The Princess and I graced Cork briefly over the weekend. We went to the Lough to feed the birds. Guiltily, we brought grapes rather than stale bread – our usual offering. We were somewhat chastened by reports in the Examiner of the death of 40 swans from botulism. Unfortunately, other visitors did not seem to have read the report. Let me tell you that those swans (like the species I know best) do not know what’s good for them (I really wanted to write “what side their bread is buttered on” and I almost stopped myself). We cast our grapes upon the waters and they sank unnoticed and unloved while others got a great response from fresh bread. They even, kindly, offered some bread to the little girl who was bitterly chucking grapes in the water. We also tried some cherry tomatoes but swans and ducks don’t like those much either.
I had a look, with my parents, at the digital photographic archive of the National Library. What is really astonishing is how little Cork has changed in nearly 150 years. The layout of the streets is determined by the twisting of the river’s channels and the contours of the hills and the centre is very much the same. Although the city was burnt in 1920 by the Black and Tans, the new buildings that went up to fill the gaps fitted into the same streetscape and were not so radically different as to render the streets unrecogniseable in their previous incarnation.
Browsing through the photographs, we came across several of the papal nuncio’s visit to Cork. Specifically, several pictures which are set in a very well-known Cork institution. These are captioned “Papal Nuncio in Cork: Large crowd scenes (in grounds of Rochestown College ?) “. This building is most emphatically not Rochestown College. On seeing these my father and I laughed aloud and he said sagely, “ah yes, you must never trust anything from the great wen” as he has taken to calling Dublin. Gentle reader, can you identify the institution in this picture?
If you can, if it is obvious, even to the internet, I think a strongly worded letter to the national library is called for. This brings me back to the problem of second cities everywhere which I always feel more acutely after visiting Cork. In Ireland, it sometimes feels that everything is run from Dublin and for Dublin. This impression is compounded by the national broadcaster, RTE, which rarely ventures outside the Dublin suburbs to report news, relying on the odd file recording to indicate national coverage (in the current climate they seem keen to show a longish queue outside the Cork dole office – same one, every time). Compared, however, to the Irish Times, RTE covers a wide range of the country. The Irish Times doesn’t even cover all of the Dublin suburbs let alone distant outposts like Cork. I note, however, that recently the Irish Times has been running articles about things to do in West Cork. Do not be deceived, this is merely to inform its Dublin readership. Certain Dubliners like to descend on West Cork en masse for their summer holidays to the intense chagrin of Cork city residents who regard it as their holiday destination. Annoyingly, the Dubliners tend to go to different places every year whereas Cork people tend to go religiously to the same place. This means that when you speak of West Cork with Dubliners, you are instantly at a disadvantage as you only know Goleen or Skibbereen after a childhood spent staring out the windows in the rain in these spots. Dubliners on the other hand speak with irritating confidence of Union Hall, Roscarberry, Skib (they will always use the local abbreviation), Clon (see, always) and Castletownbere and so on. And, to add insult to injury, they have also been in Mayo and Galway, where you have never been because you always went to Skibereen on your summer holidays. We are going to East Cork this summer, I don’t think I could stand the opprobium, if I ventured west with my little Dublin family.