In a Word . . .

. . . Columbus

“With hindsight, not least following the past two years, the world might be a better place had Columbus been detained in Galway.”

“With hindsight, not least following the past two years, the world might be a better place had Columbus been detained in Galway.”

 

One of my favourite debating motions from undergraduate days in Galway was “That Columbus went too far”. Of course, Columbus’s journey westwards across the Atlantic in search of a route to India had its own resonances in the City of the Tribes.

Galway had strong trading links with Spain in the 15th century, mainly in wines. Hence, the Spanish Arch. In 1477, Columbus visited Galway and is believed to have prayed in the beautiful St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church there.

No one in my student days would believe Columbus went too far in visiting Galway. Quite the opposite.

The motion referred to what happened in 1492 when Columbus arrived in the Bahamas, “discovering” the Americas but believing he was in east Asia. There is a myth that it was on that first trip of four, to what became America, that Columbus visited Galway.

Not so – even if he would not have been the first person to end up somewhere else entirely, and remote from where intended, having first visited Galway! No, the reference was to the USA.

With hindsight, not least following the past two years, the world might be a better place had Columbus been detained in Galway. It would not have been difficult either as Galway was already, I’m sure, what it is – a state of mind so tempting to sentient humanity it was dubbed long ago as “the graveyard of ambition”. Been there, felt that, miss the tee-shirt.

Yes, a map of the world which did not include Galway would not be complete. Indeed, it is said that when Columbus visited the city, he noted it in his copy of Imago Mundi (map of the world).

We indomitable Irish live in a strange old world nowadays. Our neighbours to the east have been driven mad by visions of Boadicea taking on Rome again and, to the west, by an oul’ fellow’s yellow hair that has maddened every mother’s son.

And here we are, stuck in the middle, an island of calm reason keeping our head while they lose theirs. Who would have thought it of an Ireland which native son George Bernard Shaw once described as “the largest open-air lunatic asylum in the world”?

Columbus, Latinised form of his native Italian Cristoforo Colomb. In Spanish Cristóbal Colón. The country Colombia is named after him.

inaword@irishtimes.com

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