Writer Maddison Rhoa tells us about how her time living and studying in Galway, Ireland, led her to pen her first novel: a story set in the rainy city that provides an authentic Irish backdrop for her contemporary characters to uncover an unexpected mystery.
Maddison has graciously written a guest post to tell us about how the city of Galway inspired her writing and became the perfect setting for her first book.
And so, without further ado, let me hand you over to Maddison, to tell you the story of how Galway became the graveyard of hopes and dreams…
Table of Contents
Planning to Study in Ireland
When I was twenty-one years of age, I spent some time living and studying in Galway, on the west coast of Ireland. It was also during this timee that I completed reserch for my novel, entitled A Different Familiar.
Before I left the United States to embark on my first stint living internationally, I remember sitting down for a chat with a professor and friend of mine, who, learning that I’d decided to move to Galway instead of Dublin to pursue my literary endeavors, nodded knowingly and told me that:
“Galway's the Graveyard of Hopes and Dreams"
I remember smiling politely, waiting for her to continue, despite thinking that it seemed a bit melodramatic to call a bustling Irish city something that sounded so dark and dismal.
“Many who go there find it impossible to leave,” she said.
“But I’ll have no choice. I will leave, eventually.”
“Not fully,” my professor answered, tapping her pen on the side of her head, gesturing to something that lurked within the deeper reaches of the mind. “No one ever does.”
Equipped and somewhat discomfited with this piece of cynical advice – or perhaps it was a warning – I packed my bags, flew across the Atlantic, and promptly fell in love with Galway, a place that, according to my professor, was supposed to digest the spirit right out of me.
Moving to Galway
As the months passed and I comfortably ingratiated myself further into Galwegian life, I reflected on my professor’s words, never quite unpacking them enough to understand how I’d happily allowed Galway and all of her charms to swallow me up.
An ideal haven for writers, Galway provided me with all that I needed to finally pen my novel – a personal goal I’d carried with me since I was a child.
My notes, my research, and the early pieces of my novel from that time all reflect the idiosyncrasies I’d observed about Galway and Irish life in general.
Most of them are filled with fascination, intrigue, adoration, and a strange, lurking feeling of returning home to a place I’d never been to before – hardly the dark cynicism my professor had warned me about.
And then, one day, I left Galway. And I understood.
Haunted by Memories of an Irish City
When I arrived stateside and began to pen the rest of my novel, I was haunted by the memory of Galway. The more I wrote, the more it both healed and exacerbated the absolute heartsickness I felt after having to leave such a place.
Eventually, I caught up with my professor friend after my return from Ireland.
This time, when she repeated that “Galway’s the graveyard of hopes and dreams,” it was no longer a warning, but a statement of absolute and undeniable truth.
It wasn’t something that I recoiled from, but something I was desperate for someone else to feel and understand as well.
There was a new camaraderie between us as two writers who had lived and studied and written in Galway, and as two people who had willingly left a part of themselves in that city that so easily persuades people to give her something of themselves.
But this is the deal we writers unknowingly strike upon arrival: Galway is our muse, and in return, she steals little pieces of our hearts and minds and souls away.
Galway - The Graveyard of Ambition
The thing is, that statement about Galway being the graveyard of hopes and dreams isn’t an uncommon or unheard of phrase. In fact, many Galwegians themselves attest to Galway’s reputation, albeit in its more popular form as “the graveyard of ambition.”
A fairly famous trope, “the graveyard of ambition” describes a place so enchanting that otherwise sensible people with dreams and goals find themselves lured by its loveliness, causing them to postpone or forget about their plans in favor of remaining blissfully within the city.
A part of me thinks that perhaps my professor had intentionally made the synonymic switch to keep my poor, ambitious novelist’s heart from shattering – “hopes and dreams” sounds a bit more mythological and ambiguous than something as reality-laden as the term “ambition” – but perhaps, over the years and the miles, people have chosen what suits them best.
Maddison's Great Galwegian Novel
Years later, I still believe that, if Galway hadn’t been that graveyard for me, I wouldn’t have been able to write the manuscript that exists today – my own “great Galwegian novel.”
It was through my hungry desire to be back within the bounds of that lovely Irish city that the story I tell in A Different Familiar was born.
Ironically enough, it was only through that death of my ambition in Galway that I did the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done in my life – I wrote my first novel.
It will come as no surprise to readers to know that the things we love often torture and haunt us the most. How could they not?
But not all haunting is horrid and unwanted – sometimes, it is the very lifeblood of our work.
Surely the ghosts of our pasts and the skeletons in our closets would agree. The ghosts of Galway would probably nod emphatically, too.
About Maddison Rhoa
Maddison Rhoa writes fiction that showcases the culture, history, charm, and intrigue of Ireland while focusing on the intimate realities portrayed through character-driven storytelling.
She holds an Honors BA in English and a BA in History from the Pennsylvania State University and an MA in History from the College of William & Mary.
You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @maddisonrhoa
Maddison would be ever so grateful if you could share this post with family and friends and help spread the word about her writing.
And many, many thanks to Maddison for sharing this heartwarming story about her time in Galway, the graveyard of hopes and dreams.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade
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