My Weekend: If you’ve never seen the Milky Way, then you’re missing out

Rob O’ Sullivan, marketing officer at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Blackrock, talks about blowing off steam at the weekends, swing dancing, and falling in love with the mandolin
My Weekend: If you’ve never seen the Milky Way, then you’re missing out
Rob O’ Sullivan, Marketing Officer CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, Blackrock, Cork

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I was born, bred, and buttered in Cork, and moved to the city about 10 years ago. I’ve been working at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory for about a year now, and it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I’m a zoologist by training, but I managed to blag my way into a job with references I learned by watching Star Trek. (Don’t tell the boss…).

I was initially drawn to the job because I love all things science, but I was surprised to learn that the aspect I love most is the outreach. BCO have spent the last decade using astronomy to empower disadvantaged people, and to improve scientific literacy for everyone they engage with. In an era where “fake news” is doing real damage, teaching people how to recognise fact from fiction feels very meaningful.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

Fridays are for blowing off steam — whether that’s after-work drinks and nerdy banter with my workmates, or meeting musician friends for a session. I don’t go too mad though. I’m feeling a lot older lately, so I blow off more of a light mist rather than steam.

Lie ins or up with the lark.. which is it for you?

I try to lie in, but my biological alarm clock screws me every time.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

Yes and no. I wouldn’t call it work exactly, but ever since I started working at the Observatory, I’ve thrown myself into amateur astronomy. My neighbours frequently join me outside my apartment when I’m checking out planets with the telescopes I “borrow” from work. I never grow tired of hearing the word “Wow”, and it’s guaranteed when you give a person their first close-up shot of the moon, or the rings of Saturn.

I’ve had a pain in my neck ever since I started working in the Observatory, and I only recently realised it’s because I spend half my time now looking skywards now.

If money was no object, where would you head to on a weekend city break? And who would you bring with you?

Cork. When you’ve already living in the best city in the world, why would you travel anywhere else?

I’ve been here over 10 years and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this city has to offer.

That being said, Edinburgh is a wonderful city. I could spend a weekend at the National Museum of Scotland alone. I would of course bring along my lovely girlfriend Aimee.

Closer to home, is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

It’s hard to admit this as a Corkman, but the Kingdom is my home away from home. Cycling around the National Park at the weekends melts away stress like butter. Kerry is also home to some of the best dark skies in the world — heading out at night under a blanket of stars is truly awe-inspiring. When you live in a city with constant light pollution, it’s easy to forget what we’re missing out on. If you’ve never seen the Milky Way streaked across the sky you’re missing out.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

Of course, though I tend to push my weekend into Monday and do my socialising then. As far as I’m concerned, the best time you can have in Cork is to spend a Monday night with friends in the Franciscan Well, dancing to One Horse Pony, eating pizza, and sampling the best craft beer in the country.

Do you get to indulge any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

A few. For exercise, I love swing dancing. It’s so much fun and a great way to meet new people. Swing Éire here in Cork run incredibly fun lessons, and I highly recommend people try it out. I’ve always loved music, and recently I’ve fallen in love with the mandolin. My fingers have endured a lot of punishment since I picked it up, but it’s been worth it. I can’t get enough of it.

Entertain or be entertained? If it’s the latter do you have a signature dish?

Entertain. I grew up in a household where flavour was considered an allergen, so as soon as I left home, I dove headfirst into cooking to revive my atrophied taste buds. I love spicy food, and right now my favourite dish to make is a lamb keema.

We have so many places to eat out in Cork — where are your go to spots for coffee/lunch/special meal?

Cork’s food scene is like nothing in any other city. We really are so lucky. If I had to pick only one restaurant, it would undoubtedly be Thali Nepal. The food is exquisite, the staff are wonderful, and it’s exceptionally good value.

For lunch, I like to stroll into the English Market and explore what’s on offer at the stalls. The market is my happy place.

As for coffee, I rotate between the many fine artisan coffee shops we have here in the city. The local cafés have far more character than the larger corporate chains, and they feel more deeply rooted in the city’s culture.

Sunday night comes around too fast.. how do you normally spend it?

Campaigning for a four-day work week…

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

At 6.30am to allow for a half an hour of swearing at the ceiling while reminding myself that I love my job, and it really is worth getting out of bed.

Robs’ recommendations for upcoming events at CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory:

See The Moon up close and personal using telescopes on Monday February 11, from 6pm to 8pm. Attendance is free, but weather-dependent.

Join in the Cork St Patricks Festival celebrations at CIT Blackrock Observatory on Saturday, March 15, from 6pm to 8.30pm. Make a moon print in a fun, walk-in, art session and check out the moon using powerful telescopes. More at bco.ie/events.

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