Gal The Way North
Cities / Towns Visited: 80
Countries Visited: 21
Steps Taken Today: 7,722
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,615,586
So today would be the day we were to make our way up to the British corner of this beautiful green country, but we had one last stop to make first. Packing our bags, and bundling into the car one last time, we made the short drive into Galway. Wandering through the narrow winding streets we made came to our first sight; The Hall of the Red Earl.
Now, I know you’re used to the plethora of pictures of stately homes and medieval castles, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you on this one. Well, unless archaeology interests you, of course. You see, this seemingly innocuous looking glass fronted building leads you into a rather recent discover. Whilst excavating in order to expand the customs house in the 90’s, the foundations of a medieval building were uncovered. After a bit of research, they concluded them to be the base of the 13th century banqueting hall of Richard the Red Earl. All that remains is a foot or two of the stone walls, and the odd pillar base, but coupled with the display of other items discovered in the dig, from clay pipes to gold cuff links, it makes for an interesting, if a little short, visit.
Continuing through this beautiful historic town we paused briefly outside Lynch Castle. Despite its name, it is less of a castle and more of just a large limestone stately home from sometime in the late 1400’s. It now houses a bank, but when it was first erected it was the home of one of the most powerful families in Galway; a family who supplied the town with countless mayors over the centuries. That may sound all well and good, but give it a minute.
After quickly ducking into the barbers for my partner to get his hair cut, we walked but a few score metres down the road until we came to the slightly more questionable of the Lynch related locations in town. You see, as I said, the Lynch family were quite powerful within Galway, and James Lynch FitzStephen was the mayor and magistrate for a time. Now, naturally, back in the day, the idea of conflicts of interest was less at the forefront when it came to legal proceedings, and thus, legend has it, that it came to be, that he was the acting magistrate when his son, Walter, was charged with murdering a stranger. This stranger is said to have been a Spaniard who was trying to woo Walter’s betrothed, and thus the murder was seemingly a crime of jealous passion. Trust me this isn’t going where you think it is though. Much to our surprise and mild shock, we found out that James, in fact, not only found his son to be guilty, but sentenced him to death by hanging. To add insult to injury, he was the one to carry out the hanging in the very place we were standing. It is told that either they couldn’t find anyone to carry out the execution, or that they were unable to pass through a protesting mob opposed to the hanging to get Walter to the execution spot, and thus James took his son into his own home, up to the second storey window and hung him from there. All that remains at this sight is an 18th century reconstruction of a single stone wall with a replica of the window, but the rather haunting silhouette, with its memorial plaque and carved stone skull and crossbones, stands as a reminder of this somewhat unfathomable act of allowing the prevail of justice to trump the protective nature of a father.
With the day ticking away, and a more than three hour drive ahead of us, we made our way back to our car and bid farewell to Galway. The drive, of course, could have been made shorter by using the toll roads, but we had opted to take the cheaper, and more scenic of the options. As many hassles as we had had with the rental company, we were pleased to have been paired with a hybrid car, meaning our petrol costs for this cross country adventure had hurt the hip pocket a little less. With that said, rental cars are incredibly expensive in Ireland, mainly because their public transport network isn’t overly extensive, making driving or expensive tours the only way to really see the whole country; a fact that is certainly not lost on these money grubbing companies who use this fact to squeeze as much as humanly possible out of all of us who want to explore Ireland.
After returning the car, and having one last confrontation about my damaged suitcase with the smarmy manager; an interaction which made me want nothing more than to give this area a good reason to have the mortuary they have signs for nearby to the airport. From here we took the shuttle bus to the terminals, and another back into town to the train station. Arriving early we took the spare time we had found ourselves with to calm our rage by downing a couple of pints of cider at the pub before catching our rather full train, at which point we were more than happy we had booked in advance, given how many people were standing for the entirety of the trip.
A couple of hours later, we were alighting in Belfast, and much to our relief, our Airbnb host had offered to come and pick us up. Before long we were settling in to our next temporary home, before popping out briefly to grab some quick Chinese take away to fill the void at this late hour. It had been a long day, and we were more than happy to be settling into bed when the time came.
