The glory of the race day morning in Galway
From 'appreciating art' to curried hangover cures, author Padraic O Maille looks at the city's unique atmosphere
One glorious race day morning many years ago, Tom Kenny was travelling in by car to open the iconic Kenny's Art Gallery in High Street in Galway.
He happened to get behind a Corporation truck busily collecting garbage from the previous night's carousing and socialising. Tom marvelled at the dexterity and speed and utter productivity of the bin men. Such was the pace they were progressing at that the ensuing cars barely had to slow down.
That would all inexorably change at the crossroad junction of High Street, Quay Street and Cross Street. The entire traffic circulation of Galway city came to a sudden and abrupt halt. In fact, the only three things moving in the centre of Galway at that instant were the necks of the three bin men astride the back of the truck as they purveyed the unfolding vista of a race day morning. The object of their intense focus was a beautiful girl strutting her stuff down High Street in the direction of the Claddagh. Tom's mother would later describe the goddess as being "clad in scarcely more than a short slip".
In an impetuous flash of devilment, Tom hooted sharply on his horn and roared at the bin men, "We pay the Corporation good rates to have our bins collected. Hurry on out of that." The lead bin man spun around adroitly and appraised the situation calmly. "Mr. Kenny," he declared assertively. "In Galway, even the bin men are permitted time out to appreciate art."
With that, he pirouetted back to his former position, and rejoined his fellow bin men in their appreciation of one serious derriere. Touche.
And you, too, could do worse than take some time out to savour the art of this vibrantly rich cultural oasis on a fine race day morning. I would recommend you purloin for yourself a latte or a cup of Earl Grey tea or a pint of black and chilled porter, and position yourself comfortably on the terrace outside Tigh Neachtain's pub and allow all your senses to be aroused.
Neachtain's lies snug at the epicentre of Galway's business, historical and social life. Once the home of the MP Richard 'Humanity Dick' Martin, it has entertained some of Ireland's richest and most exuberant personalities. Theobald Wolfe Tone partied here as a young actor prior to becoming the catalyst behind the 1798 Rebellion. Micheal Mac Liammoir flagrantly courted the equally enigmatic Hilton Edwards here long before overt displays of homosexuality ever became de rigueur.
And for sure, you'll still see great art. Percy French would have had a ball here. Beautiful girls with all sorts of shapes nature never designed strut seductively down town from the fashion houses of Shop Street. The smell of batch bread – no one ever calls it an aroma in Galway – wafts and percolates its way down from Griffin's bakery at the foot of Shop Street and is why you'll see hoards queuing at an early hour to acquire that sumptuous fare before it's gobbled up by locals who know their bread.
Years ago, no decent skite in Galway for the races was ever fully complete without a visit to Nora Crube's at the top of Quay Street. Nora dished up crubeens (pigs hooves) and served them elegantly in used newspaper copies of the 'Connacht Tribune'. I've heard old men swear that a visit to Nora's was nature's own antidote to a hangover occasioned by drink.
In modern times, by that I mean the last 30 years, this area pioneered the introduction of a new addition to the Irish and global gustatory experience. The emergence of the curried chip had its nemesis in Pat's chipper in Cross Street. Those of my vintage who failed to score on a night out in Salthill could always comfort themselves with the prospect of a punnet of curried chips. Frank Murray, proprietor of Supermac's in Cross Street, now sells more curried chips than any other restaurant in the world. He too claims they're nature's antidote to a hangover and there must be some semblance of truth in it on account of the thousands who imbibe them after multitudinous amounts of drink.
It's here too that you'll also hear the real Galway accent. I recall one morning many years ago taking the cure in Neachtain's during Christmas week following the ubiquitous office party. Two shawled ladies – one coming from the market, and the other en route there – were comparing notes.
"Ana holla [any holly] in the market?"
"Plenta a holla luveen but no berras [plenty of holly luveen but no berries]."
Quay Street was also the scene of my earliest racing memory. In 1969, my uncle Michael backed Royal Day, the winner of the Galway Plate, and out of his winnings he lavishly bestowed on me the princely sum of half a crown. "Invest that wisely," he counselled, with all the gravitas of an adult. "What do you recommend?" I replied, with all the innocence of an eight-year-old. "Livestock," he retorted sagely, as if the answer couldn't have been more obvious.
All through the night I ruminated on how best to invest in "livestock" on a budget of two and six. Just before dawn, I cracked it and hatched a strategy. At 9am sharp, I was the first customer in the Quay Street pet shop.
"What animals can I buy for half a crown?" I asked tentatively but firmly. "The cheapest animals on sale here are mice, but they're all five bob," replied the owner. I think he must have admired my gumption, however, because in the negotiation impasse that ensued we struck a deal. For my half crown, I succeeded in acquiring sole and total ownership of an emaciated white mouse with red eyes and no tail. He mightn't have looked the business but I felt convinced that with a bit of cheese and regular exercise I could turn that mouse around.
As I marched up High Street that morning I experienced a rare sensation of supreme elation.
Few situations can trump the feeling of being an owner and trainer in Galway on a race day morning.
Padraic O Maille is creator of Smacht and author of 'The Midas Power'. Smacht is a boot camp for business people interested in getting better results and his next 28-day boot camp starts in September. For further details see www.omaille.ie