A visit to the European capital of culture Galway

DThe anticipation was great. It was supposed to be a spectacle with torches, drums, fireworks, music and dancing – outside, on the Irish west coast, where the climate is harsh. After months of preparation, the small port city of Galway was prepared for the grand opening ceremony that was to usher in a special year: Galway is next to the Croatian city of Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020. But the freestyle was followed by a bitter disappointment: Ciara came up, the storm that is in Germany called Sabine.

Hannah Bethke

The Irish are used to bad weather, but the violent, hurricane-like gusts with heavy rain have become too sensitive even for them. With a heavy heart the organizers canceled the ceremony a few hours before the planned start – and so it was canceled without replacement, because the Galway people did not have a plan B. In her speech at the Galmont Hotel in the city center, where a preliminary event for the opening took place in the afternoon, Helen Marriage came to tears. She is creative director of the comprehensive cultural program “Galway 2020” and deeply regretted the cancellation. Everyone involved would have worked towards this for months. The opening ceremony cannot be rescheduled either because the events have only been approved for the planned date.

However, the central questions that were linked to the Capital of Culture in many speeches do not lose their relevance: “Who are we?”, Many wanted to know. What does it mean to be Galway, Irish, European? Galway’s moment had come: The commitment to European identity, as was often heard these days, is gaining importance in times of rampant nationalism and right-wing populism.

Ireland and Brexit

The much smaller “Fire Tour” in Portumna two days earlier gave an impression of what the cultural response to these politically turbulent times, which were characterized by Brexit and the elections in Ireland, could have been. With drums and torches, people marched through the small town in County Galway, which is located almost sixty kilometers southeast of the city of Galway. Counties used to designate the counties in Ireland and, like the German counties, structure the country’s administrative units.


It is cold but still dry when the residents of Portumna gather in the square in front of Saint Brigid’s Church in the evening and devoutly listen to two young girls singing “I love you” by Billie Eilish with dedication. The drummers and torchbearers march happily onto the square, a small firework display appears on the horizon.

For six days, the small towns in the county hosted celebrations of this kind, following the Celtic calendar of the four seasons, which celebrates the farewell of winter at the “Imbolc”. The closing and climax in Galway was planned for the seventh day. The effort that the residents make here with the orientation of the cultural capital is adorable, carefree. And yet it is not surprising that they are planning the most important event of the year outside in February, in a country where it rains constantly and is often windy, not only when Ciara is on the move. The German amazement at so much light-heartedness reflects stereotypes of both countries – and is perhaps also an explanation for why so many Germans are drawn to Ireland.

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