Cork is more than the place we live: it’s home

We publish extracts from a new book by new Corkonians, who write about their experience of Cork city
Cork is more than the place we live: it’s home
Silvia Benini Italy, Stefano Ferretti Italy and Gabriella Caponi Honorary Consul Italy, at the launch of A Journey called Home. Pictures: Gerard McCarthy.

WORKS from 62 writers in 20 languages, along with translations, feature in new book, A Journey Called Home.

The publication features poems, stories and photographs of new Corkonians, about their experiences of the city.

Cork City Libraries, in association with Ó Bhéal, put out a call for contributions. The project is part of Cork City Council’s ‘Creative Ireland Programme’ initiatives for 2018.

In the foreword of the book, Lord Mayor Cllr Mick Finn said: “In this collection, our new citizens share their experiences of the city, giving us a unique opportunity to see Cork through the eyes of the people who help to make it a vibrant, interesting and intercultural community.

“I am excited by this new vibrancy, which is such an important component of cultural, social and economic sustainability and essential to driving innovation.

“The diversity of languages that the stories are written in illustrates the growing number of cultures and nationalities that now call Cork home.

“Through their experiences we see a different face to our city and this is a wonderful gift for all of us.”

Here, we publish two extracts from A Journey Called Home.


by Stefano Ferretti & Silvia Benini Ferretti

It was an evening, like many other weekday evenings; myself and Stefano were in the kitchen, cooking.

Lyndon, our seven year-old lab, was glued to my feet, as he usually is when he smells food, and was waiting for something to fall off the kitchen counter. That evening, for no particular reason, the wine was going down very nicely, and we soon ended up a bit tipsy.

Looking at the rain outside the window, I found myself thinking back to when we arrived in Ireland, 10 years previously; maybe because the weather was exactly the same — no surprise there — or most likely because 10 years had passed without us even noticing, such has been the excitement, the worries and in general, the things to do in this strange new world.

Reading my face like an open book, Stefano smiled and said: “I have a teli , I have a teli” and he couldn’t hold his laughter: he was trying, without success, to mimic the strong Corkonian accent of our first landlord, when he gifted us with an old TV… We could already speak English back then, but every time he talked to us we ended up just guessing what he was saying, often failing miserably in our attempt to understand him.

I joined in the laughter, clearly remembering that particular moment, which opened the door to that unstoppable train called ‘Memory Lane’, a train full of vivid memories of people, places, events and emotions. Nobody knows where the train is heading, but I can tell you that it all started here, in the True Capital.

We were still chuckling about ‘the teli’ memory; I tried to regain some composure and said: “Stefano, can you remember the call I got from Linda? It was my very first call, and she was trying to book an interview for a job.” “Oh yeah! Where did she tell you to go for the interview?”

“It was Boreenmanna Road, but the funny thing was that I’d asked her to spell the road name ’cause I had no idea where it was … today I still don’t have a clue how I managed to eventually get there.”

“Ahahha, yes, I remember you told me that in the end it was a bus driver who pointed you in the right direction“

“Yes, I think it was a number 2 bus, and he let me out on Old Blackrock Road, and told me to cross that narrow lane… Crab Lane… it seems as easy now as it was impossible then!”

“I bet it was! You were never really good with names and spelling… especially considering your shock with Irish names and the Corkonian accent… Hold on… what was that woman’s name… ohhhh, we couldn’t stop laughing, remember? Ahhh, I can’t remember, help me out!”

“What name?”, I asked, but I knew exactly where he was going with this. “You don’t mean Aisling, do you?” It was my turn to burst out laughing,

“Ahahahah, oh my God! Yes! That’s the one! What were you calling her?

“I was almost choking at this point, as the memory of the event brought back the embarrassment I had felt when I realised the difference between how you write an Irish name, and how you actually pronounce it… “A I S L I N G …I pronounced the Irish name the same way I would have pronounced it in Italian... A I S L I N G... gosh.... I wanted to disappear from the face of the earth.”

“Sure, look who’s talking though! Stephaaaano.”

“Oh I’ve got something better than that,” he said “do you remember the guy who was working at Barry’s?”

