Cónal Creedon meetsin his “local”, Cork Coffee Roasters on Bridge Street, and we stroll down to his home on Devonshire Street, next door to the house in which he grew up, in the heart of what he calls his own multicultural quarter.
We walk past Asian Spices, which sells Halal meat, and the Corner House Bar and Sin É, and across the street there’s a Brazilian shop and a Turkish barber. A few doors down is the local Mosque, while away in the distance gleams the Goldie Fish atop Shandon. This is Creedon Country.
Walking through his gateway into a courtyard of thriving potted plants, the writer says he loves living in the city centre, surrounded by the bustle and hum of Cork’s daily life.
Heading up to the beautifully refurbished home Creedon shares with his partner Fiona, it’s a very warm and personal place, its burgundy and cream colour scheme not too far from Cork’s own. It’s a house filled with books and artwork and memorabilia, and copies of his latest novel, Begotten Not Made, lie scattered around.
He’s delighted his novel has been long-listed for the prestigious International Dublin Literary Award. One of only nine Irish writers nominated, he says he won’t be holding his breath, but he’s deeply honoured to be in the mix.
It’s been a busy year for Creedon, and one highlight saw him take to the stage at Cyprus Avenue with his friend Clare Sands.
“And I’m only just back from the play in New York,” Creedon says. The Cure has just completed a month-long run in Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side, a place Creedon likens to Cork’s lamented Sir Henry’s.
The Irish Consul General in New York came to see the play with his wife the night Creedon was there, as did actor and author Malachy McCourt, but a cherished moment for the playwright was a chance meeting with his own nephew on the night. “Family is everything, isn’t it?” Begotten Not Made, published on Creedon’s own Irishtown imprint, has become something of a phenomenon.
As others have noted, Begotten Not Made seems to set out from Frank O’Connor country – Brother Scully loves Sister Claire for 50 years even though they’ve only ever met once, the night Dana won the Eurovision – but Creedon’s story soars into stranger and often funnier territory, flying as high as the novel’s heroic World War One pigeon Dowtcha Boy himself.
“The book is a love story – two love stories, actually – and I suppose at its core it’s about the fact that love is about belief as much as it’s about emotion. In a funny way, the whole notion of love itself is almost a belief, because it’s an intangible.
“Love is not a mathematical equation,” Creedon says with a wry smile. “It doesn’t work like that.
“Like, 6’2”, blond hair, blue eyes, 5’9”, brown hair, blue eyes, it doesn’t work like that. It takes a lot of belief for love to work.” Many of the novel’s readers clearly believe in it, and have taken to posting pictures on social media of the book in various exotic locations, so much so it has become a meme on social media.
“Oh look,” laughs the author, “I’ve had people sending me photos from Hong Kong, Copenhagen, Scotland, and even from underwater in the Sea of Qatar! It’s a beefy enough book too, so I’m really touched that people would lug it along with them on their holidays.” Creedon confides that a secret crossover character from his first novel, Passion Play, cameos in Begotten Not Made, but likely only real fans will cop him. Creedon promises a similar connection in his next novel, set in what he would never call the Creedonverse, this one provisionally entitled Glory Be To The Father.
In the course of our interview, we chat about Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes, and Creedon cautions against judging the past with any notions of superiority.
“The scandal of the future is there to be seen, if you care to scratch the surface. It could be in a direct provision centre, maybe a grandson of the future lifting up the Sam Maguire and saying ‘That’s where we came up’.
“Direct provision is the obvious one, but I’m sure there are more. We have families staying long-term in hotels now. You say ‘hotels’ and that sounds acceptable, but think about the toll that takes on a family, think about what that says to a child at school, knowing that there’s something different about that child, that their home isn’t a proper home.” Passion Play, Creedon’s 1999 debut novel, ends with as gorgeous a tribute to Cork as you’ll read, and all these years later it’s clear its author spoke from the heart.
“My city is a Royal town, dressed up in crimsons and gold in the distance, through the mists of coal smoke; the cry of an Echo boy, the movement of a bus, car, cyclist; people walking home from work, the chimes of an ice-cream van across on Spangle Hill, the bells of some cathedral or other, the yelps of children from Roches’ Buildings playing ball along the road.
There is a harmony of movement and colour and sound. Everything as one; the aromatic blending of Murphy’s brewery, Linehan’s sweet factory and Donnelly’s bakery… “ – Dis could be heaven, I whisper.
“ – Could be, she smiles. – Could be…” For Cónal Creedon, heaven is clearly to walk the streets of his childhood, to shoot the breeze with dear friends, new and old, to remember neighbours long passed, and to celebrate the poetry and music and everyday magic of a warm hearth and a beloved home.
Cónal Creedon’s Begotten Not Made is published by Irishtown Press, and is available in Waterstones Cork.