3rd August 2016 – Free
Joined by Shelagh Deeney, Emmet Deeney, and Sinead Flament
Galway. City of Tribes. Land of my forebears. Home of The Saw Doctors, the races, and Peter O’Toole (maybe). A town that put a Claddagh ring on the finger of every tasteless person in the world. It’s an interesting town with, I imagine, an interesting story. So, where better to discover the Galway City story than the Galway City Museum?
First room: bang! The women of Galway. It’s a decent enough idea, but dry as old bread. That it’s not part of the museum proper made it feel tokenistic; an addendum rather than a chapter. Why can’t the “women of Galway” story be part of “Galway City Museum” like everything else?
The (non-female?) story of Galway starts, as many do, with the Stone Age – the “once upon a time” of civilisation. Arrowheads, flint, spears, poorly printed photos of rock formations in a place so remote it hasn’t got radio yet. So far, so museumy.
First impressions were: a lack of dynamism. Nobody was stopping to read anything. Just having a look at an axe head, raising their eyebrows, and fucking off.
The city wasn’t written about with any kind of verve. I know, I know, I’m a city-boy, John Bull eejit living in the rarefied air of the Old Smoke, criticising a former colony for not being “London-enough”, but I was waiting for a unique voice among the reams of copy and I kept on waiting. I never thought I’d hear myself say I was looking forward to the section on the Great Famine.
World War One always makes for a good yarn and Galway and the Great War certainly taps that ore, but I was less engaged than John McCririck’s phone line. Why do curators think I want to be stood up, reading for an aeon around strangers on my holidays?
The Revolution in Galway had more reading than the Trinity College library. Some videos and artifacts but nothing to get excited about. As a child of an Irish expat family, I knew a lot of the information already. Surely most there knew a lot of the information already. It’s an important story, mind, and there’s absolutely no harm in repeating it. I’ve just seen it expressed better many times.
Michael Collins was thirty two when assassinated. My age. He liberated a country from the world’s largest ever empire. I write a museum blog that nobody reads. Kindred spirits, indeed.
Towards the end, a video of Galway’s elderly told sad stories on a telly screen, and finally the Galway City Museum achieved its destiny in giving a platform to local voices. Fingers nicotine yellow, the sore lines of age breaking faces, a flicker of love amongst the sadness. It was really something, actually – and that “something” was too fucking quiet. Sat on the closest seat to the screen, it was drowned out by the soft summer rain. Swing and a miss, my love.
The final room was an art gallery of local design. And it was rather nice. Not a sniff of text anywhere. Is the famine section after this? I think the museum might be finished.
Nothing! My famine knowledge was left to go hungry. I understand there’s a famine museum at Strokestown Park, County Roscommon, but that doesn’t mean it’s their intellectual property. The potato blight led to a humanitarian disaster that should be told forever, in as many different ways as possible, and many who escaped it to America left from Galway Bay. Why was it not being told there? Why was I reading about different types of sailors’ knots? It’s like going to Auschwitz for the area’s interesting amphibian life. If Galway’s nicknamed “The City of Tribes”, how come I left knowing nothing more about them?
It’s a locally run operation about local issues, it just needs to be a hundred thousand times better. There’s little charm, little interest, little anything. Yes it’s free, but so’s staring at a brick wall in the pouring rain for five hours.