Wild wolf women kick off the parade with bite
An enormous black-crow float bore a brass band that brought to mind a New Orleans funeral
THE crowd was under attack. First, a flock of cawing, sinister ravens had a go at pecking out the eyes of innocent bystanders; next, it was a tribe of terrifying Amazonian women stomping and snarling their way through the streets.
"Waa!" wailed a child in a buggy, terrified of this unforeseen danger to his health and well being.
"Hard to see who's scarier," joked a young man to his irritated girlfriend.
It was wild, it was hypnotic, it was raucous.
But more, much more than this, the sun beat down as the Macnas parade -- one of the highlights of the Galway Arts festival and one of the unique selling points of the classic Irish summer -- got under way in the city yesterday.
It summoned crowds, who lined the streets to enjoy the spectacle and to soak up the famous atmosphere that is the perfect blend of laidback and energetic.
Macnas was founded in 1986, inspired by a visiting Spanish company and, since then, the company has gone from strength to strength.
The theme of this year's parade was the Wild Hunt -- "very performance-based and with beautiful imagery", explained Paul Fahy, the artistic director of the festival.
Now in its 33rd year, the festival took a 10pc cut in government funding this year but this hasn't put a stop to Galway's gallop.
"We're positively approaching it with a creative head on our shoulders," said Paul.
Regardless of the recession, the festival is having a boom year and bookings "went mad".
He believes attendance figures will "match at least" last year's crowds of 165,000 who embraced the festival, with about a quarter of these from overseas.
The kick-off for the parade was 2pm from the Spanish Arch but performers mingled beforehand with the crowd to stir up a little atmosphere.
"Did anybody lose a child?" a shrill voice went up on Quay Street, sending the heart crossways on parents.
The "infant", swaddled in a red robe swivelled its remarkably ugly foam head around and everyone sighed in a combination of relief and repulsion.
"Garda, they didn't say if anyone was looking for a child?" demanded the performer as the guard grinned and pointed him up the street.
There was clearly a lot of organisation involved in staging the event. Perhaps a little too much at times.
"You're not meant to be there," a bowler-hatted woman scolded a bare-chested drummer bedecked in body paint before the start.
"I'm going to the jacks," he answered, clearly offended.
At Cross Street, spirits were high as people chowed down on pizza slices and ice cream.
It seemed there could scarcely be a better place to be and shopworkers looked mournfully out the windows.
Organisers claimed Labour TD Michael D Higgins was to appear in costume, so we looked for him in the grandiose woman with the turned-up nose; peered at the angry circus ringmaster and the put-upon road sweeper; but in the end, it turned out that he had another engagement and couldn't make it.
A cloud of billowing blue smoke drifted up Quay Street and cheers went up as the parade began. Soon, the mesmerising beat of the drums had the crowd bobbing as an enormous bull made of cheesecloth and wires stalked past.
A giant boy that took six people to manoeuvre swooped with a net in pursuit of a butterfly that took three to steer him.
A beautiful patchwork horse galloped past, a blue horse on his tail bearing Mr Fahy -- loath to be left out of the high jinks.
An enormous black-crow float bore a brass band that brought to mind a New Orleans funeral with jazzy bells on.
Then, an enormous wolf with snarling teeth stuck his head into the crowd. "Do you want me to go closer, Sean," asked a well-meaning father. "No!" said little Sean, horrified at the idea.
More drums -- this time of the steel variety -- and the crowd was bobbing again, cheering wildly as nine drummers sent their metal barrels rolling in a cacophony of sound.
Finally came the Amazonian tribe with their leader -- a wild woman in a copper carriage, who blew kisses into the crowd and that was that, as the parade continued its noisy, colourful progress up through the city, finishing outside the cathedral.
"So, gut?" a beaming German father asked his family. "Ya, gut!" they chorused as they went off in search of lunch.