Friday afternoon in Galway and a sweet reminder, just after lunch, that when the sun shines and the weekend is coming in the city, there are few more glorious places. Yes, soon the traffic snarl on the outer roads would begin to intensify and soon the county’s notorious jam-spots would make the cut on the road traffic bulletins. But as a crowd gathered to mark the opening of the new pedestrian bridge, a sister companion to the famous Salmon Weir, all was optimism and sunglasses.
“I love Galway city,” said Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan as he stood in shirt sleeves facing the cathedral waiting to declare the crossing open.
“I spend a lot of my working life bringing people into Galway city because it is such a beautiful city,” he continued, remembering a phrase he had heard at a conference he attended on city planning.
“We need to build more Galway in Galway city. We need to go back to the roots and character of the city and build that out. It doesn’t have to be car-dominated and out-of-town retail with no real character. Let’s build Galway like Galway is.”
Somewhere in the heart of Germany, an eminent city-planner may be nodding approvingly. Wulf Daseking, who acquired a global reputation after transforming Freiburg into a civic and green dreamscape, recently caused a stir when, on a whistle-stop visit to Galway for a conference – his return to the city after a youthful trip 50 years earlier – he took a brief look around and memorably declared its approach as looking “like a mouth full of broken teeth”.
In subsequent interviews, he patiently explained his remarks. He was genuinely aghast that such an unforgettable medieval city has been betrayed by the ad hoc infrastructure and approach roads that surround it.
“I would be very with him on those comments,” said Independent TD Catherine Connolly. “I wouldn’t be with him in that it was a conference that was very exclusive and the tickets very expensive. When you are talking about a vision for Galway, it should be from the people of Galway.”
The subject of what “to do” with Galway and transport is nothing new. Ms Connolly remembered 25,000 signatures for a feasibility study on light rail submitted in 2017.
“And here we are six years later with no feasibility study. We have never had a city architect. And I have the greatest respect for our planners. I spent 17 years of my life watching planners under pressure when councillors were rezoning against planners’ advice. But what is lacking in Galway is a master plan.”
As a city resident, however, she is thrilled by this latest development. “I’m looking forward to trying the bridge on my bicycle. It is over the other side of the road. It is a celebration, a beautiful day for Galway.”
The technical description for the new bridge – it has yet to be named – is “very cool”.
It was designed in the shape of a salmon and is as futuristic as the Salmon Weir, which was built in 1818. It is resolutely old world, traversing three watercourses, with transparent parapets for an unobstructed view of the river, a perfect division between the staunch old-Galway buildings – the cathedral and the Convent of Mercy – and perfect for people with impaired mobility.
It boasts broad wooden benches seemingly designed for all types – water-watchers, lovers, skateboarders and those that simply need a seat. The dramatic feature on either side is a glazed oculus – essentially a circular viewing point where people can lean on the railing and gaze at the water below. It’s an impressive touch – if also an irresistible climbing dare for teenagers.
The new bridge is going to have a busy life. The first people to cross it were Mr Ryan, who strolled in the sunshine with Mayor of Galway Clodagh Higgins, with several hundred flocking behind them. The first dog to cross the bridge cheerfully posed for photos.
About 10,000 pedestrians use the old Salmon Weir bridge every day. Given that many of them are students, it’s a fair assumption that a fair chunk are, at given hours, either coming from one of the many city hostelries on their way to another. The bridge was chocka with cars and buses from early ‘til late.
“Oh, it was dangerous,” said Ms Connolly.
“I worked in the courthouse in a different life and you would see every day very close accidents. I would say, the older bridge, the wonderful Salmon Weir bridge, should have been kept for pedestrians and cyclists. It is a wonderful bridge and is traditionally for watching the salmon. So I would have kept that for cyclists and pedestrians, and the new bridge for traffic. But we didn’t succeed with that idea. Nobody really understood why they didn’t run with it.”
Water under the bridge now.