I was briefly in Cork. I went down last night and am back in Dublin tonight.
It occurred to me that I am 46 and I have spent more or less half of my life in Cork and half out. Those first 23 years make all the difference, I can tell you.
I went to the Crawford Gallery this morning and they had a small exhibition on commerce.
It reminded me of something that has increasingly struck me over the years since I have left Cork. Cork is all about commerce. Dublin has government and public servants and Cork has commerce. Look, of course, Dublin has lots of commerce too and Cork has teachers and doctors and nurses and so on but the way Cork thinks of itself is fundamentally commercial.
Ireland has traditionally been a very centralised country and still, the machinery of government and governing is overwhelmingly in Dublin and this, in my view, gives Dublin a lot of its identity. Cork on the other hand, had the merchant princes, local businessmen who invested in the city. Even the Crawford Gallery is named after Sherman Crawford, brewer and philanthropist. There were all of the fortunes made in the butter trade and the Quakers and the Dutch merchants. Some of the largest supermarket chains in Ireland started off in Cork (Dunne’s – now in Dublin, Roche’s – now defunct and Musgrave’s – still in Cork). Cork is a city of commerce and proud of it.
When I was in secondary school in the 1980s, commerce let Cork down pretty badly: Ford’s left, Sunbeam closed, Dunlop’s left, unemployment was through the roof and things were pretty grim. But things seem to be back on an even keel now, even after the 2008 recession. The chemical industry in Cork harbour (mmm, I know) is a really good employer, the city feels prosperous. Whereas the boom spread Dublin and made it slightly monstrous, it just improved the centre of Cork and left it compact but revamped (notwithstanding that there are still some closed shops on Patrick Street). It is a delightful place to visit now.
I love living in Dublin, but I will always miss living in Cork. This Cavafy poem about leaving the city is not entirely apt but the idea that wherever you go –
“This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city.”
You never really leave your home behind, you carry it with you in your head for your whole life.