Living Leeside: From Togo to Togher, Raphael says he found his rhythm and poetry in Cork

Raphael Olympio moved from West Africa to West Cork, and then to the Cork city suburb where he found his rhythm and poetry (RAP), he tells Roisin Burke
Living Leeside: From Togo to Togher, Raphael says he found his rhythm and poetry in Cork

Raphael Olympio, pictured by Simon Curran (Iamacosmonaut).

FROM the beautiful beaches of West Africa to the soft landscape of West Cork, Raphael Olympio said making the move at the age of seven with his mom and four younger brothers to Clonakilty was a pivotal point in his childhood.

Living in West Cork for just a year, before moving to the city suburbs, Raphael, aged 28, soon found his footing in Wilton where he attended Togher Boys NS.

“I loved primary school, I have a lot of good memories of my time there. I was mad into the GAA. I played hurling and Gaelic Football. I was involved in street leagues with my friends.”

Raphael is a Healthcare and Occupational Therapy student at University College Cork (UCC), which he very much enjoys.

“As a youngster I always wanted to go to UCC. We walked the campus as kids and I really liked it. It was my dream to study there and since I have been there, the college has been very supportive.

Raphael Olympio, pictured by Simon Curran (Iamacosmonaut).
Raphael Olympio, pictured by Simon Curran (Iamacosmonaut).

“There is great diversity there and the OT department is exceptional. I’ve made lifelong friends at UCC,” he said.

Outside of his studies, Raphael said he has learned a great deal from UCC, including performance management, organisational skills, people skills, social skills, confidence and a professional attitude.

The UCC student is also a youth mentor at the Cork Migrant Centre.

The young African joined the Cork Migrant Centre after African American George Floyd was murdered by a police officer during an arrest in Minneapolis in the US last year.

“A woman from Cork Migrant Centre got in touch about an initiative and I spoke publicly against racism for the first time.”

Raphael said with four young brothers, he is good with young people and got involved in the Youth Against Racism initiative.

“I used to be a youth leader with the Cork YMCA. I would answer questions, give advice, inspire and motivate younger kids to get involved in things like music and art and helped them to be creative,” he said.

Raphael is also a spoken word artist who likes to dabble and experiment with different genres of music from rock to rap and indie.

I like to tap into different genres and finding different ways of expressing myself through music.”

The African artist is also performing at an outdoor entertainment concert being organised by The Everyman. Raphael will be part of an event held at Elizabeth Fort on Saturday, August 14, at 7.30pm.

Chatting about how he got into rapping and spoken word art, Raphael said there were not a lot of black role models when he was growing up.

“I used to write poetry when I was younger and as I grew up, there wasn’t a lot of black role models shown in a postive light.

“There were soccer players, hip hop artists and comedians. It was hard to see me becoming a doctor or lawyer, but I looked at rap artists and I really wanted to be them.

“I was really into soccer, but I wasn’t good enough! I always wanted to do music. I did it secretly for a while, before I just decided to give it a shot.”

It was through music that he met his partner Fionnuala, who is from Sligo.

“We met at the eco cafe, webworkhouse when it was opened for 24 hours. We used to study and do assignments there together.

“She was going around the cafe, looking for a DJ to perform for an Easter party and I tried to help her find someone for the event. We became friends for a few months and then we started dating.”

Seán Óg influence

Raphael Olympio, pictured by Simon Curran (Iamacosmonaut).
Raphael Olympio, pictured by Simon Curran (Iamacosmonaut).

Raphael said one of his best memories of living in Ireland was when Seán Óg Ó hAilpín visited his primary school.

“As a kid, I was one of the first black/African families living in Togher. I didn’t see a lot of diversity in the early 2000s and to see Seán Óg playing for Cork, it was very inspiring and motivational. His visit gave me encouragement and confidence to follow my dreams.”

Although Raphael has been in Ireland since he was seven, he said he still considers his home country Togo in West Africa as home.

“While I was in an Irish community from the age of seven, my mom has a strong Togolese identity. Growing up we were exposed to a mixture of Togolese and Irish culture and cuisine. Togo music is very familiar to me also. I feel home is Cork and Togo.”

In terms of his future, Raphael said he may need to leave Ireland to pursue his career as an Occupational Therapist, which is a competitive field, but said ideally, he would like to end up back in Cork.

“I have talked about it with Fionnuala, I get anxiety thinking about leaving Cork, it’s very familiar. I’m very comfortable here, it’s what I know.”

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