Last weekend the husband had a business meeting in Galway. I went along, scurrying around the city, browsing books and meeting friends in cafes. We danced, and watched Ireland beat Scotland in a pub. I attended the hotel’s spa on my own, sweating out the residues of the previous night's revelries in tiny hot dark rooms.
Since the pandemic the city had changed considerably. Establishments had switched ownership and undergone renovations, or were closed altogether. Gone: a butcher's shop, a bakery, a fancy cafe, a Michelin-starred restaurant, more. In front of my old apartment house, an office complex had sprung up, blocking the view of an ancient cemetary, no more an empty lot hosting carnivals and festivals.
Every morning during the year before I left, I would hear a new, and then familiar sound of rolling suitcase wheels; most of the apartments had been converted into Airbnb accommodation, and my landlord planned to do the same after I left. As in many other European cities, Airbnb was devouring Galway, and locals and students were struggling to find a place to rent. Judging from the homeless—so many now—setting up sleeping bags on Shop Street at night, the situation had worsened.
Was it still the city I had loved for nine years? Everyone I met was weary or time-poor. Still, they plan, and hope, and make art or music.
On the last night, I took a photo of the Corrib as it wound through the city's heart, dark and mysterious under a rainy sky, feeling its way to the sea with the immediate and assured memory of water.