“Of course I do! It was that nice fella you usually met on the bus on the way to town, that day he had a box wrapped in brown paper, didn’t he ?”

“Yes, exactly! It was a cold, dark morning, must have been 6.45 or something, he approached me and, out of the blue said ‘Do you like tea? I could not understand where he was going with it! Jeez, I was basically still half asleep and couldn’t realise what was going on. ‘Do you like tea? Here! This is for you, Merry Christmas!’

“I think at that point I looked like one of those old Japanese cartoons, with a giant question mark on top of my head! He had decided to give me a ‘Welcome to Cork’ Christmas gift. He literally left me speechless for the rest of the trip. Something like that never happened to me before and can only happen here, in Ireland, in fairness…

“Do you remember, somehow he also tried to write my name on the box, well the AISLING version of it anyway, guess we all have the same difficulties sometimes. Ahahahah”

“What a nice man he was! You remember? We put that box under our first Irish Christmas tree in Dillons Cross and only unwrapped it on Christmas Day. I remember we could not wait to open that gift with the strange name written on it… STAVROS! ”

Stefano reached for his phone to open Spotify, and music started to fill the room, adding a lovely soundtrack to the evening.

The ‘Memory Lane’ train kept on going inside my head, and I started thinking about how much our vision and experience of Cork had changed through time, while the city unfolded its secrets to us and we opened our minds and hearts to it. 10 years ago, we arrived at night with two cases, just a few days before Paddy’s Day; the city was bursting with preparation for an event we knew very little about.

Our eyes were wide open to faces, buildings, streets or pubs, while our ears responded to any sounds or laughter. We were so aware of anything that was happening around us, but, at the same time, so conscious that something could easily go wrong.

We had so many hopes for this new chapter but were also nervous as we had left Italy with no real plan for what to do next, aside from looking for a job. I remembered making our first Irish friends and how they immediately made us part of their Cork life, opening their homes and bringing us to pubs and places that showed us what Cork was really about.

Cork quickly became part of us, we felt at home at the stadium watching a hurling match, while learning the GAA rules explained by cheerful neighbours and promptly shouting our support for the Cork team.

Quickly enough, it became natural for us to thank the bus driver for the ride or to salute people when walking or driving on secondary roads. The funny thing is that when we go back to Italy, we find ourselves using the same Irish courtesy and the response is an incredulous, yet joyful smile.

Stefano was still smiling, his eyes were, as mine, immersed in those memories. As Springsteen’s voice started coming out of the phone, I was sure of what Stefano was thinking about: the Boss concert, of course, a few years back, when some of our friends from Italy visited us. As on many other occasions, that was a time to show Cork, our new home, to our old friends. They arrived at Cork Airport and we were the ones waiting for and welcoming them at arrivals. We brought them home first, and then to the local pub where they could taste, first hand, Corkonian friendliness….

A couple of pints later one of our friends was handed a guitar from the pub owner, to join in their casual, yet entertaining session. Looking at our friends’ disbelief and joy was like looking into a mirror, their happiness was ours.

After the concert we stopped in town, aimlessly walking along Patrick street and stopping here and there for a pint; the surprise and joy on their faces was more effective than any of the words we used to explain to our friends and families in Italy why Cork is much more than the place we live in, that it is our home.

The sudden doorbell brought us back to the present.

“It must be the lads,” said Stefano, and he went to the door. It was Declan, Francesca, and the rest of the gang, a loud and joyful bunch of people from different countries.

Here we were, after a few minutes, sitting all around the table, sipping wine and laughing: that scene reminded me of those beautiful and endless Italian meals. It is funny how our Italian traditions have been deeply infused with Irishness and how our Irish friends have adopted much of our Italianness.

We never made it into town that night as we kept on drinking, chatting and laughing at our place. We shared part of the memories we had been discussing and soon everyone had boarded their own Memory Lane train, adding pieces of their own stories about Cork. You can’t stop that train: each person we’ve met and all the things we’ve done just add a little piece to the tracks. Only when you’re on board can you truly realise how wonderful your journey has been; this journey we call Home.

Stefano Ferretti and Silvia Benini Ferretti were both born in Figline Valdarno, a small town outside Florence in Italy. They moved to Cork in 2008. Stefano works in IT tech support and Silvia is an Italian language teacher and linguistic lecturer/researcher.


