There was an article in the paper recently pointing out that 80% of people who live in Cork were born there. Cork people don’t leave much and they don’t like “blow-ins” either.
The Princess and I went to my parents in Cork earlier in the week leaving Mr. Waffle and his parents in Dublin tending the boys. The boom has been very kind to Cork. Cork was always at its best in the Summer and the work done in the centre of the city has made it really attractive. It felt bright and cheery and affluent. I grew up in Cork in the 70s and 80s and then it was grim with factories closing down and boarded up shopfronts, the turnaround seems extraordinary. In the past when people said that they were visiting Cork, I would say, disloyally, the county is beautiful but the city is not so interesting but that is no longer true and I am delighted and, bizarrely, proud.
I haven’t lived in Cork since 1992 (when I finished my training as a solicitor which featured a great deal of work in receivership and liquidation, I spent much of my time at the door of creditors’ meetings trying feebly to exclude journalists, really, is it any wonder I gave up law?) and so my trips home to my parents are always pleasantly tinged with nostalgia but this time more than usual, perhaps because I didn’t have all the children there to distract me. The weather was beautiful and we went to the beach in Youghal, something I haven’t done since I was a child. The beach was lovely and the Princess enjoyed it but it was rough and what with the beer drinkers and the boys playing football who hit me in the face with the ball, I don’t think I’ll be rushing back. Youghal, the town, is great though. Tourists always go to West Cork which is beautiful but East Cork is charming and Youghal has lots of history, if you are so inclined. Sir Walter Raleigh had lands there and, as my mother never tires of telling me, when I was three months old I went there in a papoose with the Cork Historical and Archaelogical Society which at the time seems to have been composed largely of elderly spinster sisters. My mother is proud of the revolution she started; it was good for me too because by the time I was 7 or 8, there was a gang of children on all the outings and we were able to race around wedge shaped gallery graves while our parents, grandparents and elderly aunts sat on shooting sticks listening politely to some archaeologist expounding on the significance of the site. There is a place called “the Red House” in Youghal and the Princess and I wandered past it and I saw that it was built by the Uniacke family – there are lots of Uniackes in Cork. For the first time it occurred to me that Uniacke is not a particularly Irish sounding name, does O’Uniacke sound good to you? My loving husband is always saying that Cork names are very odd, perhaps he’s right. My own particular favourite is Clayton Love.
My aunt who lives next door to my parents hired at enormous expense (rather annoyingly, she refused to reveal how enormous despite stringent cross-questioning from her nosy niece) a professional declutterer. When I heard this from my mother my first thought was that I couldn’t believe that there was enough business in Cork to keep a (presumably very expensive) professional declutterer going and my second was, what will happen to the family photos. I need not have worried. When I called in to my aunt that evening she had a little pouch of items for me. A Cork Free Press newspaper from the week of the 1916 rising preserved by my grandfather. A photograph of my grandmother and her sister in white dresses and ringlets from about 1904 and, for me, best of all a picture taken of my father’s family in 1930. It’s a wonderful picture. My grandparents moved to America shortly after my father was born (my grandfather had injudiciously chosen to fight for the losing side in the civil war and what with one thing and another, getting right out of Cork seemed to him to be a good idea – when the depression started, they came back). They lived in California. It seems to me that the photo is not at all like equivalent Irish photos and it is almost impossible to believe that there is less than 30 years between the formally posed solemn picture of my grandmother and her sister in their white lace dresses and ringlets and this lovely picture. My father, who was five, is smiling winsomely at the camera looking very all American and can do and he has a hand resting on my grandmother’s knee. She is smiling at the baby (my aunt) sitting on the edge of the chair who is staring, somewhat solemnly, at the camera. My grandfather is standing beside her smiling over her head at the baby. The composition works very well and they all look very modern though tasteful, I hasten to add. My grandfather was younger than I am now when he died and he was, of course, totally unknown to me and I find myself staring at the photo trying vainly to work out what he was thinking.
On Tuesday we went to Garretstown where I spent much of my youth risking hypothermia and the Princess and I went swimming for the second day in a row. On Wednesday before going back to relieve the troops in Dublin we went to an exhibition of Seamus Murphy sculptures in the Crawford. I was very taken with it but the Princess was much more impressed with the plaster casts of ancient Greek sculptures which I suppose shows a truer appreciation of great art. They broadcast an old documentary which I found fascinating. It was from 1969 which was the year I was born and there was lots of footage in Cork. Alas, 35 minutes and 16 seconds was considerably beyond the Princess’s tolerance for learning about sculpture and seeing views of Cork. What was interesting to me was how very little had changed, everything in the film was still there and maybe Cudmore’s* is now Vodafone but the building is the same, even the people seemed more or less the same (all that intolerance of blow-ins). Really, only the cars were different. I am indebted to my mother for the Cork detail that the sculptor’s son and a young woman had a baby together and, as they were not married, it was an enormous scandal. It was the 60s and, trust me here, I doubt it was very swinging in Cork. Anyhow, the sculptor’s son wanted to move in with the young woman’s parents and the baby but her parents (though the mother was French, there’s a blow-in and a half) drew the line at this. That’s Cork, everyone knows everyone else’s business and it’s dreadful and wonderful in equal measure.
A couple of days later in Dublin I overheard the following deeply annoying conversation between two Dubliners
Him: Of course, country communities can tend to be exclusive rather than inclusive. If you’re 20 miles down the road, you’re a foreigner.
Her: Although Cork is the worst, you’re always a blow-in there.
(Just because it’s true doesn’t mean that they have to be smug about it)
Him: How’s John getting on in the new job?
Her: Oh, he finds it very dull and slow, it’s not at all the pace he’s used to, public sector, of course, what do you expect?
A kick in the teeth for the public sector for good measure. Snort.
* If you’re from Cork, this link is fascinating: http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/places/patrick_directory.shtml