September 2011

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A lynching in Galway

Mr. Lynch in front of Lynch's Castle in Galway. Photos by David Lansing.

The only real reason we’ve come through Galway is that Mr. Lynch has a hankering to see Lynch’s Castle, a once grand 16th century town house that is now a bank. I can’t complain. From here we’re headed east to Loughrea so I can take a gypsy caravan out into the countryside for a couple of days, and I suppose that if Mr. Lynch can be good-humored enough to indulge me I can certainly have a look at a wee castle that he claims is part of his family history.

The story: For over two centuries—roughly 1450 to 1690—Galway was controlled by 14 merchant families, or “tribes,” one of which was the feared Lynch clan who lived in the castle we’re looking for from sometime in the 1500s until 1690 when William of Orange, a Protestant, led a hardened army of 36,000 French Huguenots, Dutch, English, and Scots against the Catholic King of England, James II in what was called the Battle of the Boyne. Well, James got his fanny handed to him and fled to France; all the Catholic lands were confiscated (including Lynch’s Castle) and the Protestants held power in Ireland for the next 300 years. I guess you could say this is where The Troubles all began.

Well, I’ll tell you, after coming all this way, there isn’t much to see of Lynch’s Castle. So I snap a couple of shots of Mr. Lynch standing in front of the bank and then we walk around the corner to a side of St. Nicholas’ Church where Mr. Lynch stops in front of a mossy stone façade with a window at the top. You ever wonder where the term “lynching” came from, says Mr. Lynch. Well I hadn’t but it doesn’t matter because Mr. Lynch is going to tell me the story whether I want to hear it or not.

The Lynch hanging window.

The Lynch family supplied Galway with over 80 majors between the 15th and 17th centuries, says Mr. Lynch. One of those mayors was a fellow named James Lynch. James Lynch had a son named Walter who was a bit of a hothead and the story goes that in 1493, Walter murdered a young Spaniard over something to do with a woman (of course).

Well, in addition to being the major of Galway, James Lynch was also the magistrate, and determined to seek justice for the murdered Spaniard, he convicted his own son and sentenced him to death. On the fateful morning on which Walter Lynch was to be hung, the Mayor and bailiffs tried to escort him to the gallows. But a large crowd, sympathetic to the young man, had formed to prevent the hanging. So the Mayor, still holding his bound son, took him into their house nearby and on reaching an upper window overlooking the street, he fastened a rope around his son’s neck and launched him from the window, hanging him in full view of the “Lynch mob” assembled below.

Mr. Lynch pointed to the very same window on the stone façade above us. And so you have my family to thank for “lynching,” says he.

Just to be on the safe side, I stayed a few paces behind him on the walk back to the car.

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Galway buskers

Buskers in Galway. Photo by David Lansing. To listen to their music, play the video below.

We’re walking around Galway’s Latin Quarter, looking for Lynch’s Castle (more on that tomorrow) but I’m getting hungry—and tired of walking—so I suggest we find a café along Abbeygate Street and take a break. This is a university town, Galway, and you can’t go a block anywhere in the Latin Quarter without coming across a busker. Sometimes working a corner by themselves; sometimes three or four of them looking like they just woke up and bruisin’ their way through one traditional Irish tune or another.

Look, there’s a couple of blokes just setting up next to that café, says Mr. Lynch. Why don’t we get something there and we can sit at a table on the sidewalk and be entertained at the same time. So that’s what we do. And after a couple of tunes, the two guys—one playing a banjo and the other some sort of metal acoustic guitar—are joined by two more, a lad on fiddle and another banjo player.

They’re not half-bad, says Mr. Lynch and they aren’t. A green felt-lined banjo case is open on the sidewalk in front of them and passersby toss in a coin or two, and then there’s a tike in blue cap and striped sweatshirt, no more than two or three surely, whose mum has given a coin so he can throw it into the banjo case but when he gets in front of the buskers, the music seems to animate his little body and he starts spinning and dipping about, inventing his own little dance, and throwing his hands up in the air in great joy. Even the buskers, who look tired and almost bored by their performance, are entranced and pick up the pace of their playing as the child spins around and around until he has made himself so dizzy that he falls hard on his arse.

Everyone laughs, including the young boy who promptly gets up and, after depositing his coin in the banjo case, starts clapping and dancing again. Happy as any child this fine morning in Galway.

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What’s wrong with Galway?

A scene on the road to Galway. Photo by David Lansing.

I don’t know why Mr. O’Connor thinks I don’t like Galway, I say to Mr. Lynch as we cross over the River Corrib. Because that’s what you told him, says Mr. Lynch. I didn’t say that. You told me when I was putting together the itinerary that you had no real desire to go to Galway. That’s because I spent a fair amount of time there a few years ago, I tell him. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Those are two separate things. The next time I come to Ireland, I might tell Mr. O’Connor I have no real desire to go to Kinsale either.

What’s wrong with Kinsale?

There’s not a thing wrong with Kinsale! That’s my bloody point! I quite like Kinsale. In fact, I think I’d like to go back.

Then why would you tell Bernard you have no desire to go there?

I didn’t say that! Watch the road now. You’re crossing over into the other lane.

