THE northside of Cork has always been the heart of the city: home to historic trading areas and iconic landmarks, thriving and tight-knit residential areas, and distinguishably working-class arts and culture.
Now a special musical project has brought together local musical talent, thanks to The ‘Boys and Girls of Knocka’ group on Facebook.
Over the past few months, the page has swollen to more than 7,000 members, and is home to a rich array of historical photographs and material pertaining to the northside.
It’s on this group, co-founded by entrepreneur James Twomey and musician Glenn O’Callaghan, that the idea for a song memorialising the old sights and sounds of the area, before they’re lost to regeneration, came about.
Sourcing musicians and songwriters to put together an extended-player featuring a song that reflected on the area’s history came slightly easier because of the group’s numbers, says Twomey, as he discusses the group’s community origin.
“It was originally Glenn Cal, myself and himself set up the page, to collect our old friends from Knocknaheeny, because he lives now in Sligo and I’m in Aherla.
“We grew up in a big circle of about 40 lads, different sorts of groups, as kids and teenagers. As you grow older, guys drift away, so we said it would be great to have everyone in…
“One lad in particular invited his wife onto the page, and that night, we had about 60 people in total, everybody knew everybody, but the next morning, we woke up and we’d nearly 2,000 (laughs). I couldn’t believe it!”
Twomey and O’Callaghan weren’t long coming up with the idea for a song chronicling the area’s history and culture, in the Irish folk tradition.
O’Callaghan, known on stage as ‘Glenn Cal’, had no problem getting the idea off the ground, and building the lead song for an extended-player for the community.
Coming from local entertainment royalty, as the son of Ardmore Avenue’s own country singer Dave Cal, O’Callaghan had the first-hand knowledge and feel for the area to pen a homage, but has also struck out on his own as a singer-songwriter, touring with vocal group Westlife among others, and was able to bring that experience to the table early on.
“Myself and James were talking about it, and he put me in touch with Myles Gaffney, a fabulous songwriter from the northside. I’m living in Sligo now, so I collaborated with Myles at the start, with some ideas, but I’m delighted that he ran with it, but there was a great idea, and the song turned out brilliant. It’s great to have it up there.
“There’s a few videos up there, of songs of my own, and they got a good reaction, and it’s a great platform because there’s a lot of people on there. It really took off.”
Once Glenn had the idea and the concept behind the CD’s lead song set in stone, it was over to singer-songwriter Myles Gaffney to put together the most important piece of the whole thing: drawing on local knowledge and memories of the Knocknaheeny area through the filter of the community, and its experiences.
For Gaffney, the song, which came simply to be titled, was a painstaking labour of love.
“I decided to watch and follow the page, and monitor comments from residents past and present. If a topic, place or subject was mentioned by various people a number of times, I would note that down.
“The first verse had to describe Knocknaheeny, and where it is, to let the listener know what the song is about, and where the community is.
“The second verse was to describe the people that came to inhabit Knocknaheeny, the basic houses that were built. Single-pane windows, with metal frames with four bare walls, no thrills, no frills. Proper working-class area and housing.
“The chorus describes Knocknaheeny for what it really is. Friendship, love, neighbourhood, and a working-class community, very content with what they have. The salt-of-the-earth, genuine people. We know Knocknaheeny sometimes gets bad press, and dragged through the muck, but it’s a very small minority who portray this image.
“Cnoic Na hAoine, which means “the hill of Friday”, is contained in the third verse. On a Friday, before Knocknaheeny was built, monks would travel up the hill to pray in the fields looking down onto the harbour. Seventeen terraces were built in total between two main roads, Kilmore and Harbour View road respectively. Clubs and schemes are also mentioned.
“Verse four tells of a true working-class area as seen throughout Ireland. A post-office, chipper, chemist, library, school… basic needs for a community to function.”
Once the historic details were down, Gaffney got straight to the nitty-gritty of arrangement, recording and production. And if the weight of the material and its significance to the community was heavy, Gaffney unmade the burden of producing the song by staying in keeping with his own processes, lending it his own voice in the process.
“As I’m a traditional Irish songwriter and artist, the production and recording was basically the same as any other songs I’ve written and recorded. Guitar, bass, banjo and squeeze-box were the instruments I chose for this song, to create the sound I was hearing in my mind.
“I wanted it to be a singalong song, easy to sing, easy to learn.”
Also appearing on the record is guitarist and songwriter Anthony Cotter, now a part of Ballincollig’s phenomenally successful White Horse Guitar Club ensemble, based out of the town’s folk venue of the same name.
With his song,, Cotter brings a more personal look at childhood in Knocknaheeny, reflecting on the emergence of bullying in schools, and stressing the importance of resolving conflict peacefully and maturely.
“I based it loosely on this kid from school who was bullied so badly he brought a bread knife to school in his bag.
“It’s deep enough, but gets the listener to question the bully, and calls out it’s not right, but also that it’s not okay to fight back with violence.
“I had a superb childhood in Knocknaheeny myself, and with my involvement with St Vincent’s H&F Club, we give back to the community.
“Some clubs make good players at adulthood, we make good people.”
The CD launched at Hollyhill Library this month, with members of the community gathering at the facility to mark the occasion with the musicians and social-media folk involved.
‘The Boys and Girls of Knocka’ Facebook group is open to join on the platform now. The group’s Christmas concert happens at Hollyhill Library, on Saturday, December 15 at 1pm, including musicians featured on the new CD, on sale from the Library, Singleton’s SuperValu, and CarryOut at Top of the Hill.
Myles Gaffney headlines at Cyprus Avenue on Saturday, December 29, tickets on sale now from cyprusavenue.ie, and The Old Oak.
Anthony Cotter and the White Horse Guitar Club play Cork Opera House on Thursday, January 24, 2019, tickets on sale now at the venue box office and corkoperahouse.ie.
Glenn Cal’s new solo EP will be released in the new year, with songs available to hear in the ‘Boys and Girls’ group now.