The streets of Galway were gray that night. Everywhere I looked, gray buildings, gray sidewalks, gray sky, beneath a mist that floated inward from the Atlantic and hovered ominously, casting contrasting coronas of light upon the sidewalk from the interior lights of the handful of pubs still open in the midnight hour. Our footsteps echoed as we walked from The Kings Head to the hackney office on Dominic Street, right across the street from Taylor’s, which was Kieran’s favorite pub. Kieran used Taylor’s as if it were his personal office, and many was the night he summonsed Darren and Shannon and me to the pub to talk business because Kieran never did see the line between work and play.
Were it any other night, the four of us would have gone into Taylor’s; we would have sailed through the door in Kieran’s wake, following that proprietary swagger of his as he made his way to the section in the back designated for Irish traditional musicians. But this evening had been exhausted at The Kings Head. It was beyond time to call it a night, and I had to get home to Inverin.
I was standing on the sidewalk when the hackney driver brought the car around. I said goodnight to the three of them and got in the front seat of the car for what would be a 30-minute ride along the coast road. You’d think the memory I retain of that night would be centered on the activity in The Kings Head. After all, close to 70 people had turned out for The Galway Music Centre’s musician’s showcase, which the four of us had spent an entire month orchestrating. But as Ireland has a habit of making art of the contrary, what stands out the most for me is the hackney ride home.
It wasn’t often I had cause to make the journey from Galway to Inverin by hackney at night, but when I did, it was always a rather eerie experience. The total darkness on the two-lane road, the way the moon illuminated the sea in hues of black, cobalt, and silver, the lonesome stretches of treeless landscape, and the complete absence of sound made the journey surreal as I watched the night for signposts guiding me home. The ride was a gradual change of consciousness as I left the energy of Galway City behind and crept stealthily into the bleak solitude of Inverin. Typically there would be conversation with the hackney driver from start to finish. It would be a stranger and me traveling together with the same destination, and in that singular pursuit, there was a comfortable tacit alliance. On this night, the hackney driver was a local named Michael Connolly, and I confess that what started it all is due to the fact that I’m the garrulous sort; I’m uneasy with weighted pauses and tend to fill in the gaps when I think there’s too much dead air.
“Are you from around here?” I asked Michael Connolly, who was raven-haired and blue-eyed and looked to be in his early thirties. He was tall and lithe, with graceful hands that rested casually on the steering wheel, as if he’d cut through this particular swath of Connemara so many times, the car no longer required his guidance.
“I am, yeah, born and raised just up the road, but I’ve done me share of traveling,” he said, in what I knew to be a Connemara accent. It got up under the vowels and rolled to a singing pitch, then finished each sentence in a way that left me waiting for more. “You’re an American, yeah?” he continued, in that way the Irish have of letting you know that nothing sneaks by them.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, but I’ve spent the last few years in Los Angeles.”
“Los Angeles,” Michael Connolly said, confirming the name as if he were sorry to hear of my troubles. I can’t say I blamed him. He was so relaxed with himself, so bright-eyed and open that he lacked the requisite wary manner it takes to get by in a place where all that glitters is not gold.
“Have you been to Los Angeles?” I asked with a sideways glance.
“Oh God, yeah,” he said. “Lived there two years, so I did, and that was enough for me. My idea of heaven is Ireland with Los Angeles weather,” he offered. “My idea of hell is Los Angeles with Irish weather.”
It was such a seamlessly delivered line with such perfect timing that it left me speechless. Five months on the west coast of Ireland, and I still hadn’t loosened my grip of enthrallment over Irish banter; I found all exchanges thrilling, and would study the regional dialect and its distinctive phrasing of words in the vain hope that one day I’d be able to master it in an effortless manner. Because the Irish have this effect on a person. They’re so good at being themselves that it makes an outsider want to become one of them, to shed any awkward, unwieldy dissimilarities that leave one standing out like a sore thumb in their presence, and slip into that easy-going way of theirs where the art of communication is a banter that sings.