As I thought back to that morbid old window and it’s history, I paused to ponder on the universal conundrum of the choice between what is legal and what is right. I cannot imagine the inner turmoil faced by a father stuck between his legal obligation as a judge, and his ingrained instinct as a father to protect his child. It is easy to judge him poorly from this day and age, and to say ‘I could never have done that, how could he kill his own child?’, but we must remember that his son also killed another. How do you even choose which is the morally correct action in that case, even as an outsider?
Now, obviously, the heart wrenching decision foisted on James Lynch would never occur today, thanks to the evolution of the legal system into a world where conflicts of interest, especially in regards to relation to the defendant or prosecutor, is, for the most part, a thing of the past. But that’s not to say we have a perfect system; there will always be rare cases of bribery, or conservative judges ruling in favour of their beliefs rather than the more widely accepted needs of the people.
Stepping away from the complexities of these situations though, I came to consider the disconnect between the two. As I’m sure everyone is aware, what is legal is not always right, and what is right is not always legal. So where does that leave us as individuals? How do we make the right decisions in regards to our moral compass, and how do we know when our moral compass is wrong? In times gone by, almost everyone’s moral compass was calibrated to the word of their religious beliefs, but in a world where we live in coexistence with opposing views, where more and more young people are choosing to live their lives without religion, and where the laws are written by people who don’t necessarily agree with what we perceive as correct, how do we choose? Are we to conform to the laws imposed, or, in face of adverse events, are we to choose what we perceive as right for the greater good?
It’s easy to think that people should just intrinsically know the difference between good and bad actions, and yet it is still dependent on our beliefs as individuals, and the cultures we come from. There are still large pockets in the world where women are being struck down in so called ‘honour killings’. Now, for most of us, this is obviously a horrible and wrong act, but in the minds, and according to the moral compasses, of the men who perpetrate these killings, they are doing the right thing. We rely on the law to uphold the right, and yet it fails there, just as it fails us on different issues here in the first world. There are many countries where abortion and euthanasia is illegal, even in places where the majority of the population, like myself, believe it should not be. There are yet more countries in which medical marijuana is prohibited by law, despite its immense benefits to certain patients being scientifically proven. There are even laws in place that make it nigh on impossible for kind-hearted people to provide meals to the homeless without having to jump through countless hoops, or face massive fines or jail time.
I do understand that there are obstacles and complex factors to consider in implementing these polarising practices, but that does not mean we should simply leave them as illegal actions simply because its difficult to fail-safe them. For example, I understand the complexities of allowing euthanasia to be legalised, and the immense guidelines and backstops that would be needed to prevent abuse by greedy or selfish family members, or the issue of treating the mentally ill, but surely simple steps could, at least in the beginning, make euthanasia partially possible. Steps like allowing people to have living wills, with allowances for pre-emptive personal decisions should they later become incapacitated, such as turning off their life support should they become brain dead, or voluntarily euthanising them should they fall victim to the cruel hand of dementia and lack the mental capacity to make this decision when the time comes. We allow people to have ‘do not resuscitate’ orders in place, so why not euthanasia, especially if these decisions are made beforehand with forethought and in sound mind. Instead we are forced to leave decisions regarding life support in the hands of a trusted family member or friend, and yet, in times of great stress, and faced with the loss of a loved one, these people often hold on longer than they should, before adhering to the desires of those being held in medical purgatory. We live in a world where medical advances, as wonderful as they can be, are prolonging life, but in doing so they are often leaving people alive but not really living, due to an existence often filled with more pill-taking, mobility issues, and constant pain, than happy memories. We are adding years to our life, but not always life to our years, and thus we must ask ourselves; why are we not entitled to take control of our lives in old age, including choosing when that life ends.
I have great respect for those who will risk everything to do the right thing, over the legal thing; especially people like the doctors who help terminally ill patients leave this world in a painless way and on their own terms, when the laws fail to allow them such dignity and mercy (one we happily allow to suffering animals), even if that means facing jail time. Their humility and sacrifice is a testament to us all.
I hope that if I am ever put in a position where I was forced to choose between the two, that I have the strength and moral fortitude to choose the right, even if that costs me my freedom. In the end, as long as we exist as a species, there will always be differing opinions, and thus our laws will never align perfectly with our sense of right. However, as we become a more interconnected planet, we can only hope that eventually all of our moral compasses will synchronise, with their arrows fixed firmly on compassion, respect, and equality.