Jacqueline O’Driscoill Cork, Nqobizitha Vella Cork and Lindita Jaupaj Cork, at the launch of A Journey called Home, poems and stories of the new Corkonians in The City Hall. Pictures: Gerard McCarthy
Jacqueline O’Driscoill Cork, Nqobizitha Vella Cork and Lindita Jaupaj Cork, at the launch of A Journey called Home, poems and stories of the new Corkonians in The City Hall. Pictures: Gerard McCarthy


by Nqobizitha Vella

It was on a Thursday morning when the receptionist of the accommodation centre that I and my son were placed at knocked on my door.

“Good morning, Nchobhizitha”.

That was her trying to pronounce my name Nqobizitha. Like everyone else I have met since I came to Ireland, she was so fascinated by it and was curious to know how it’s supposed to be pronounced.

“Good morning ma’am”.

“Interesting name there, how do you pronounce it?”

I laughed and took a long thought as to how I was going to teach her do to the click.

“Oh well! I’m not sure if I am going to make sense, but stick your tongue to the top and push it harder, and as you do that produce a sound. The click that will come out is where the trick is.”

After many attempts, she finally got it right, then I had to explain to her what it means and consoled her in the process, saying that even back home, it’s only those that speak my language who can pronounce my name.

She had come to give me a letter that said we were being transferred from the capital Dublin to Cork city. I sat down and read the letter over and over, then I took my tablet and went to the computer room that had WIFI. I went online and googled the place that was going to be the next home for me and my son Nathan* (not his real name).

The first thing that caught my eye was that it is the second most populous urban area in the Republic of Ireland. I quickly connected that to my own city where I was born and bred, in Zimbabwe, which is also the second largest in the country, known as the City of Kings, Bulawayo, and now, after three years of staying in Cork city, I can simply say I was spot on.

There are so many attributes that I can say are the same, number one being the calmness of the place. Well, someone might say that I am being biased because it’s where I have been placed and I cannot do anything to change it, or get to know and explore other places, but in all honesty, I would choose Cork city to anyplace else in the whole wide world.

On a Tuesday morning we packed our small bag and at 10am, the bus left the accommodation centre, Hatch Hall in Dublin for Cork city. It was us and three other families.

That past week I had tried to roam around the city of Dublin. I should say I felt it wasn’t safe to be moving around with a six-year-old boy, as he could have easily gotten lost because of the congestion, people there are forever busy, always in a rush. Get lost in Dublin and no one will give you directions, I don’t know why, but that has always been my experience even now every time I go there, no one seems to know anywhere, they will tell you to use Google maps, one would think that is what everyone in Dublin had been trained and taught to say to strangers.

We got to Cork at around 2pm, to a place called Glounthaune. I did not know which direction on the map Glounthaune is, as I am still trying to figure out where my east is to this day, the satellite navigator in my head is still looking for the network.

Liam Ronayne Cork City Librarian,Patricia Looney Senior Executive Librarian and Paul Casey Editor Ó Bhéal, at the launch of A Journey called Home, poems and stories of the new Corkonians in The City Hall. Pictures: Gerard McCarthy
Liam Ronayne Cork City Librarian,Patricia Looney Senior Executive Librarian and Paul Casey Editor Ó Bhéal, at the launch of A Journey called Home, poems and stories of the new Corkonians in The City Hall. Pictures: Gerard McCarthy

When I got here, I experienced a sense of tranquillity that was beyond words.

The calmness was amazing, I fell in love with the place from the word go. On my first day, I met a lady who was also from the southern part of Africa, Catherine* (not her real name). Our countries being neighbours, she understood my language and the following morning she took me to Cork city to show me around.

We were to take a train and it was my first time ever to board a train. Firstly I was amazed that there were machines to buy tickets from and not people, and that the train wasn’t fully squashed like I had seen in Dublin. I’m just learning now that the reason it wasn’t packed was because it wasn’t rush hour.

