Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Galway: NUIG, and the sad tale of the first "lynching"

This morning Nancy decided to explore a different area of Galway, so she headed north, away from the old, narrow, pedestrian streets, and into a (relatively) more modern section. Here she found a store called TK Maxx (why they’ve changed the middle initial is a mystery—unless it was simply a typographical error that persisted), where she bought a pair of thermal tights (since the search for a pair of reasonably priced thermal underwear had been unsuccessful) and looked for a simple, reasonably priced belt (to help keep a pair of slightly-too-long pants from dragging through rain puddles). She continued walking more or less north until she got to the intersection of two main highways, which was graced by a couple of big shopping centers and movie multiplex. At that point, since the area looked like Galway’s version of the Fields-Ertel/Mason-Montgomery Road region in Cincinnati, she decided to turn around and head back into more picturesque territory.

Main entrance to NUIG's neo-gothic quadrangle
On the west side of the River Corrib is the National University of Ireland, Galway. At the center of campus is a neo-gothic quadrangle much like the one we used to cross daily while attending the University of Chicago, and like Chicago, it’s surrounded by a sprawl of more modern buildings. In addition to offering strong programs in computer science and technology (which is why Fidelity’s Irish IT center is located here), NUIG is one of the country’s main centers for the study of the Irish culture and language.

Irish is a form of Gaelic, closely related to but distinct from Scottish and Welsh. During the twentieth century, the Irish began an ongoing effort to not only preserve their native language (which, except in isolated areas, English overlords had effectively quashed) but to bring it back into everyday use throughout the country. From what we have been able to gather, all children now study Irish at school, and official signage must include Irish as well as English. In Gaeltacht areas of the country—those where the speaking of Irish persisted despite British disapproval—signs may be entirely in Irish. Galway is the gateway to the Gaeltacht regions of western Ireland, so we’ve seen and heard a lot of this language. Many phrases written in what initially looked to us like Elvish have now become familiar, even though we’re still not sure how to pronounce most of them. Failte (faw-ILT-yuh) is the Irish word we see most often; it means “welcome.” Nancy’s favorite road sign says Go mall (slow down!).

The Ryan Institute at NUIG
Another of NUIG’s strengths is marine research—not surprising for a university situated so close to the sea. The Ryan Institute, housed in one of the more modern buildings on campus, includes the Museum of Zoology and Marine Biology, which Nancy spent the afternoon exploring. Most of the specimens are much older than the building; four of them (three small mammals and a bird) actually were collected by Charles Darwin during his famous voyage to the Galapagos Islands on the Beagle. Another intriguing display was a case full of glass models of the weird, translucent bodies of deep-sea creatures.

Michael, who had decided to work late again tonight, had asked Nancy to run an errand for him this afternoon: his phone service needed to be renewed for another thirty days. In the few weeks since he had bought an Irish SIM card and service plan from O2, O2 had been taken over by another provider, so Nancy had to locate the right store and wait in line behind a lot of other people who had questions about their new service. Once she reached the counter, the transaction would have been a simple one had her Fidelity-issued VISA card contained a digital chip, or had the store’s card reader been capable of accepting a magnetic strip. (Credit card technology in the U.S. is way behind that of Europe, where chips have been the norm for some time.) But since she couldn’t swipe her card and didn’t have €20 in cash, she had to leave and find an ATM.

The "rescue" carving at Lynch Castle
Fortunately, a branch of the Bank of Ireland was just up the street, housed in Lynch Castle, which is one of Galway’s most historically significant buildings. After using the ATM and taking her payment to the phone store, Nancy returned to the bank to look at displays that tell the story of the castle and the Lynch family. It’s not a large building, and it didn’t break any new ground architecturally speaking, but the exterior does sport some unusual medieval carvings, including one of a monkey rescuing a baby (supposedly a true incident).

The most interesting story associated with the castle concerns James Lynch FitzStephen, who was mayor of Galway during the 1500s. According to the legend, Mayor Lynch met an engaging young Spaniard who had sailed into the port, and invited the man to stay with his own family at Lynch Castle. The mayor had a son about the same age as the Spaniard, and the two developed a close relationship. However, when the younger Lynch introduced his new friend to the girl he hoped to marry at a dinner party, things began to go awry. The Spaniard, he felt, was too friendly with the lady, and she too quick to return his compliments. As the evening wore on (and, no doubt, as more wine was consumed) the mayor’s son became enraged. At the peak of his jealous passion, he stabbed the Spaniard to death and threw the body into the Corrib.

The next day, soberly aghast at what he had done, young Lynch confessed to the crime. As a devoted civil servant and an honorable man, his father felt obliged to have him arrested and confined in the city gaol. When they heard what had happened, and knowing that murder was a capital offense, the rest of the Lynch family, the young lady, and indeed the whole town begged the mayor (who was also the town judge) for clemency, but the older Lynch knew his duty to the law and, since the prisoner had confessed his guilt at the trial, ordered an execution. The horrified gaoler let the son out, but the father locked him up again. The day of the scheduled hanging, the executioner refused to carry it out, so Mayor Lynch himself put the rope around his son’s neck and pushed him through the tower window. Having satisfied the demands of justice, James Lynch FitzSimmons immediately resigned from public office and spent the rest of his life in seclusion.

This heartrending tale is the foundation for the term lynching. It’s sad to think that what once referred to nobly taking the law into one’s own hands to ensure that justice is done, now is used to describe taking the law into one’s own hands to achieve an unjust end.

Lynch Memorial Wall
After reading the story in Lynch’s Castle, Nancy recalled passing an old stone wall behind St. Nicholas Church that was marked with a plaque mentioning the Lynch family. She remembered that near the top of the free-standing wall was an unglazed window, and underneath that, a carved skull and crossbones. Curious, she returned to the wall and found that, yes, it had been part of the old gaol, and the window was the one where, according to tradition, Mayor Lynch had executed his own son.

When Michael came back from work later that evening, he and Nancy walked down to Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, the Mediterranean restaurant housed in a low, medieval building right on the river next to the Spanish Arch (probably not far from where that young Spaniard had met his untimely end four or five centuries ago). We shared tapas that included lamb shish kebab served on a bed of greens with yogurt; crab salad with chopped fennel and apple on croustini; and goat cheese with beet root salad and pistachios on pita bread. For dessert there was a silky blood-orange posset accompanied by a bar of nutty chocolate cake.
Where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay, as seen from Claddagh Quay. Nimmo's is the low building in the center, just to the right of the Spanish Arch. The Galway City Museum is the beige modern building in the center behind them.

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