Whenever the weather allows in Galway (which can never be guaranteed), I like to walk the Salthill Promenade. On one of my first nights here, Azza introduced me to the walk and ever since then it’s often been a place of processing and reflection for me (and of enjoying the beaches and admiring the local dogs). Luckily, today Galway put on its best sunny show; so off I went. With my birthday, fencing intervarsities, and St. Patrick’s Day falling across the last three weekends, as I walked I was happily flooded with memories of celebrations.
To be fair, my birthday actually fell on a Tuesday. The bad news being that as a weeknight, some of my friends couldn’t make it out that night; the good news being that that meant only one thing — double the birthday celebrations. I shared a laughter-filled dinner on my birthday with two of my longest-held friends in Galway before heading to the pub to meet the fencing club. Tuesdays are our usual pub night as a team, so I anticipated the usual banter when to my surprise they pulled out a cake and a pack of Kinder Eggs (my first ever). The following Saturday, I had dinner with a group of my friends in our usual dinner spot. When we got back to their sitting room, they brought out a cake complete with trick candles. With some help, I did finally manage to get them all blown out.
Before I knew it, only days later I found myself on a bus surrounded by the fencing team at the beginning of our seven-hour journey to Coleraine for intervarsities – a team competition across the universities of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Saturday evening, there is a celebratory dinner that was described to me beforehand as “like a wedding reception with no wedding attached.” Sitting together around two tables sharing our meal, competing in various party games and races, and dancing the night away, it was a time for the whole team and the whole fencing community to come together to celebrate all that we’d accomplished that weekend and throughout the year. And we left with some pretty wonderful photo booth print outs too.
Then just a few days ago, I found myself in a sea of green – my first Irish Paddy’s Day (I was warned sternly not to ever say Patty’s Day – duly noted). I watched as children’s GAA teams, various cultural groups, performing arts programs, and everything in between marched through Galway during the parade. Then we filed into the pub to watch the Ireland-England rugby match – a game I never knew I’d be into until surrounded by cheering, swearing, nail-biting fans. After an Irish victory, the celebratory spirit carried on long into the night. The town was packed; Irish flags were hanging from store fronts; banners were flying across the streets; and laughter and singing filled the air.
In thinking about each of those nights and what I loved about them, I realized that I kept coming back to connection. Celebrations are a time of joy, a time of achievement, a time of reflection on contributions and identity, but what makes them truly celebratory is often the community of people that you celebrate with. When we celebrate, we look to those closest to us and in doing so we both acknowledge and deepen our sense of community. Walking along the Prom today, I reflected on how lucky I am to find myself in so many supportive communities here and how lucky I feel to have so much to celebrate.