The following exchange took place last week between a local shop owner and myself on Quay Street:
Shop owner: “Hey lad, how long you been in town?”
Me: “Just about 6 months.”
Shop owner: “Ah yes, I showed up to Galway for 6 months as well. That was 17 years ago.”
In and of itself the above banter wouldn’t be anything outside the norm, given the various types of characters that line Galway’s main street on any given day. What made me laugh however was the overarching theme that it touches on.
Galway, The Graveyard of Ambition.
I will never forget when I first heard the term. I was maybe 3 days in town, minding my own business at a favorite local pub enjoying a pint. I got to chatting with the bartender as he finished his shift, and after giving my backstory he closed the conversation with, “Best of luck to you lad, and welcome to Galway, the Graveyard of Ambition.” He then proceeded to walk away. My immediate reaction upon hearing this statement was a mixture of confusion, anxiety and amazement. What exactly did he mean? Was this a generally accepted term, or just a case of a local pint puller taking the piss out of a yank? I continued on my night without thinking much of it.
A few days later I met a fellow software industry leader for coffee. In fact, in my first 3 months in town I set more than 20 coffee meetings. Everyone from potential new hires, to various service providers, partner companies, IT leaders, lawyers, and bankers. I wanted to get acclimated to the local business climate as quick as possible. I can’t say enough about how warm of reception I received from everyone I’ve met to date. Everything from offering tips on where to pursue top talent, to where I should be golfing on the weekends, the community has been fantastic. However, nearly every conversation also included reference at some point to this term, “Galway, the graveyard of ambition.” Even more surprising than the consistent use of the term was the apparent understated pride that locals would show when speaking to it.
Most times I would walk back to my apartment after the meeting(s) thinking, wow that was a very nice, helpful person, but what is the deal with this graveyard of ambition talk? Did anyone on my team know this before we selected this town as our new EMEA HQ? How are we going to create and hire 100 jobs in a place with no drive or passion? Surely execs at companies like Cisco, HP, SAP, and Fidelity knew about this before opening their offices here, right? Right?
Like any great Irish term there had to be a story behind it, and I needed to find out quickly or I knew my trip across the pond was to be a short one.
A few weeks passed and I finally got an answer, and some much needed relief. In speaking to the head of one of the Big Four tax firms in town, he explained that the term dates back to the 1950s when describing the career path of a banker in Ireland. Legend has it that an aspiring banker would typically start out in their hometown, and then promotions would mean you get transferred to another location, and then another, and so on. The more cities you were seen moving through was a sign of “climbing the corporate ladder.” So someone might start his or her career in Limerick, move to Cork, then onto Galway, and hopefully someday get called up to HQ and the big city of Dublin.
But a funny thing kept happening: once the employee landed for their stint in Galway, no matter if it was the 2nd or 5th stop on their path, they didn’t want to leave. They loved the town so much that they would actually forego future career potential for the love of the Galway and the culture of the west of Ireland. Yes I’ve only been a “blow in” for 6 months, but count me as one that is officially drinking the local Kool-Aid. Here is a teaser for those who haven’t booked a flight to visit yet:
No we are not Dublin, London, or Amsterdam. We are Galway, and damn happy about it. And if you are reading this and interested in “burying your career” in the rugged west of Ireland, give me a call. We are hiring.