On a rainy day in Galway (is there any other kind?), I sat by the window of McDonagh's, greedily consuming a platter of fish and chips, gazing out at the foot traffic as it to-ed and fro-ed, wondering what the hell I was doing in Galway. I'd arrived on the train from Dublin just after noon and had fooled myself that I would somehow save my personal McDonagh's fishfest for dinner, and there I was, twenty minutes off the train, following the crunchy whiff of chipper and drifting toward the counter with visions of cod swimming in my head. I'd already figured it was likely to be the highlight of my day trip, and maybe I was setting myself up for disappointment by making the pilgrimage so early on. But there I was.
Galway and I have a bit of previous between us, and I'd approached the solo journey with some trepidation. My aim was nostalgia, pure and simple. As the train chugged its way west, I did some calculations: it had been well over ten years since I'd last set foot in Galway, and I was anxious to go back and see what remained -- or didn't -- of my fond and not-so-fond memories. On the wild, rocky shores of Galway Bay, I had fallen in love (with the bay) and had my heart broken (on the bay), and landscapes have a way of storing up memories you didn't even know you had, then unleashing them on you with gale force wind. Stepping off a train into so much history can be disorienting. I needed some fried food to ground me.
Beneath a miscellany of framed knick-knacks and vaguely seafaring-related certificates I feasted alone. I noted the sign over the door to McDonagh's that informed me MANAGEMENT RESERVED THE RIGHT TO REFUSE ADMISSION and wondered why the past tense. Nautical knots dangled in a diorama on the wall. Under the hangman's knot and the wagonner's hitch, I poured more salt onto the deliciously salty chips and noted a giant shell from the Irish Naturalist's Journal with the heading: THE OCCURRENCE OF AN EXCEPTIONALLY LARGE ESCALLOP FROM THE WEST OF IRELAND. Was this why I had come to Galway?
Gazing out gloomily at the wet, dismal day, I spent a long time chewing my lunch and reading an aged typed certificate on the wall, which I diligently copied into my notebook, for no other reason than I had no companion or iPhone handy and the grease on my fingers would've easily destroyed any book I was reading. The paper, affixed with a golden seal, read:
We certify that the establishment of P.J. McDonagh restaurant and fish delicatessen is the finest purveyor of marine food of all ports of call of the Soviet fleet in Atlantic and Pacific waters. It is with great pleasure we commend this certificate for fine food and friendly service.
Master of R/V Professor Marti
The 24 of March 1989
The Port of Galway
I finished my fish and chips, swallowed the last dregs of warm Coca-Cola, then added my own footnote to the margin:
"The fact that I stopped to copy the entire text tells you a lot about my loneliness, I think."
The author "gettin' all introspective n' shit" on Galway Bay, January 2011