THEY say that time flies when you’re having fun. Time also fairly whizzes by when you’re raising children, doing up an old house, running festivals, growing vegetables, working freelance, writing books, getting a divorce, mourning the passing of old friends and family, falling down and getting up again, having the craic, and staring blankly into space on a wet Tuesday in November.
In fact, it has flown so fast that - just like that - I have now lived in West Cork for 30 years.
So much has changed in those 30 years. Ireland is not the same country. Then again, I am not the same person.
Here are some things I can do now that I couldn’t do 30 years ago:
Grow vegetables. Bake bread, in fact cook pretty much anything from scratch. Forage sorrel, wild garlic, elderflowers, damsons, blackberries and sloes. Make preserves, pickles and turn any fruit into alcoholic drinks. My latest preserving project is making capers from green elderberries.
Drive on the left-hand side of the road. Pull over and skirt the ditch like a trapeze artist to let another car pass.
Sing-along to most songs in the trad session canon - from the Aul Triangle to the Galway Shawl. Have an appreciation of country music from Garth Brooks to Philomena Begley. Listen to live music at least once a week.
Understand the immersion. Understand the Aga. Understand the difference between a hot press and a press.
Understand my house drains. Understand the West Cork accent.
Swim in the Atlantic and like it (but preferably after a sauna on the beach).
There are also things that I still can’t do or don’t understand, even after thirty years:
The legislation surrounding alcohol. I grew up in mainland Europe. I can’t understand why there are specific times when adults may or may not purchase alcohol.
Though I am generally a backroad boreen champion, I am still not up to calmly reversing through a hedgerow down a narrow, steep, potholed excuse for a road to let a huge tractor get by. I can do it, but I have a panic attack every time.
Shunning. Enough said. I’ll say no more. (See what I mean?)
Sometimes when I think back to thirty years ago it seems like Ireland was on a different planet altogether. The changes have been wide ranging, and overall positive. Here are some things that have changed for the better:
Food: What a joyous journey it has been to go from living in a country that did not have olive oil, ground coffee, or pasta to the foodie paradise that is West Cork today. Farm to fork? Yes, please!
Sexuality: When I moved here the sale of condoms in pub toilets, homosexuality, divorce, and abortion were all illegal. There really was only one gay in the village and he wasn’t local. There were no lesbians. Schools had no sex education, go away with any mention of trans rights.
I know we still have a way to go, but we have really come a long way from 1992. When I look at young people in Ireland today, my heart bursts with pride.
Diversity: Same as sexuality. Ireland may still have a long way to go to have truly inclusive participation and representation of what it means to be Irish in the 21st century, but kudos for how far we’ve come. When my black friend from Detroit visited me back in 1998, a little boy was gobsmacked as we walked by. Bless him, he’d never seen a black man before. “Look!” he said in an awed whisper. “He’s a blackie-just like on the telly!” Today, that same little boy is just as likely to have a black best friend and what a good thing that is.
There are, of course things that have changed not for the better: Designer bags. Helicopter parenting. Direct Provision. Brexit. The hell of housing. The climate emergency.
I have high hopes, however that this country, especially its young people, can work together to address the problems of the day. That may sound optimistic, but the recent Repeal campaign and response to the pandemic give me hope of what can be achieved when we pull together.
Thankfully from the dawn of the Boom to the settling dust of the Bust and into whatever post-pandemic, pre-apocalypse time we find ourselves in now, some of the best bits have remained the same. The reasons I fell in love with West Cork are still there: the landscape, the music, the people, and the craic. Like any three-decade relationship the shine may have dulled over the years, but the spark is still there. The West Cork landscape is still breathtakingly beautiful. The light on the fields, or the coast blanketed in a duvet of fog can still make me gasp, like an old lover who you still feel a flutter for.
As to the people and the music, and the craic that is created when they come together- what can I say? In the last two weeks alone, I have been to two of the very best of sessions. The humour, and talent, the warmth, and the friendship has only deepened over these 30 years, and I am grateful to be a part of it. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.