbound flight, I’d continued to read Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilisation, a lengthy and horrific tale of the suffering humans impose upon each other. In particular, I am navigating the section on Algeria and the GIA, where horrendous crimes were perpetrated by both the Islamists and the police.

It’s imposible to remain immune to the testimony of a young woman who is receiving psychiatric treatment because she only enjoys going to horror movies—she needs to see blood. Her apprenticeship began in an Algiers police station, watching hundreds of prisoners being systematically tortured and killed, and now she can’t think of anything else—Dalilah is thirty years old.

Just as you can’t play ostrich, as the UN report chaired by ex-president of Portugal Soares did in 1999, when it claimed that Algerian massacres in the last decade of the twentieth century were a product of  terrorism—whitewashing the crimes committed by the military.

In all fairness, Fisk cautions the reader before the start that he’s in for a rough ride. So it lightens the spirit to hear of the woes of the Irish police commissioner, as she makes a pathetic effort to explain how her officers managed to fake just under one million breathalyzer reports over a period of five years.

Her assistant tells a press conference in Dublin: “The numbers don’t add up—that’s a fact.” A masterly understatement, since the ‘Pulse’ system used by the Gardai recorded 1,996,365 alcohol tests between October 2011 and December 2016, but the Medical Bureau of Road Safety claims only 1,058,157 were performed.

I’m with the medics on this one, based on the number of disposable mouthpieces ordered—almost a million fake tests were logged into ‘Pulse’. Assistant Commissioner Finn goes on to state: “As time went on the importance of recording that data was lost to us, or we didn’t appreciate it…” He’s referring to the log of who ‘carried out’ the test, and how many tests the breath analyzer actually registered.

The Irish spirit warms your heart, from the 119.5 seconds required to pour the perfect pint of Guinness to the offhand dismissal by a latecomer that he was referring to ‘Irish Time.’

Decades ago, I bought a small Spanish guitar in an equally small music shop in Galway—Spanish in style only, because it was made in Hong-Kong. That instrument holds wonderful memories for me, and I wandered into the main drag in search of a couple of tuners, and a nut—that’s the bit at the top the strings go through.

The town center is ‘organized’ around a couple of streets with the excellent names of Shop Street and High Street, rich in pubs, buskers, and young Irish girls carousing in sleeveless tops and short skirts—oblivious to the Connemara weather, which lives up to the tourist description of the Wild Atlantic Way.

At the lower end of the High Street is the Spanish Arch, built in 1584, four years after the Spanish paid a courtesy call to Lisbon which lasted sixty years. There are only two remaining arches in the front wall of Galway, both partially destroyed over two hundred and sixty years ago—and what caused the damage? None other than the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which generated a ten foot tsunami wave on the west coast of Ireland.

Lisbon wakes up to the horror of All Saints Day in 1755.

Under a smaller arch on the High Street, a sign directed me to a music store, along with a tattoo parlor.


As I walked up the narrow stairs, there was still no separation between church and state. I wondered whether I would enter a dark den where musicians vied with epidermal etchers for my custom—I rolled down my sleeves in anticipation.

Thankfully, at the last minute the waters parted—clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. The luthier patiently examined my pathetic display of guitar archeology, and dived into the bowels of his tuner treasure trove to retrieve the needed bits and bobs.

For half an hour, life became a timeless journey through my past and his, and a discussion of the merits of the instruments displayed in his small, first floor store—you could have been in medieval Galway, as he showed me the tools I would need to rebuild the small guitar, the music wafting up from outside, a Gaelic mixture of tin whistles, guitars, and fiddles.

Along the rack on the southeast wall, a whole row of guitars made in Braga, a Galway-sized city in the northwest of Portugal. Beautiful instruments, starting at under two hundred bucks, that filled my heart with joy—if Portugal is exporting guitars to Ireland, all is well with the world.

Still no clarity on what lies behind that door…

It’s getting late, my ears are popping, and my flask is almost finished. The airline prohibits alcoholic beverages, unless they’re purchased from them directly—moral protest is therefore required, which I implement by means of a bottle of Ribena.

Ribena, for those who didn’t endure a British upbringing, is a blackcurrant drink of a vile nature which is used in combination with Marmite to turn small children into Brexiteers. But the bottle has a singular advantage—it’s completely opaque, bearing splendid designs of blue skies with mildly wafting clouds, punctuated by a bizarre necklace of blackcurrants.

Within, half a bottle of red wine, purchased at the airport deli and subsequently decanted, can be splendidly camouflaged. As I reach for the last sip, noting the tight cap has compressed the bottle, another sure sign the air pressure is increasing, my heart is full of concern—not for the stewardesses who walk past calling for empties, no doubt thinking I’ve reached my second youth as I swig my jungle juice—but for the two dozen native oysters I’m smuggling in my suitcase, nestled in a bed of kelp.

The good people at Moran’s parted with them, and the (not so) little beauties spent the night in the hotel fridge. As I handed them to the night manager, I warned him that I expected to find the full complement when I asked for them next morning.

He grinned and explained he didn’t like oysters at all. “Now,” he says, “my girlfriend loves them.”

“Well then,” I said. “There’s some things you just can’t tell your girlfriend.”

“No bother,” he said.

Good craic.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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