A twelve year old is just a child. In Galway, we have many childlike qualities that endear us to our natives and visitors alike. Many of us grew up on Summer days in Salthill and got excited by the colourful buckets and spades that were hanging on the front of the old Bon Bon shop across from the prom. We went to Croker and saw All-Ireland wins and the maroon and white enriched us as we grew up in admiration to where we were from. When the Galway races rolled around, we would wriggle through the crowd to watch the hurdy gurdies and the three card tricks capturing our imagination. On a wet day, we often stole through the fence by Leisureland to get a free ride on the vacant bumpy blue slide before the big indoor one came and made us splash like never before. Childhood was fun and Galway had it all. As the years went on into Autumn time we would arrive into October and there Macnas would tickle our fancy with something unique and despite its scare, would be equally intriguing to our immature eyes.
It was in early October, 2007 when local childhood innocence faded for many. What occurred brought us into a horror which was far away from the curiosities that we were fortunate enough to have had throughout our youth. I remember it like yesterday.
It was a Monday night. I was just after a weekend of birthday celebrations and due to chair a meeting concerning the annual Croí caberet organised by the GMIT Business Graduates Association. I was running late for the meeting that had begun shortly after 7pm. As I drove into the then Radison SAS Hotel (now the Galmont Hotel) I realised thatas the car park was full, I was going to be even more delayed. I had to double back from the hotel to seek a parking space somewhere by the Fairgreen. The closest spot that I could get was on Lough Atalia, just by the old Radison entrance, directly under where the race crowd frequent annually each July.
As I parked up and turned to face the waterside, I calmly breathed in fresh Autumn air whilst at the same time sticking in the car key to lock the car door safely. Although, I was now very late, I was fully confident that the powerful and ever popular producer of the annual Croí show, the esteemed Mary A. Cunningham, would have the meeting commenced and well under her control and that (as she had briefed me on the agenda prior to meeting) it was best to enjoy the still night air and that first annual exhale of viewing the white puff of carbon dioxide as I stared up into the dark night`s sky above Lough Atalia.
I distinctly remember thinking it was a beautiful night. It was my first real feeling of a clear winter night, in that year. Then, the air was crisp and there was not a ripple of a breeze and it was bone dry on the pavement underfoot. I wondered for a few moments of the peace of it all and noticed how the bridge was empty and not a car passed on the road. As I faced the water and realised how I was now another year older but was still, happily in my youth. Though alone, it all felt good as I turned and slowly footed my way back up the hill towards the meeting room in the hotel. There my presence was not really missed, as all was under control and we excitedly looked forward to early December when the musical show would fill the hotel will glitz and glamour. All was well in the world of Galway. Or, so we thought.
By the next morning the people of Galway`s world came tumbling down. By afternoon, the news had broke that the body of a young girl was discovered alone on the rough scrubland by the railway between Renmore and Galway city. I had known the spot well because I had often cycled the line into school some years before. As the days wore on, it became clear that the body was that of seventeen year old Manuela Riedo.
She had been staying in Renmore with a pleasant host family as she attended English college in the city. Arriving from Switzerland, only just before her life was so brutally ended and this left her mother and father now alone in life.
Her last movements were eventually patched together and it was estimated that she would have been murdered whilst crossing the railway path after 7pm on the earlier evening. Later, I realised that I was facing her direction and was only a couple of hundred metres as the crow flies around the moment in time when her horrendous murder occurred. Although a tragedy had occurred, thankfully, the authorities arrested the murderer and the law eventually exercised its power of punishment.
The incredible despair that local people felt was sad but equally moving. People, though angry to what had happened to that young Swiss girl that fateful Monday night in the beginning of October, 2007, grouped together and paid tribute to her short life. None more so that local man Shane Lennon who organised so much and turned the negativity into a solidifying and supportive agenda to help many who may find themselves in such a potentially harmful situation.
Manuela was not yet eighteen years of age when she left us. Only a short time in Galway and she never experienced any of its youthful charm.
Twelve years gone today, and Manuela Riedo, in the people of Galway`s memory, forever a smiling child.