I will yeah, says Mr. Lynch sarcastically. You know, he says, I’m often amazed that you’re not shot.

Why would anyone want to shoot me?

Because of the things you say.

That reminds me, I say. I was once in a bar fight in which everyone but me got socked in the kisser. I walked out of it without a scratch. But the gal I was with was quite upset with me anyway. I was flabbergasted. I said, What are you so riled up about? Look at me; I’m totally unscathed. And she says, Of course you are. Hitting you isn’t enough. Shooting you, stabbing you, that would be worth it, but not hitting you.

Smart girl, says Mr. Lynch. Whatever became of her?

Most unfortunate, I tell him. I married her.

And on to Galway we go.

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The Burren

The Poulnabrone Dolmen in the heart of The Burren. Which we didn't bother to go see.

Did you see the sign at the hotel, I say to Mr. Lynch as we’re driving out of Doolin, saying that this is the gateway to The Burren?

Really? says Mr. Lynch. That’s great. There is a long pause during which neither of us says a thing. Then Mr. Lynch mutters, What the fock is The Burren?

I read to him from the guidebook in my lap: The word burren means “rocky land” in Gaelic—an apt name for this vast limestone plateau. In the 1640s, Cromwell’s surveyor described it as “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury.”

Sounds lovely, says Mr. Lynch. And you say Doolin is the gateway to this godforsaken place?

That’s what they say.

And what’s to see in The Burren?

Let’s see now…well, it seems there are some unique flora and fauna here.

Such as?

The pearl-bordered fritillary for one. Says it can be seen in no other part of Ireland. And the hoary rock rose. Very rare. Very rare indeed. Ah, I say skimming over the guide, there’s also a very famous dolmen around here somewhere.

Well, that’s grand, says Mr. Lynch. A dolmen you say? Can’t remember the last time I saw a good-looking dolmen. Remind me again…what the fock is a dolmen?

It’s a portal tomb, I say. Some massive slabs of rock stacked on top of each other. Says here the Poulnabrone Dolmen is at least 4,000 years old. They did an excavation 25 years ago and found some 20 adults and 6 children buried under the slabs. Oh, and listen to this…they also found a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals and some pottery in the graves as well.

A polished stone ax?

That’s what it says.

I’d like to see that. Frankly, I’d rather see a polished stone ax than a pearl-bordered fritillary, if it came right down to it. Although I wonder why they say a polished stone ax? Wouldn’t it be enough to just say a stone ax?

Can’t tell you.

For half an hour we drive through The Burren. Not much to see. No trees. Few bushes. Just strange looking cracked rocks. If there’s a pearl-bordered fritillary or hoary rock rose, we’ve missed it. Near Ballyvaughan there’s a sign for the turnoff to the Poulnabrone Dolmen. Mr. Lynch stops the car. He looks at me. Should we go? he asks.

I look at my watch. It’s almost noon. Aren’t we suppose to be in Galway for lunch? I say. Mr. Lynch nods. I nod back. We both look at the sign that says Poulnabrone Dolmen with an arrow pointing to the right.

Fock it then, says Mr. Lynch, putting the car into gear. And we continue on the road to Galway.

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The Waterboys in Doolin

The town of Doolin.

Before we left Killarney, Mr. O’Connor had arranged for us to stay in a hotel near the Cliffs of Moher. He wrote down the directions: A few miles after the Cliffs, you’ll come to a fuel station and a crossroads. Turn left down the hill towards the sea. This will bring you into the village of Doolin. The Hotel Doolin will be on your right as you come in to the village.

Doolin is one of those wee places that you wonder why they’re even there. After we’d checked in to our rooms, we asked the woman at the front desk where we might go for lunch. Well, there were only three possibilities, she said. There were two pubs and a restaurant in the hotel itself. We decided to go to a pub so we walked along Fisher Street (the only real street in town) to McGann’s which looks just exactly the way an Irish pub should look with paneled walls and dark little nooks and crannies where you might try to get fresh with a colleen, and a menu that focuses on seafood chowder and fish & chips with mushy peas.

When our waitress, who was also the bartender, brought us a couple of pints of the black stuff, I asked her why people came to Doolin. Well, there’s the ferry from here to the Arran Islands, she said, but they also come for the trad music. Micho Russell and his brothers, Packie and Gussie, have played here, she said, as well as Sharon Shannon. No doubt she could tell by the look on my face that I had no idea who those people were.

What about Stevie Wickham, she said. Certainly you’ve heard of The Waterboys. I sadly shook my head. She put her hands on her hip and turned her head towards two old gents sitting in the corner nursing their pints. Can you believe it, she said, these two have never heard of The Waterboys? The two old gents didn’t say a word although one of them raised his eyebrows.

A few minutes later, the woman was back with our seafood chowder. She also brought two fresh pints, although we hadn’t ordered them. When I pointed that out to her, she waved me off and said, That’s on the house. Then she pointed her index finger at one of the speakers in a corner of the ceiling. Do you hear that now? she said. I nodded. Well, then, now you can say you’ve heard The Waterboys at McGann’s in Doolin.

And so I can.

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