My introduction to books as a child was in the crowded and cramped Galway City library. It occupied the second floor of the court house complex built by the British in the nineteenth century. On the portico high above street level the British gave it the ultimate imprimatur by installing a Royal coat of arms carving, featuring the lion and unicorn on either side of the great shield, which looked down on the colonized peasantry of Galway.
Many prisoners were taken from there for the short journey across the Corrib to the City Gaol and then onto the even shorter journey into infinity – hanged at dawn and buried in the goal precincts. The bodies were disinterred in the 1960s when it was demolished to make room for the ostentatious Galway Cathedral. A marginal improvement some would say.
To get to the library on the second floor I had to negotiate a phalanx of prisoners in handcuffs and chains, prison warders, Gardai, lawyers, solicitors, relatives of the victims and accused and a blue grey haze of cigarette smoke that penetrate your cloths as you pushed your way through the crowds and then up the long wooden staircase to the haven of the library. Hence my early and abiding interest in crime fiction was born.
It was weaned by the town itself. Not far from the library in the narrow grey streets was Lynch’s Window with a skull and crossbones carving to commemorate where the mayor of Galway displayed his judicial impartiality by hanging his own son for the murder of a Spanish visitor. Hence the name Galway of the Welcomes came into popular usage.
In Bowling Green I passed Nora Barnacle’s house everyday on the way to school, where her adolescent lover waited in the rain all night before dying of consumption. He is buried high above the City in Rahoon cemetery. Joyce saw the remarkable light in Nora Barnacle as well and consumed he was by her. He carved the English language up into something profound and shocking because Nora’s Galway lover was outside his reach.
Renmore barracks on the east of the city housed the Connaught Rangers who left wet and windy Galway to leave their bones flung in desserts and ravines far away across the length of the British Empire. Bloodshed, loss, ruination and tragedy pervaded the town. Wind and rain, dark clouds and black seas augmented the built environment and sucked me into the bleak noir perspective of the collection: As Close As You’ll Ever Be.
My next book will be a romantic comedy.