Back in July of ‘17, it was difficult to avoid advertisements for Ed Sheeran’s Irish tour this summer, if you had the radio on at all. It didn’t go unnoticed by my children and especially by The Boy, then 9 years young.
He had me hounded to buy tickets, flippin’ hounded. Daily, he told me that I was a ‘big meany bum’, who wanted to ‘ruin’ his life when I fobbed him off, suggesting that he ask Santa for tickets. Little did he know that I had already purchased the coveted goods - patting myself of the back for doing so, making a head start on the Christmas shopping while the sun was still shining.
Christmas morning came and a squiggly-written Santa letter in my children’s stockings declared the imminent arrival of Ed Sheeran tickets. The Girl jumped with excitement. The Boy announces ‘I don’t like him anymore.’ I spend the coming months persuading The Boy that he couldn’t disappoint Santa, reminding him of the near-constant nagging last summer and that the Big Lad must have been listening. I resist saying ‘Do you have any idea how much those tickets cost?’
He eventually relents and we are off to Pearse Stadium, Galway.
Driving back here to my alma mater, I surprise myself that I still feel a twinge. Could I be the only person in the world, ever, who can’t say that I look back fondly on my time in this glorious city? My Fat Years. A time of wanting to be somewhere else. Thinking of my drummer boyfriend as he toured around Europe. A feeling of never quite fitting in, despite having a great bunch of friends.
The big sting for me though - A ‘Distinction’ student throughout my years there, I received a ‘Merit’ in my final year results and I was devastated. I was 2% off a Distinction grade and the External Examiners weren’t for budging. It seems that my thesis ‘The Manufacture and Design of Navan Carpets’ was as dull as it sounds, although my History of Art tutor never flagged that with me, despite the fact that I was the first student in the class to submit. By the time he got around to saying ‘I’m sorry, my dear’, on the stairs that day, it was too late.
I hear that internal whisper again - ‘See, I told you that you weren’t that good.’
En route to the Stadium, we come across ‘No’ referendum campaigners and I feel insulted that they have, again, invaded my space. I say nothing, but take a little bit of delight in the fact that one of the campaigners is holding her flyers upside up, an odd looking ‘oN.’
We land in glorious sunshine in good time for the warm-up acts. Straight away though, we have a problem. The Boy wants to hang out on the margins, away from the crowds and the noise. He looks longingly at the stand, but our tickets don’t allow us there. The Girl meanwhile, wants to dive in up front, ‘for the atmosphere Mam’. ‘You and me both kid’, I lament. They have faces like thunder, as we traipse back and forth through the crowd. I do my usual ‘there’s only one of me and two of you’ and put it back on them to come up with a compromise. It’s looking like stalemate during the Good Friday Agreement negotiations and I’ve no George Mitchell to assist.
I announce that I want to go home.
The eventual agreement is that we stand on the edge of the crowd, with my daughter using her short-assed mother for extra height, alternating between piggie-backs and shoulders-backs, so she can see a little more. My slippy rain jacket not really helping the situation. Despite her wee size, I feel it on my ribs days later.
As we settle ourselves, the children say out loud what’s in my head. ‘There’s a lot of fake tan in Galway’, ‘I can see that girl’s butt sticking out of her shorts.’ ‘They look very drunk.’ But as I look at the beautifully presented young wans surrounding me, I can’t but feel invisible and regret not making a bit of an effort, beyond a bit of lippy and mascara hastily applied in the car park.
Anne Marie comes on stage (yes, you DO know her - the one that sings F.R.I.E.N.D.S.). She’s a gal with ‘tude and my daughter has her first Girl Crush. I kinda have one too.
Ed finally arrives and I find myself thinking strange thoughts about this pop music mega star - That he looks like a lad with lovely manners. That he looks shocking decent. That despite his lovely manners and decency, that he sings about alcohol a lot. I realise that I am a Total Auld Wan. My daughter meanwhile recognises chords in Ed’s songs and it seems that those guitar lessons are paying off, leading to a warm and fuzzy feeling.
As the daylight fades, the video and light display surrounding Ed intensify, as does the mood of the crowd. We make our way to the terraces and illuminated Ed seems closer now. As the familiar anthems are belted out, we sing, nod, clap, wave, shimmy and strut to the tunes, along with 29,997 others. In fairness, Mr. Sheeran puts on some show.
We leave the Stadium just before the last song, to avoid the mass exodus of the crowd, like you might do at a GAA match if your team was being hammered close to full-time.
The children are snuggled in duvets for the long drive home to Kildare. The Girl plays Anne Marie tunes on my phone as she dozes off. The Boy says softly in the darkness that he is ‘sorry’ and I tell him that it’s grand. He reckons that Santa must have known that he didn’t like big crowds and picked Galway for us, being a smaller venue that was ‘a better concert for children.’ We chat about pushing boundaries and how it’s good to try out situations that make you feel uncomfortable, because you just might enjoy it. I put it out there that sometimes Santa (and maybe even Mammies) knows what you need, even if you don’t always know it yourself.
The Boy can’t but agree.