“That Connacht lies in slumber deep
But, hark! a voice like thunder spake
The West's awake! the West's awake!”
"The West's Asleep" (incorrectly known as “The West’s Awake) is a rambling piece of nostalgia promoting a unified Ireland, in which all provinces must pull their weight at the same time, for the same cause. The Province of Connacht is singled out, which was one of the last strongholds of Gaelic independence, but had since fallen into a slumber, with the East (and especially Belfast and Dublin) leading the way then.
I spent many years in Galway city as a student and now my daughters work there after years of study. I journeyed back to Galway last weekend for a family occasion. It’s a long ould jaunt to Galway as many Donegal people will testify. Galway is awash with Donegal culchies like me. It’s a cosmopolitan city with a young population made up of students and tourists. This is how Galway has been since I first went there in 1978. Galway has changed though. It’s more affluent now, accommodation is both scare and expensive. There’s a ‘yuppidom’ culture very much evident now where wealthy young entrepreneurs unashamedly flaunt their well-earned status. And why not?
Very few people dislike Galway. There’s a friendliness and warmth about the people. The city centre is compact. It’s small, narrow cobbled streets has food outlets offering all types of international cuisine. The pubs vibrate with traditional and not so traditional music. It’s very much awake and because of this I got very little sleep as my accommodation was on a noisy 24-hour intersection on Eyre Square.
I’m too old for this type of noise pollution now. What I did notice was the sparse evidence of Galway GAA colours for the inter-county hurlers who won the All-Ireland title only a week previously. Hurling is played mainly in the eastern part of the county which may account for the absence of hype. Galway city is now experiencing a massive growth in the support of rugby.
My daughters are firstly GAA supporters but who have a grá now for Connaught rugby. They hauled me off to the Galway Sportsgrounds on Saturday evening last to watch Connaught take on the Southern Kings from Pretoria, South Africa in the PRO 14 competition. The atmosphere was staid and respectful. We had a great vantage point from where I watched the teams’ warm-up regimes. Everything was so choreographed with a razzmatazz of side events to keep the crowd entertained.
It was a great spectacle but I found it difficult to get into the spirit of the game. Then at half-time, the intercom announcer told us that the Galway hurling team had arrived and would be introduced to the crowd during the interval. For the first time since I entered the ground, I felt excited. Casually dressed, the team took to the pitch. They were humble and looked uncomfortable in the middle of the field as the crowd gave them respectful applause. As they were ushered off after a few minutes, I too was off like a shot. They were taken into a hospitality tent adjacent to the pitch. The well dressed and polite security official on the door was easily persuaded to let me enter. I genuinely couldn’t believe how down-to-earth and unassuming these players were. Compared to their rugby counterparts, they looked tiny. But, there was something more evident and telling than their physical size. They were modest and reserved.
Connaught Rugby is a professional body. There is a stark difference between our GAA and Rugby. I was very much at home with the GAA hurlers, even though the only one I recognised was Joe Canning. The fact that hurlers wear helmet obscures their faces so I could be forgiven for my ignorance. To meet the Galway hurlers was the highlight of my weekend. We GAA people are so easily satisfied.
If Mayo can win the All-Ireland football title this Sunday, then most of the GAA community will be very well satisfied. They will play, probably, the best ever inter-county football team since the foundation of the GAA in 1884. Every county (bar Dublin, of course) will pull together this Sunday to cheer on the men from the west in their quest to win the ultimate prize after many recent years of failure and heartache.
I feel that the game will be closer than most people expect. If Mayo can put pressure high up the field and get into faces of the Dublin team then they have a chance. We have never seen Dublin put under any serious pressure in any game to date in this year’s championship. I would like to see how Dublin were to react if they were playing from behind. Mayo will need a few goals in this game.
Joe McDonagh sang a heart-rending version of the famous ‘The West Awake’ balled from the Hogan Stand in 1980. I hope that we hear Mayo’s version from the Hogan Stand this Sunday:
And if when all a vigil keep,
The West's asleep, the West's asleep
Alas! and well may Erin weep
That Mayo lies in slumber deep.
But, hark! a voice like thunder spake,
The West's awake! The West's awake.
Keep the faith!