‘The craic is being sucked out of it’: A Galway night out in the new normal

Hen parties descend on Shop Street as people adjust to changes Covid has made to how we socialise

Crowds outside The Front Door bar on Galway’s Cross Street Upper on Sunday night. Photograph: Mike Finnerty

Crowds outside The Front Door bar on Galway’s Cross Street Upper on Sunday night. Photograph: Mike Finnerty

 

The bride’s mother is running late.

On a crisp, autumnal night on Galway’s Shop Street, the city’s nightlife has returned but things are not quite the same.

Helen Clinch has travelled down from Co Cavan for the evening to co-ordinate her sister’s hen party.

“We were supposed to have this hen in October 2020 and the wedding was meant to take place in February of this year. At the time you could only have six to a wedding so she decided to wait until restrictions lifted so we can have a proper celebration.”

The entourage of 15 booked their delayed hen in June of this year, and the prospect of a night on the tiles served as inspiration to get their vaccine shot – but this plan was not without its difficulties.

A member of the extended family “didn’t get the jab, and with the rules being what they are, she couldn’t come. That was a tough decision to make”, says Clinch.

All the usual trappings of a hen party are there: the bride is wearing a veil, the atmosphere is decidedly that of a night of celebration, but there is still a sense of being in the shadow of restrictions.

As soon as the bride’s mother makes her entrance – “I’m a mother of nine,” she proudly tells The Irish Times – the party enters Coyotes Bar.

A staff member requests the ensemble produce their ID cards along with their vaccination certificates, and 15 mobile phones belonging to masked owners rise out of handbags with credentials on screen. This is the “new normal” for a night on the town.

There was a mixture of groups out on Sunday, from the 20-somethings that make up much of the Galway nightlife to a cluster of older professionals discussing Liverpool’s emphatic win over Manchester United. And there was another hen party – this one of 17 which had travelled from Armagh to Galway because of its reputation as a “party town”.

“We’ve been open back home since June or July, but we don’t really feel safe going out. You’ve handled it a lot better than we’ve had. You don’t need a mask if you’re going out in Belfast but you need one here,” said Laura, a bride getting married this November.

“Honestly, we feel a lot better wearing masks, and it’s good there’s still that bit of cautiousness down here as opposed to back home where they lifted all the restrictions really quickly.

“Galway has always had a great reputation when it comes to nightlife, so we decided to pick here for the hen night, and we’re glad we did – it’s really lovely here, the atmosphere is something else.”

Elsewhere, there was some grumbling about Friday evening’s announcement about tickets being required for venues operating for the purposes of live entertainment or nightclubs. The Government’s announcement of an exemption for pubs playing live music did little to quell criticism.

A staff member at one venue said it would no longer be possible for people to make an “impulsive, spontaneous choice” to go clubbing.

“With this ticketing craic, that’s gone, and really that’s kind of the point of a night out, making a decision at the last minute.

“When you add booking a ticket into the mix, forget it,” he said.

Chris Moran, a 30-year-old down for the night from Co Mayo, was having a cigarette in the smoking area outside McGettigan’s, just off Eyre Square.

“If you ask me? This new night out is s**t. Are you allowed to print that?

“There’s a structure and order to nights out now when there wasn’t before. The craic is being sucked out of it,” he said.

“You almost have to plan your night out in advance, and where’s the fun in that?”

Conor Carmody (left) and Conor Kavanagh in Galway city on Sunday night. Photograph: Mike Finnerty
Conor Carmody (left) and Conor Kavanagh in Galway city on Sunday night. Photograph: Mike Finnerty

This dynamic also frustrated Conor Carmody and Conor Kavanagh, both from Dublin. The friends were waiting in a queue outside The Skeff Bar in Eyre Square.

“We were down in the Latin Quarter and the place is packed. We were at a bar down there, and I tried to grab another chair from another table because we met a friend, the security guy told us we couldn’t do that. That’s the kind of thing you do on a night out and I forgot the rules for a second,” Kavanagh said.

“There is a sense of rigidness tonight. Half the fun of a night out is starting out as a big group and gradually, the group falls away because someone in the group might find a friend or meet someone else. Now everyone just sticks to their groups,” Carmody said.

“The instinctual, normal things you do on a night out are gone now, and I must say I’m not really a big fan of that.”

Despite the caveats surrounding the new normal night out, the group were enjoying themselves.

“Galway really is a great place, the vibe is really different to Dublin, and people are much nicer here,” Carmody said, when right on cue, a 15-minute rain shower began.

“Well, that’s Galway for you,” said Kavanagh.