Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The great Galway 'busker war' of 2017!

This is Emma.                                                                           
Busking in Galway. Photo: galwaywalks.com

Emma’s a gem.

Emma and people like her add so much to the vibrancy of my city.

Throughout the year, she’s a huge hit with tourists and locals alike. She takes up her spot at the top of High Street, puts on a backing track, and dances to the best of Irish music.

Shoppers take a break to enjoy her superb skills as a traditional Irish dancer, while visitors soak up this perfect taste of the vibrant native culture in Galway.

A few yards up the street, more visitors are captivated by the Galway Street Club. A ‘raggle-taggle’ collection of performers from all over the world, they entertain the masses for free on Shop Street and their act has become so successful that they are now invited to play decent-sized venues all over Ireland.

When they are not pumping out the sounds outside Eason’s, their perch is often taken up by James.

Gifted with a voice akin to Luke Kelly, one of his sessions on the street is as much a part of the fabric of the city as a tour of the nearby St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, where Oliver Cromwell's forces once insulted the locals by taking over the cathedral to use it as a stable for his horses.

Now Emma, James, the Street Club and others feel that their livelihoods are under threat, that proposed new city byelaws will put them off the streets or force them to abandon doing what they love, playing outdoors in the heart of a medieval city.

Galway City Council want to bring in new bye-laws to regulate busking in the city centre and buskers say they are vague, restrictive, and unenforceable.

In recent weeks, a war of words seems to have opened up in the local media between the buskers and the city centre traders, who rightly point out that they pay rates and that they shouldn’t have to listen to terrlble cover versions being blasted out through amplified sound systems every day.

How did it come to this? That a city famed for its culture and vibrant street life, despite enduring so much rainfall, could be on the verge of losing the wonderful street entertainment which has helped spread Galway’s popularity all across the globe.

The buskers are angry. The new laws stipulate that they must move on if they attract a crowd, without any stipulation as to what a crowd is.

Galway buskers have come together to fight the new bye-laws

They will be required to move on every two hours, even though they already have their own voluntary Code of Conduct which allows one act to take over from another.

If the laws are passed, they won’t be allowed “act, say, do or sing anything that is likely to cause alarm, distress or offence to any member of the public”.

That sounds alarmingly like censorship, in an era when the likes of street theatre group Macnas often provide a huge favour to the public by poking fun at the great and the good in our society.

Street theatre will effectively be banned on the city’s narrow streets during peak hours, confining ‘circle acts’ to areas such as Eyre Square and Spanish Parade which don’t tend to attract the same volume of visitors.

There is no doubt that staff in some city centre retail outlets have to put up with some terrible music from poor quality performers using amplification during working hours.

There is also no doubt that some premises experience difficulties when huge crowds gather outside their doors to enjoy the more popular street entertainers.

But it seems insane that the city authorities would attempt to introduce bye-laws which have enraged the very people who have done so much to boost the image of the city which will become European Capital of Culture in 2020.

According to the buskers, the bye-laws could kill off street entertainment in the city just in time for Galway 2020.

It seems such a shame that the local authority has come up with bye-laws which seem to have enraged Galway’s street artists at a time when the importance of culture to the image and prosperity of the city has never been more important.

It surely would not involve rocket science for the traders, politicians, and street artists to come together and iron out a compromise which would keep everyone happy.

For it’s also clear, from talking to a number of people last week, that the genuine stress and inconvenience caused to staff by a minority of buskers has to be addressed by the city’s authorities.

Tourists love Galway's vibrant street life
Photo: galwaywalks.com
Meanwhile, I also heard on local radio last week that there are now approximately 40 people sleeping rough on the streets of the city.

That seems an incredible number, given the population of Galway City is under 80,000 and how inhospitable the climate is, particularly at this time of year.

That would seem to be a far more important issue for the city officials to deal with than what buskers act, sing or talk about as they entertain visitors from all over the world, who return to Galway precisely because it has such a vibrant street culture.

How ironic it would be if the buskers who played some part in securing European Capital of Culture status for the city were cleared off the streets by the time 2020 rolls around.

If you want to have your say regarding the new city bye-laws, you can email environment@galwaycity.ie by December 20.

The Galway Busking Community is holding a one day protest to raise awareness of the restrictive new bye-laws on December 10. You can find details of the Facebook event at https://www.facebook.com/events/762426843882021/

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can contact him via http://ciarantierney.com/

Follow Ciaran on Facebook here

Find Ciaran on Twitter @ciarantierney


  1. Things have changed a lot from the 80's ad 90's when there were just a handful of people busking, who can ever forget the blind fella with the box accordion.
    On my most recent visit home in July it was nearly impossible to walk down Shop Street on account of the buskers so I have every sympathy with the business owners. While yer wan Emma might be a decent dancer, her performances completely block that end of the street, what right does she have to do that?
    There seems to be some "performer" or other every 10 yards, several with amplifiers (which 100% should be banned) and the street becomes very claustrophobic as a result.
    I really don't see the issue with moving people to Eyre Square or the Spanish Arch where there is more space, if the buskers are as good as you seem to think they are then people will still go and watch them, it's not like Galway is some massive, sprawling metropolis. This actually seems like a decent compromise if you ask me. Besides, it's not as if there aren't enough live music events throughout the city all year long, have you ever thought that maybe there is an over-saturation of performers and listener fatigue on behalf of the locals who have to endure this 365 days a year.
    To state the Galway 2020 was more or less secured on the back of buskers is a stretch to say the least and shows that some of these people really need to get over themselves.

  2. It's a biteen of a straw man argument, bringing up homelessness in Galway when writing about busking, unless of course they are going to house them or raise money to help. As awful as it is to have 40 people on the streets maybe you should have saved that for a separate article.

    1. My point is raising the homelessness issue, I guess, is that the City Council probably has much more serious issues to deal with than the quality of busking in the city centre. I wrote a longish piece about homelessness in Galway in August, after being shocked by the number of bodies on the streets at night.