Remembering Galway as a student in the sixties

Perhaps it was the discussions, when I visited  the National University of Ireland Galway recently ,about celebrating Biochemistry Department’s 50th Anniversary, or maybe the driving primal forces of the storm on the Prom., but for the first time in years I was back in the late sixties in my mind. Pleased with my past, unsure of my future I am a student in Galway. Sharing a room with Noel (now dead) and Paul ,linoleum on the floor, a two-barred electric heater in the living/dining room, water to wash in the morning in a big willow patterned pitcher, toilet out the back. “Frugal comfort” my mother had defined it in DeValeresque terms when she chose it before I moved there.

The pleasant short walk to the Uni-thenUCG- was along the canal where fish darted and distracted me from rehearsing the metabolic pathways that could be a question in an exam. Studying in the room beside the Latin hall, full of serious medics of the future but then frowning at massive books was my work place. My class mates were Willie and Willie and Tommie and Moya and Eithne and Joe. Margaret, now dead, was my special friend. We were all happy and hopeful and challenged. Our curriculum was “all that was known about Biochemistry”!

We sang in the choir and famously won at the Cork International Choral Festival. Brendan, ”the fuzz” lead us out on the stage  and the crowd always giggled. He had an Afro before the name was invented and we looked  an unlikely bunch. But Fintan had us trained to be exquisite. Des kept us laughing with jokes ….and made a good career out of that later, while also being a Maths professor. Everything was indeed possible.

Going for a run in the wet and dark evenings was compensated by a ladies finger or a chocolate éclair in the Galleon. Maine was a nun and fun and was part of the gang that had slightly intellectual tendencies.  Was the new Vatican statement on birth control right or wrong ? Should the Irish language be revived?  Were Anne and Michael off their heads pushing Mao’s  little Red Book at the entrance of the quad ?…and what did Mao know about Irish farming in the first place? And Brian with a pipe that wafted atmosphere (secondary smoking had not been discovered then), took discussions on long erudite roads that lead to his then (but not now) Opus Dei convictions. Nobody was “recruited” but the hunt was persistent. The Lit and Deb was full of cut and clever thrust with performers like Michael D (now president of Ireland), Richard (later played a major role in peace talks in the north)  and the guy who became a music composer whose name escapes me. Politicians were formed there at the same rate as school teachers; Seamus, (now dead),Pat, a minister today and Frank the backroom manipulator for decades stand out.

And going to the pictures was the Saturday night-indeed week- highlight and before it the long haired singer treating the queue to modern ballads ( in the inevitable rain) as if it was a Carnegie Hall audience was the most memorable a part of the enjoyment. Pubs were not a significant part of life, strangely, and a Club Orange was the thirst quencher as the Showbands of the day belted it out in Seapoint or the Hanger.

Overall it was a simple life…now gone for all , now either dead or retired ,mostly. The Galway of then was one where everybody knew everybody. Studying was the prime activity and set us up for the work life.. Debates and discussions formed the real part of our minds. Remembering brings the sadness of nostalgia , overpowered by a happy glow  of recollecting special people and places. Maybe we should have had more fun. Maybe we should have more fun now. “We look before and after and pine for what is not”. (Shelley)

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