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The Docks (Galway)

The Spanish Parade (more commonly and mistakenly referred to as simply "the Arch") is a haven for tourists, wastrels and those looking for a convenient and picturesque place to get drunk in the warm(ish) Galway Summer months. Go through the Spanish Arch (built in 1584 to keep out the mad Spanish Armada) and walk down the Long Walk past quaintly multicoloured houses facing the swan hangout of the Claddagh Basin across the bay.

The Spanish Parade (more commonly and mistakenly referred to as simply “the Arch”) is a haven for tourists, wastrels and those looking for a convenient and picturesque place to get drunk in the warm(ish) Galway Summer months. Go through the Spanish Arch (built in 1584 to keep out the mad Spanish Armada) and walk down the Long Walk past quaintly multicolored houses facing the swan hangout of the Claddagh Basin across the bay. Follow the narrow road around the upmarket apartments and offices on the corner and you will be faced with, on most days of the week, the imposing silhouette of the scrap heap.

Every couple of weeks the city’s scrap metal is brought here to be stored until after a further couple of days or weeks a cargo boat calls to take the waste to Spain, for the Spanish to do what they will with it. Information about the scrap heap is relatively thin on the ground, but from my brief interview with one of the men who works to keep the pile in order I discovered that “If there’s a fence around the heap, that means it’s to be picked up the following Monday”.
The scrap is transported from truck to heap and from heap to ship by claw-mounted cranes. The claws themselves look imposing when at rest – they squat by the water menacingly, as if deep in malign, rusted contemplation -but when they’re attached to the cranes they’re almost terrifyingly animated – they seem to rejoice in grappling, crushing and flinging the rusted remains of radiators, cars and trucks into the waiting jaws of the cargo ship’s on-board crusher. The transfer of such quantities of rusted metal inevitably causes a lot of dust, coating every nearby surface in a layer of dull orange and making the already shabby looking docks seem even older and more decrepit. The loading of the scrap remains a sight to behold and always attracts a small but rapt audience.

Another event that regularly draws attention is the coming or going of large coastal oil tankers such as the Solent Fisher and the Milford Fisher. The narrow dock gate only just about accommodates these 4000 tonne ships and their 91 meter length seems to pass slowly, certainly with an eerie silence. The seamen dressed in bright orange overalls and green helmets lean over the edge and survey the small, scattered audience like tired, tall Oompa-Loompas.

Visible at the far eastern end of the docks are the 11 vast Shell oil storage tanks, towering over Bothar na Long (Irish for “Ship Road”) and surrounded by a gray wall sinisterly topped with broken glass.

The docks are nearing extinction in their current form with the advent of a new government initiative, a €2 billion investment dubbed the “flagship project” of the West of Ireland. Much of what makes the docks an attractive place to photograph – the grime, the rust, the decay – will soon be replaced by flashy restaurants and cruise ships.

written by petunia

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Spanish.