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by David James Allan

Wishing to avoid the crowds on commercial Shop Street, I dart down Kirwan’s Lane, passing under the Liberator O’Connell’s window (so called because he supposedly stayed there when in town on court business) with a reverential nod. I am on my way to Merchant’s Road and the best cup of coffee in town. Focused on the need for a jolt, I lower my eyes to the irregular pavement, careful to avoid the many hazards before me.

I choose my steps with military precision. “Buskers at ten o’clock,” my brain tells me, so I veer wide right, around the youngsters blowing fervently into tin whistles to the delight of themselves and the brace of considerate passersby filling their hat with loose change. Music on the streets is a common occurrence year round in Galway, much of it worth the listen, but sometimes the promise of a pint’s worth of pennies brings out a crowd noted more for enthusiasm than talent. Kirwan’s Lane, with its high walls and narrow space, has excellent acoustics and is a popular spot for their machinations.

The brain admonishes, “No, you’ve gone too far right,” and my muscles tense as Wart Lady, loaded down with shopping bags, staggers into my path. Pushy and pervasive, she is found all over the city, always looking for some smokes from the unsuspecting traveler who meets her intent gaze. I side step while quickly grabbing the cell phone from my pocket to look at it with anguished disappointment as if awaiting an important call. Her wart-covered face puckers at the loss of charity and she moves on. Galway has an assortment of wacky characters forever adding excitement to a walk through town.

Leaving Wart Lady at my six, I quicken my pace. A group of Japanese students at three o’clock argue over a map that they continually contort in a vain effort to unlock its mysteries. Irish streets can be confusing as they often change names every block or so. Wrestling my conscience, finally I stop to sort them out and they are very appreciative. I pass Mary who waits patiently at the end of the lane, religious pamphlet in hand, for someone that never seems to come. This isn’t unusual. My first lesson upon arriving in Ireland was that punctuality is Gallic, not Gaelic—an outsider’s disease that only leads to an early grave.

Now I’m on Middle Street and can hear the music drifting out the back of the famous King’s Head Pub, distracting me. Unfortunately not enough, because now I’m passing the window display of Charlie Byrne’s bookshop, the finest place for new or used books in Ireland. I count my money; I can afford a brief look.

An hour later, shaking with the need for caffeine, I leave Charlie’s proud that I only added three books to my collection; excellent self-control. Opting for the direct route, I take my chances on another narrow laneway connecting St. Augustine Street with Merchant’s Road. This takes me by the public library, but I have some hefty fines for late returns so I’m not tempted. A cautious glance down St. Brigid’s Walk; it’s clear, I can proceed. Halfway between a skip and a jog I burst onto Merchant’s Road, nearly taking out a young mother with pram. While apologizing, I shuffle backwards towards my destination, cross the street and fling open the door to the Arabica Coffee Co. Solace is a new book, a large vanilla latte and the greatest little city in Ireland embracing me. No obstacle could keep me away.

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