This story came up on an evening last week when an old friend called around and stayed for dinner.
This friend was, and potentially still is, the main player in some situations that have happened to me in my life so far. In fact I often refer to her as a vortex. Things just seem to happen around her. I am an anti-vortex. I am more of a side-kick or a straight man.
This particular evening we were warm inside the house at Westtown eating pizza and recalling old glories while the drizzly rain swept over the sea, when the Galway Incident came up. It is not so much a story as a series of small incidents on a night of revelry that are remnants of a lost Ireland.
This was before the Celtic Tiger started to bite. Three of us for some reason were visiting Galway for the weekend. Myself, my buddy, we will call her Mags, and a colleague of hers who shall be Maura. I can’t recall why we had Maura in tow. She was somewhere on the Aspergers spectrum and wore comfortable shoes and A-line skirts and enjoyed set dancing and was not inclined to the displays of the impetuosity and madness that afflicted many of my friends. But then this was the Ireland of inclusion and your companions on any given day could include a wide cross-section of society.
Maura had obtained the loan of a house from some teacher friends who were heading back to their homes in the Midlands for the weekend as they habitually did. However they were not leaving until Saturday morning and we were arriving Friday night. When we arrived at their house to drop off our gear and collect our key before we ran out for desperate pints we found four young, freshly scrubbed girls sitting in robes by the fire sipping hot chocolate. As this was at 9pm on a Friday we were duly horrified at this incomprehensible behaviour and the robed ones also immediately recognised that we were animals of a different stripe so before either group could catch something nasty from the other, we made haste from the house out into the Galway night without first trying out our newly cut key.
The details of the night have faded from memory or coalesced with other memories into a riotous mass of disjointed pictures. I’m pretty sure we were in The Crane, probably Neachtains. There was a pub or club with red walls where I ran into an old flame who I was still stuck on like a slug to a slate. At that time I was like a fly to shit around with that type of male that most sensible females mark as no go areas and the meeting added an extra dimension of frenzy to the evenings proceedings.
By 3am we were slightly the worse for wear, ahem. It was getting time to go home and the city was jam-packed and taxis impossible to get. At this point I partook in an action of which today I am deeply ashamed. It was decided it was a good idea to drive. I will point out here that the first drink driving limit in Ireland was five pints and we were young and ignorant of any wrong doing on our part, even the children drove around drunk and, as you will see, the Gardai condoned our actions, nay encouraged it. But I am making excuses and I should come clean. It was all Mags’ fault and she shouldn’t have done it.
We got safely back to the house and stuck the key in the door. Except it didn’t work.There was no sign of life in the house which, we later discovered, was because the young teacher types had fled earlier than expected fearing some class of trouble from what quarter we knew not. While Maura retired to the back seat of the car myself and Mags went at the house, levering, stabbing and gouging with our ever-present Swiss army knives. No luck.
Eventually Mags had a flash of what I considered at the time to be utter genius. We would drive to the Garda station where they would have a set of keys that could open any door. She knew this because she had seen them in an episode of the Streets of San Francisco. “That,” I said to her in awe, “is utter genius.”
Into the car and back to the nearest Garda Barracks. Mags stopped the car at an angle to the front door and the three of us fell out and staggered into the station. Mags strode purposefully if a little unsteadily to the counter, while I staggered into the centre of the waiting room, arms outstretched because I was temporarily blinded by the slightly too-large furry Russian Hat I loved to wear despite the fact it was mostly in my eyes. In the confusion I was unable to adjust it and made a few wobbly circumnavigations of the room unable to be of any help. Maura, whose asperger leanings had been heightened by the excitement immediately made her way to the noticeboard and began to read each and every poster methodically from the top left to the bottom right, arms folded neatly, neat hair, sensible sweater and skirt still unrumpled by the nights excesses.
The garda on duty was completely unphased by this invasion. He was very helpful but unfortunately had to break the news that there were no magic keys. We were duly devastated by his denials but after a while Mags begrudgingly accepted that we would never get him to admit their existence due to some sort of Garda oath.
He saw however that our circumstances were dire so he made an attempt to file down the key for us, thinking that some irregularity had snagged the lock. He then sent us back to the car, still very worse for wear, promising to radio a motorbike cop to meet us and help us break in. Unfortunately the key still didn’t work and the bike cops breaking in skills were a little below par. At about 5am we gave up the ghost and headed for Galways new 500 bed hostel.
When we reached the hostel however there was only bed left and before myself and Mags could say anything, Maura, who had literally taken a back seat during the whole proceedings, displayed her savantness yet again and scuttled indoors and was gone. The student on duty kindly, we thought, offered us two short wooden benches in the kitchen. Mags curled up on one and being a veteran of sleeping in awkward places and fell asleep immediately.
I, being a bit of a princess and liking my comfort found it more difficult, exacerbated by the fact that the student on duty, a rounded, greasy, spotted young man had decided to keep me company by sitting near me and putting his hand on my leg. Staying on the bench was not an option and I proceeded to make some rounds of the kitchen table. After about a half an hour of this courtship with the wooing showing no signs of abating I was exhausted and becoming sober and reluctantly roused an annoyed Mags to insist on finding somewhere else to sleep.
We ended up in Spiddal, sleeping, if you could call it sleeping, in the car facing the sea, our long night finally over.
Later that day we drove to Ennis to collect another set of keys and eventually in the afternoon, got some bed rest followed, I imagine by a more orderly evening of celebration.
Its not much of a story but I remember it fondly through the haze of years, though in truth it was fairly hazy at the time too. That was the old days. Needless to say you won’t get the Gardai urging you back into your cars while full of booze nor helping strangers break into houses and rightly so. But its hard not to feel a little nostalgic for that particular brand of Irish madness that has diminished but not disappeared.