TOURISM FOR THE DISCERNING
Slightly off the well-known Wild Atlantic Way is the ancient settlement of Tuam, or Tomb as our American friends call it. Linked by motorway from Galway city and served by 20 Burkes busses every day it is within easy access for the discerning tourist. Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Bord Failte have failed to advertise this hidden gem.
From an architectural point of view, Tuam has some remarkable buildings. The Stand at Tuam Stadium, once home to the Terrible Twins, is modelled on the vernacular architecture known as “cow shed” and in keeping with the brutalist movement, popular until recently, the seats are of unadorned concrete and particularly attractive on wet days. Then there is the bricked-up Courthouse with its grey facade, the decrepit, weed infested, Victorian Rail Station, the White Elephant known as the multi-story car park and the Mill Museum that is neither Mill nor Museum. St Mary’s Church of Ireland Cathedral also offers some fine examples of mould and crumbling masonry. Unfortunately, it is locked up most of the time.
Dereliction is another attractive feature of the town and the discerning tourist will have no trouble finding streetscapes that resemble Shane McGowan’s teeth. Clearly there must be preservation on these sites because they have remained untouched for decades. Perhaps they are meant to be subtle reminders of Tuam’s golden years as a retail mecca.
An ancient race of tin smiths and equine aficionados also reside in the town. Having roamed the highways and byways of Ireland for centuries many of their descendants now reside in a site poetically called “The Big Field” that was once the home of a renowned racing festival. Here the remnants of this special people, who can trace their ancestry back to the Pharos of Egypt, reside in conditions not unlike the great reservations enjoyed by the First Nations of America, Canada and Australia, making the most of State subventions and ancillary earnings. They bring a touch of colour and class to the town celebrating major social events like weddings and funerals with a brio the rest of the population can only admire. And as for stone statuary, their funereal monuments rank in grandeur with those found in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris or Hyde Park in London.
Another endangered species to be found in Tuam are the “Religiosi”. Climate change has all but wiped them out. They were uprooted by the storms and tempests that swept through Ireland in recent decades. The “Mercio”, the “Bon Secourios” and the “Brotheroes” have all succumbed, terminal decline having set in some years ago. Only the “Presios” remain and even here the omens are not good. So many of these tender plants have succumbed to the winds of change, that UNESCO is thinking of putting them on their list of endangered species. Their former habitats are the sole reminders of their once dominant place in the natural environment.
A remarkable feature of Tuam life in the past was the SSS or Single Sex School. At one time 6 of these schools operated with three of them offering full time accommodation for members of each sex. Behind their closely guarded walls, boys were protected from the wiles of the female sex, enjoying that heavenly state that existed before Eve was created. In the other two sheltered communities, girls were free to engage in girly things like knitting and singing, free from predatory males whose main delights were kicking footballs and studying higher maths. But all that is shortly coming to an end since the nefarious Catholic authorities have decreed that boys and girls should attend, henceforth, the same school.
Tuam is also famous for its unique Mother and Child Home, a place that gained world-wide attention in recent years thanks to the zealous efforts of a local historian. Unfortunately, the same attitude that nearly destroyed Georgian Dublin, prevailed in Tuam with the absolute destruction of the home itself by thoughtless bureaucrats. However, for those of an adventurous nature, folklore has it that countless babies and children were interred in underground chambers not unlike the catacombs in Rome. Teams of archaeologists will soon begin the arduous task of identifying and cataloguing the bones. Who knows what else these underground chambers will reveal about Tomb’s hidden past? Though nothing remains of the original Home, tourists are welcome to visit the site or visit some of the houses that were built over it.
Of course, Tuam is delighted to welcome all tourists. To this end we invited 2 German multinationals to set up shop – Lidl and Aldi – where our German visitors can purchase Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and Stollen. Nor are we neglecting our Brexit (sorry, I mean British) neighbours. To accommodate them Tesco will provide such stalwarts as Toad in the hole, Jellied Eels and Spotted Dick. Elsewhere in the culinary stakes, Tuam can offer the tourist unique Irish delicacies such as the Builder’s Breakfast Roll, curried chips and Papa John’s pizza. And clearly Tuam food is good enough to die for as one restaurant has the reassuring name “Cre na Cille” or “The Graveyard”.
So, for the discerning tourist, tired of stale tourist attractions, Tomb offers a unique experience.