As I sat on the bus to Shannon Airport, a family passed and I smiled at the glory of their red hair

I have been in England for a long time, but visiting my mother after surgery in Galway brought me back to the open doors I used to know

Maura Murray: 'It is busy and I notice the youth of those around me and the inner smile it provokes, I had forgotten Galway’s draw for the young.'

The couple beside me on the plane shared their photo of their grandchildren and we spoke about red hair. “You’ll notice a lot more red hair in the west of Ireland,” I said, and they smiled.

I remember the conversation as I sat in a plant-based Galway cafe waiting for my lunch to arrive. A young woman beside me on the padded bench tapped on her laptop and sighed as she leant towards her screen and her mane of auburn hair shook slightly halfway down her back.

I was “home” for a few days visiting my mother as she recovered from surgery in University Hospital Galway. To me though it was “The Regional” and always would be reflecting a mixture of the old and new Galway I was once again noticing within me.

There used to be cannons at the top of Eyre Square. My earliest memory of the city is of sitting on one such cannon wearing a Heidi-themed dress from my cousins in the US, on which a waitress later spilt soup.

Maura Murray returned to Ireland to visit her mother following surgery

That was a rare day out during annual holidays to the west of Ireland. A restaurant meal in the early 1970s was a treat, which is why the soup’s loss is still recalled.

Perhaps that visit was scouting out a place to live because not long after my parents returned to Ireland from England with me, the eldest of their children, to live in Galway.

After that, I went first to Dublin and then to London and it is now 50 years later. I am seeking the familiar, I have a need for it and so I walked into “town”. I passed the industrial units with furniture shopfronts and Polish shops before my brothers’ and sisters’ school in Galway that has become a training centre.

Soon terraced houses lined the street and led further into the city, but their new doors and key safes shout change.

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Shops have closed in Galway, pubs have gone and then I pass the open front door, but it only leads to another that is closed.

It was then that I realised that the open doors I sought had gone. Once as you passed on the pavement you could occasionally see into the kitchen and briefly glimpse an oil-clothed table and cream-painted turned chair on worn lino.

At another house it might have been the sound of a Gaelic football game being listened to inside and perhaps the sight of a stout-shoed leg.

A rush of recognition at the rarity of this street side domestic view that used to be so much more common came to me. My own grandmother never locked her farm door and prided herself on the fact that the family could arrive at any hour of the day or night.

There were stories that she did not know who was in the house until breakfast. What did the gesture of her unlocked door mean? I never asked her, but it was certainly about a welcome home.

In those now missing open doors I also sensed that same welcome, but also a wider openness to neighbours, friends, strangers, the world itself and all from a place of curiosity and trust.

In Galway city centre I see the plastic hoarding around the base of Browne’s original medieval stone doorway and the need to protect a centuries-old portal from the marauding tribes of today.

It is busy and I notice the youth of those around me and the inner smile it provokes, I had forgotten Galway’s draw for the young.

I divert to a back street towards Woodquay. McSwiggan’s pub, newly opened in my student days, has outlasted the cannons. There are tables, coffee, and drinks on these pavements now, and the continental undertone the city always had has become physical.

Down around the courthouse was always a favoured spot for me. It is the sound of the river weir and its aerial emission of negative ions or the contrast between water and Georgian stone.

My father pointed out, on many a car journey around Ireland, the Protestant churches, monuments and castles and their prime sites. I remembered that the colonisers had already recognised the virtues of this part of the city. My introverted self valued its seclusion and hiddenness from traffic and visitors, but the cafe queues suggested discovery and a new round of colonisation.

As a schoolgirl, a deep joy was leaning over the limestone ledges of a river bridge to look down to the Corrib seeking the silver flash of a migrating salmon. Today the river thundered with peaty ochre waters and was high up the banks. It was the new pedestrian bridge that provided metallic brilliance.

The wind whipped up my hair, but I revelled in its Atlantic freshness. They speak so often of the rain in Galway that the wind is left behind. It is rarely still and is frequently physical in its presence, but I feel my gladness for such an unpolluted essence.

In the cafe I looked at a booklet on forthcoming arts events and my mind jostled with the new and the familiar, and once again I was not sure if I belonged any longer.

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I felt like those open doors, a thing of the past, and I was saddened by that loss of faith in the continual embrace of home. Then I noticed again the many young people and thought back to those I had seen in the last few hours, vibrant and varied.

This was the new and I was glad of it. England had taught me to be comfortable with this Ireland. Or something of the open street doors had stayed within me.

Some days later my mother was recovering and as I sat on the bus to Shannon Airport a family of four passed on their way to the city, and I smiled at the glory of their red hair.

Maura Murray mentors students with additional needs at the University of Cambridge. She lives in Hertfordshire in England. She left Ireland in 1985 and visited her mother in UHG in April 2024.