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'Galway Girl' ode to love, sobriety

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By Reggie Ponder
Columnist

Thursday, February 14, 2019

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day I am grateful for a love song that is as unlikely as it is infectious.

Steve Earle’s “Galway Girl” has really grown on me since I first heard it just a few years ago. It’s a great love song in that it just basks in the joy of love and celebrates love’s power to heal and inspire.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s set to an uptempo, Irish-inspired tune.

I associate the song with Jane even though she’s not from Galway, Ireland — at least not directly.

But Jane has always been very conscious of her Irish roots and quick to celebrate her heritage.

Of course her hair isn’t black, but she does have blue eyes. So the song’s oft-repeated “Her her was black and her eyes were blue” is at least half-true in her case.

There’s a funny thing about that anyway. I learned just recently that the actual woman who inspired the song has dark brown hair but not really dark enough to describe as “black,” so we have to acknowledge there’s a great deal of poetic license being taken from the outset in regards to hair color and perhaps a few other details.

Much of the song is indeed autobiographical, though, describing his deepening friendship with a woman he met in Galway during an extended stay in Ireland. I say “friendship” rather than “romance” because the songwriter has always referred to the woman as a friend and never really confirmed that there was any romantic entanglement, despite the song’s bold declaration, “I lost my heart to a Galway girl.”

What is known for sure is that they became close, bonded around music (she actually plays on the studio recording of the song) and spent a lot of time together before Earle eventually came back to the United States.

Most significantly, he has credited her with helping him recover from a life-threatening addiction to heroin.

So for me the song is as much of a celebration of sobriety — or at least a celebration of the kind of life that sobriety makes possible — as it is an ode to love.

It’s also a love song to a place, much like “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Carolina in My Mind.” I read recently that it’s the most popular song for wedding celebration dances in Ireland and is one of the 10 top-selling singles of all time in Ireland.

The city of Galway a few years back hosted a street performance of the song that attracted more than 12,000 people.

What seems so unlikely — stranger than fiction, if you will — is that the writer of this ode to a Galway girl and celebration of the city of Galway is not Irish. He’s from Texas.

Love may or may not be blind, but it apparently isn’t limited by geography.

Reggie Ponder is a staff writer for The Daily Advance.

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