St Patrick’s Day 2020: A sight most surreal

By Adam Gibbons

On the night of St Patrick, above all nights, Shop Street and High Street would be a place abundant in drinking, song, and celebration.

Instead, a deafening silence cut through the evening air, as Galway – and a nation, found itself brought to a standstill by coronavirus.

A sight most surreal, it could almost be mistaken for Christmas Eve, if you had briefly forgot that it was mid-March.

The route of the 2019 parade, which ran from the NUI Galway campus on the University Road side, to Bóthar Na mBan, via the Salmon Weir Bridge, Francis Street, and Eyre Square.

Where packed crowds should have been, covered head to toe in green, instead had an eerie timbre, only broken by the occasional near-empty buses, or the packed taxi rank at the top of Eyre Square, waiting to pick up no one.

Several gardaí were patrolling the city centre on foot, observing the actions and movements of the few pedestrians around with visible intent, clearly looking to actively police someone over something.

A virtually empty Shop Street, Galway on St Patrick’s Day 2020

The heartbeat of Galway suddenly stopped…

From Eyre Square to Dominic Street, there would usually find at least somewhere that would be open during the early hours, even if it was a McDonald’s or Supermac’s, serving stragglers coming out from Coyotes at three in the morning.

However, almost every shop, pub, and restaurant showed no sign of life, something which is practically unheard of in Galway’s cultural quarter.

The fact that it was just after 8pm, emphasised a stark point – the cultural heart of Galway, from the Róisín Dúbh to The Skeff, had abruptly, stopped beating.

The pavements and cobbled streets were virtually bare, with the exception of several people, who were of course, observing social distancing advice.

Several private cars used William Street, Shop Street and others, as a shortcut to get from one part of the city centre to the other, emphasising how quiet Galway’s main walkways were.

With the usual St Patricks Day traffic, you would normally be lucky to find parking in Terryland or The Claddagh, with both being nearly a kilometre away from Eyre Square. In stark contrast, you would be lucky to just spot a car at all.

A French connection

Among the few pedestrians who were wandering around were Michel and Sabrina Bourdon, a couple in their early thirties from Brest, France, who are on a week-long holiday in Galway.

While they were naturally disappointed that Galway was virtually closed for business, the couple were understanding of why the city was deserted, referring to the full lockdown that their native France is currently under.

“While it is sad that nothing is open, the quiet is nice.”, said Ms. Bourdon.

“It would have been nice to have a pint of Guinness today” letting out a brief chuckle, “but safety comes first.”

“Coming from France, where you can’t leave the house anymore, it feels nice to be able to walk around, and get some air.”, said Mr. Borudon.

While not criticising the Irish government’s approach to the crisis, he did point out a personal concern he had about cafés and restaurants:

“I’m surprised that cafés and restaurants are still open. While it is nice to still buy food, is it not a health risk? While your government has done good so far, I think they are wrong to let them be open to the public right now.”

A lone busker plays on…

Meanwhile, in a small sliver of normality, there was a single busker on Galway’s most famous street, sitting outside the Dubary bookshop.

Performing under the name Raymond (55), he turned out a rendition of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”, using his charisma to attract the few people in the vicinity in his direction, enthusiastically using phrases such as “What was that song you both loved when you first got together?”, or “Who’s your favourite singer?”, between songs.

Raymond went on to perform two requested songs – Bob Marley’s and the Wailers’ “Three Little Birds”, and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. The contrasting tones of the two songs, aptly sum up the feelings most people are likely experiencing during this health crisis.

A cautious hope that the crisis will come to a somewhat swift end, and the sobering reality that most people are forced to distance themselves from those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

While the journey to seeing normality return to streets of Galway city could be a long one, to quote Raymond’s altered lyrics to “Three Little Birds”:

“Don’t worry about coronavirus, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright.”

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