The Stroke, The Stunning: Ireland Brewing Up A Storm
After a few days of glorious weather, my late father, Jimmy Stack, would announce, “The few fine days make a great job of the place.”
He was right. Ireland becomes a different planet after a few hot sunny days, and the longer it lasts, the better the place begins to look and feel. I always hope that maybe, just maybe, it could stay like like this, stick with us until we round the next bend in life…give us a bit of a break from the grey.
The weather was good to us for almost the last two weeks. It affected everything -people got happy, election candidates sweated more than usual and the sun blessed the nation…people were working in gardens, going to the seaside, cutting hay. We’d received a slice of heaven, the kind of Ireland you’d love to tell tourists about.
Word reached me that the Volvo Race Village in Galway was the happening place. I was getting texts, invites to go in, threats if I didn’t. The Stunning were doing a gig there on Friday night, so done deal, have to support the home boys.
On the way to the gig, my son Jamie and I stopped off to vote. In the lobby between the door of our station and the polling room, there was the mumble of voices – Michael ‘The Stroke’ Fahy and someone else. An ‘outgoing councillor’ of 30 years experience, Mr. Fahy was running as an independent. He was formerly Independent Fianna Fáil and before that plain Fianna Fáil. He is well known throughout the region and beyond as The Stroke and is somewhat legendary in the wake of a much publicized court case last year. He fell from grace, and some thought he paid a heavy price for stroking a few grand, when bankers get away with billions. Fahy was ruined, alone, an isolated party of one, he had no posters this election and adopted a more personal campaign with a low public profile. Seeing us approach, he immediately leaned forward with a gracious bow and shook our hands, like greeting a member of the bereaved at a funeral. We reciprocated with a mumble and the word Michael in it somewhere, and proceeded into the room.
There was a man ahead of us and the person with the register was having difficulty in locating his name on the roll. He seemed new to the area and he didn’t have a voting card. He was a little confused as to his townland address, and Mr. Fahy his head in from the hall and verified that the gentleman was a resident who lived near himself. We got our voting sheets and went to the pens on the window cill. Postage stamp photos, party affiliations and one liners…our potential leaders, our mysteries. Where have all the flowers gone, the answer is blowing in the wind. A number here and a number there, best of a bad lot for the most part. Fold like a love note and bring it to the gun metal black box on the table. Battered and scarred by the battles of Erin, it had seen many campaigns. It’s full to capacity with Euro and local government votes.
On the way out, Mr. Fahy takes a break from his conversation and shakes our hands, this time like a concierge who’s hotel we are leaving. All politics are local but it does not get more local than this.
We parked in Oranmore and took the bus into Galway. The wind was beginning to rise with a crankiness that says a warm spell was over and rain on the way. But spirits were high and there was a buzz at the bus top. Loads of BMWs dropping people off, bus comes and fills quickly, another one behind, climb aboard and off to the show.
I wasn’t prepared for the transformation of Galway. It’s a place I have fond and very dear memories of since my student days and it has always been good to me. In the past decade, I generally avoided the city because of loss of character, commercialization and nightmare traffic. But the other night restored my faith in the essence of Galway. The city understood what the people needed and gave it to them. They were able to get a great project together and throw it open free to the public. It was done with precision, professionalism and panache. They polished the jewel that was Galway and it sparkled. And of course, the sun helped.
The Volvo Village was huge, just like stepping into a boutique music festival. There was an immediate sense of fun and relaxation, people enjoying themselves, a party without the frenzy. Galway dockland looked like Barcelona, but it felt like home, sweet home, somewhere away from recession and election, an oasis from the doom and gloom. People were happy, the weather was fine albeit a little cool, there was plenty space. They promenaded, took pictures, ate, drank, looked at the yachts, but mostly hung out and caught up. There was flags and buntings, colour and style and there was few signs of the Tiger. Apart from the yachts, there was little beyond our grasp. We were a happy people, unbroken by incompetent government and golden circles. We were ourselves again and it felt good. The world and its mother were there…it was as if we’d floated away from the rest of the Ireland and her cares. And there was great music up ahead: The Stunning were due onstage at 9:30pm.
Malaysian chicken curry and two veggie spring rolls for €7? Can’t go wrong, in any upscale restaurant it would be 30 at least and maybe not as good. A stroll by the waterfront, dawdling at the arts stalls and the doodad tents, meeting people, including a few readers of this blog. Mr. H from North Clare ordered me to write something happy and Ms N from Galway wondered about last week’s Biddy Early story….and would Biddy appear. There will be an update to this story in the coming week/s.
By the time we got over to the Topaz stage, the band were into their second number and the area was full. Dressed in white, The Stunning cut a dash, Steve with his cap and Jimmy Higgins in the shades. They’re the only band who’d get away with a nautical look…they have style.
Huge screens brought them close and you could feel the Galway pulse. The band formed here in the late eighties: Steve and Joe Wall (Clare), Declan Murray and Cormac Dunne (Donegal) and Jimmy Higgins. They had talent, captured a current, wrote intelligent songs and had a large following as Galway became known as the counter culture capital of Ireland. It felt like that again last Friday night with Steve Wall singing ‘Half Past Two.’ People sang along and you realise a huge amount of the audience have followed this band for years. They know the songs, tap into the vibe.
I asked a stranger beside me what made the Stunning special for him. “The sound and the songs,” he said, “the songs are class…Like, there’s stories in them. They’re about real things.” He was in his thirties and from Carraroe in the heart of the Gaelteacht. “Bono and them lads write songs to make money,” he continued, “but Steve Wall writes about what’s goin’ on. The words are mighty.”
Since The Stunning reformed a few years ago for the occasional tour, he’s seen them seven times. “It’s a shame,” he said, “they should have made it. They’re brilliant and they’re so real.”
They played a few Ennistymon songs including ‘Town for Sale’, an evocative piece that always brings me chills. Great lines, pure poetry, wish I could have said that: down the old glen where boys became men and girls lost all.
They played their anthems: ‘Rusty old River’, ‘Everything that Rises’, ‘Mr. Ginger’…They played their hearts out. The crowd sang along. For the encore Steve + Joe + Jimmy Higgins began with the Walls hit ‘To the Bright and Shining Sun.’
Then the rest of the lads came on stage and Galway rocked. Maybe it was me, but I sensed we’d turned a corner. We got to vote, saw a great show, a shot in the arm for a jaded nation. Thanks Galway and the organizers of this event. Thanks Stunning, we all needed that blast before we have to deal with the election results.
(As I post this, Michael ‘The Stroke’ Fahy has been elected to serve on Galway County Council again. He topped the poll with 2247 first preferences. No party, no machine, just an electorate who felt he was hard done by. What a long, strange trip, he has had.)
photo credit: Stunning pix + Galway Graffiti thanks to irishwhiskeychaser
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