We got into town in about 20 minutes, the train took ten minutes and the other ten was for walking from the station into the city centre. Surprisingly, every person I made eye contact with would smile at me, I had to ask Catherine if they could see that I was new to the place and if they were trying to give me some sort of welcome, but no, I still see it today, especially when I’m doing my morning walk or jog in Glounthaune. Some greet, some wave and some hoot when they are driving, which is kind of new to me as back home in Zimbabwe, that only happens in the villages where everybody knows everyone, not in the city, unless you know that person.

The other amazing thing about Cork city and its people is that no one will tell you about Google maps when you ask for directions, some go to the extent of accompanying you to the place you are trying to locate. I was touched at one point when I wanted to go to the city and there were no trains. As I was leaving the train station, a gentleman who was coming to pick someone up asked me if I was going to town, and he gave me a lift with no charge. I was wowed at such humanity.

I cannot talk much about Cork city and its buildings as I don’t go out a lot because of circumstances, but I can say a lot about its people, the kindness and the warmth is out of this world. One day I came across a subject on the internet that said ‘Cork is one of the friendliest cities in the world’, I quickly agreed with no hesitation.

Having lived in Cork city for the past three years, I have never experienced crime first hand. I have read the news, seen some stuff happening on TV, but it’s always hard for me to accept that those things are happening in my beloved Cork city. I once read a book in our book club where the writer was saying a lot of stuff about crime in the city, It has been a year since we read the book, I always walk around with my eyes and ears open, thinking I will maybe see some of the things that we read about, but nothing. I have since concluded that the story was pure fiction at best, and I’m giving it to the writer for being very creative.

As an asylum seeker, living in a city where everything to me is foreign, i.e. the people, the weather, the language, the culture, the food and the atmosphere, adapting as an adult is a very big task, it’s very hard. There is a group of individuals that have been of great help to us integrating, a group of mainly Irish people. Some have invited us into their homes, taken us to places of interest around Cork City, while teaching us about their culture.

I have learnt that when I get out of the house, never mind the season, I should carry a coat, an umbrella and sunglasses as the weather changes constantly. I have learnt that potatoes are an important part of every dish — back home they’re a delicacy, only eaten on special occasions. As of now, I no longer want to see a potato even in a picture, whether it’s served as a hash brown, croquette or cottage pie. I think it’s because I over-indulged when I first came here, but my son has quickly gotten used to the menu and he loves them.

I grew up eating maize mealie meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and luckily, there are a few shops in Cork city that sell it.

A wise man once said everything in the world that has an advantage also has a disadvantage. The good thing about this one big disadvantage for me, is that it wore off eventually. I used to almost cry because of it: The accent of Cork city people. Whenever I am speaking to anyone not from the southern part of Africa, I struggle to get what they are saying if I don’t look at their lips when they speak.

English is not my first language, it’s my second and I used to think that English was just English, but I struggled to understand people when they were speaking — no matter how much I stared into their lips when they spoke, it was a nightmare, I wouldn’t catch a thing.

The person that has helped me with this dilemma is my son. It’s amazing how children can quickly learn a language or switch to a certain accent. After one year in the city, if one closed their eyes and listened to Nathan speak, one would think it was an original Corkonian speaking. Even today, he is correcting me when I pronounce some words, or it could be me on the other hand asking him what he means about the things that he is saying, as they would be sounding different from how I would say them.

Even a tree that is known to be producing the sweetest of apples can also have some that won’t taste as good, and one cannot write off the whole tree because of the two or three bitter or rotten ones. When one empowers themselves with knowledge, one gets to learn and discover why some things happen in life.

In this beautiful city of Cork, there are some that don’t know or understand why a person would leave their home, it’s only but a small bunch that are not pleased with it.

My advice to those that are not happy with non-Corkonians being here is that they could maybe learn and understand the term ‘no man is an island’, that in this world people need each other, whether a different race, different culture or background.

The borders that we have were created by man for their own interests, so one shouldn’t allow that and think of themselves as superior to the other, but to treat those borders as a way of creating order in this world we are living in.

People will always migrate for different reasons, I can attest that there were Irish people who were citizens in my country way back. People should be welcoming to outsiders and learn to embrace them, I guarantee that there is a lot we can learn from each other.

Copies are available at Cork City Library.

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