The product of a diverse childhood, spending a number of years in Ireland and in Liberia, Fionnuala O’Connell enjoys a number of elements of life in Cork while acknowledging the difficulties a mixed heritage can bring.
Fionnuala, 26, was born in South Africa but spent the first two years of her life living in Ireland, before moving to Liberia where her mother is from.
The family then left Liberia due to the Liberian civil war in 2000, moving to Offaly. From there, the O’Connells moved back to Liberia in 2006 and then Laois in 2010.
Fionnuala said the huge differences between the two countries was very obvious to her as she grew up.
“Growing up between both Liberia and Ireland, I was made very aware of the inequalities that exist between the two worlds.”
In 2016, Fionnuala moved to Cork to take up a college course at UCC studying International Development and Food Policy.
“I had no idea what I wanted to study at the time but I wanted to explore inequalities and better understand the situation.”
Now, Fionnuala is the Youth Project Worker at the Cork Migrant Centre working with young people in direct provision or from migrant backgrounds and helping to keep them engaged with education and extracurricular activities.
“I love my job, it gives me life. The young people I work with are so amazing, they are an inspiration and I feel privileged to be working with them.” In her spare time, the young youth worker enjoys expressing herself through art.
“I love to paint and listen to podcasts. Being a mix of Liberian and Irish, I didn’t grow up around a lot of people that looked like me.
Cork is the first city that Fionnuala has lived in, growing up in rural parts of Liberia and Ireland. The young woman, who lives in Sunday’s Well, said she enjoys the connection between the city and the county, such as otters and herons in the river Lee and urban foxes roaming the streets at late hours.
Very comfortable with her life in Cork, Fionnuala did say she can struggle with the accent at times.
“The way they speak in some parts of Cork, it’s like music, the slangs and rhythms, like a revolution against the English language. At times it's like a musical!”
While Fionnuala and her partner Raphael enjoy their lifestyle in Cork, Fionnuala was very honest about the negative aspects that can sometimes be experienced due to her mixed heritage.
“I have had a few unpleasant encounters, with young people calling me monkey and making monkey noises and a few other things like that. I also have a big afro and there are times that I've gone out and it has happened a few times where I was pulled by someone who had grabbed my hair.
Fionnuala said she also misses Liberia and especially certain aspects such as the sunshine and the sense of community in a small town.
“In Liberia, there was always people visiting, music, late-night storytelling under the stars, things like that, I miss.
“My skin is so much better in the sun and my hair actually breaks in cold weather. Ireland is too cold and heating is expensive,” Fionnuala said laughing.
In terms of her future, Fionnuala said there were a lot of unknowns.
“Being a young person living in Cork is very difficult, the cost of living is extremely high and it seems to be getting worse. The city is getting more diverse and it’s so beautiful to see that. I would love to stay but many things need to change. I have so many friends that have left, young people are leaving and it’s not because they want to, it’s because they don’t have a lot of options.”
Despite this, Fionnuala said she had a lot more to see and discover in Cork and she was looking forward to exploring all Cork has to offer in the months and years ahead.