Galway ~ now
It felt surreal but right to be back in Galway one year on. It felt like coming home, and like a place we could never truly go back to at the same time. Walking through the high street I couldn’t help wonder which of the musicians out playing in town my dad would have approved of. As I passed Tig Coili’s I remembered the many times Dad would be sitting outside with a pint waiting for me to return from some errand or walk. Crossing the bridge to the Claddagh I thought of the family of otters he told me about last time we were on holidays. But the most powerful triggers to my memories and emotions were the blue door of his apartment complex and of course his beloved Crane Bar.
As I passed by the blue door to go to the SuperValu I was assaulted by memories. I felt my breath catching and could barely stand. So many times I’d popped over to the shop to get some groceries and a bottle of wine, only to come straight back to Dad’s. He’d be smoking and watching telly and talking about the Euromillions and what we’d do with our inevitable winnings. Every week his faith that this was the time he was going to win was just as strong. I think it was a dream that kept his spirit from being crushed – the only hope he had of getting out of relative poverty after his health put an end to travelling the world with his guitar. I still cannot quite grasp that behind that door and up those stairs there is… Nothing for me anymore. He is just gone. He has ceased to exist.
Nevertheless it was good to be there and to share thoughts and memories with Eirin. She and I, her partner and mine, were once again a small temporary family brought together in mourning and celebration.
I didn’t know quite what to expect or how to feel about this whole scattering ashes thing. I had an idea that it would be a nice symbolic thing to do for me and for Dad, but didn’t know what it would actually be like when I got down to the act of scattering itself.
I felt kind of clumsy and awkward walking down to the Galway Bay with my small band of followers and my Fruit Friends cup in my handbag. What was I doing? What if people showed up in the middle of it? Was this a bad idea? But by the time I reached the end of the pier a strange kind of calm and certainty settled over me. I quietly sat myself down, took out the Fruit Friends cup, and held it in my hands. I took a deep breath, and I thought about my father. It felt right. It was the right place. He would have wanted this. Galway was the home he chose for himself, and made for himself. It was right that part of him should always be here. I could feel him and all the guiding spirits there with me. As my father’s ashes slowly descended into the bay, it was as if a part of me that had been missing since he died slowly eased its way back into place and I became whole again. It was in short a magical and otherworldly experience that was bigger than I could ever have imagined.
After our own private ceremony, we headed towards a slightly more public commemoration at the Crane Bar. It was Sunday and they were having their usual lunchtime session. There we joyously reunited with the friends who had played such an important role in making Dad’s funeral the perfect musical send-off almost one year earlier. The musicians were all gathered in the corner, right under a beautiful portrait of Dad that a very talented artist friend of his had made on the day she heard he died. It comforts me to know he’s always there with them, and they tell me they always feel his presence when they’re playing.
Greg, who is a lovely man and passionate and talented musician, sang and played Bob Dylan’s Shooting Star in memory of my father, as tears of joy and gratitude rolled down my cheeks.
Unwittingly we had come upon Galway on a very special day. The day Galway was part of not one, but two hurling finals – and actually won both. There were very few people in The Crane that afternoon – it’s not exactly your typical sports bar. But there were a couple of young lads dressed in Galway gear, watching a telly in the corner. And when a goal was scored and they shouted “yes!” a little too loudly, they immediately looked over to the musicians and sheepishly apologised. But they got only goodnatured glances and smiles in return, and I could see the musicians peering interestedly up at the screen themselves in between musical numbers. It was nice to see such a symbiosis of cultures, of sports and music – two of the most cherished past-times in Ireland that my father also enjoyed.
That day the whole town erupted into celebration. J and I went for a walk in the evening – an unusually pleasant and rain-free one, even the weather was cooperating – and there were people out in the streets celebrating. Almost every car driving by was sporting little Galway flags and honking. As we walked past the throngs of people sitting along the edge of the Corrib and out towards the bay, my heart soared at the sounds of life and celebration, and I thought: Dad would have loved this! I just know that if he had been behind the blue door watching the match(es) and I had been at home in The Netherlands, he would have been texting me updates on match status and goals scored, even though I don’t give a toss about Hurling (sorry Ireland!), because he’d be excited and wanting to share that with me. And I do believe he was there sharing it with me that day. The whole day was just filled with his presence and with celebration.