THE water rushing under the South Gate Bridge, the melodic chatter crossing Patrick Street, the flutter of pigeons’ wings in the Peace Park...
While rivers may run, people may talk, and pigeons may fly elsewhere, what I’m writing about are Cork things.
One of the significant difficulties of the Covid era has been the inability to plan in advance, and while you might be able to glean a silver lining from this holiday from our often uber-regimented lives, it’s safe to say that it’s become annoying at best and existentially worrisome at worst.
But personally, in the last few weeks, I was lucky to have a last second opportunity to visit my family back in New Jersey, taking all the proper precautions on both sides of the Atlantic, of course. It was the first time I’d seen them in almost a year, and while I was ecstatic at the thought of reuniting with them, as soon as the plane’s wheels touched down at New York’s JFK airport, I’ll admit I felt a certain pang.
I missed Cork, and the home it’s become.
Over a year ago, I moved to Cork to take a Master’s in Creative Writing at UCC and embraced the city’s life. Frank O’Connor, the master of the short story and Cork’s literary godfather, whose bust greets visitors to the City Library, declared Cork “the most important city in the world.” And I think it is, at least for those of us who recognise what’s around us.
In the wake of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, we’ve all experienced a reinvigorated sense of place, especially on a micro-level. Keeping to within a few kilometers of one’s home certainly shrinks the world and, hopefully, renews an appreciation in us for the small things that make our place ours.
As we emerged from Level-5 restrictions and ‘Covid-fatigue’ sets in, I wanted to write about our city and why it’s worth persisting in protecting it.
While I was away in the U.S, I thought about what makes Cork unique, and the things I love about living here.
Being beholden to a car to get almost anywhere in New Jersey, I missed walking. Of course, I missed the destinations — walking to Patrick Street to shop, to the English Market to peruse the stalls, to the Oval or SOMA to enjoy a quiet pint of Beamish or a coffee... But even more, I missed the simple act of walking the laneways and side streets of Cork, snaking my way around the city, climbing down Nicholas Street, cruising a straight line down Oliver Plunkett, crossing the Lee at the South Gate Bridge.
Perhaps better yet are the walks that end up nowhere —2 a bench on the North Mall, a patch of sunlit grass in Fitzgerald’s Park.
As a writer, I love to walk and think, to observe the life of the city, not in some hyper-calculating surveilling way, but as an act of opening up to the possibilities of experience, character, and place. Wordsworth, Dickens, and the old Corkonian Edmund Spenser all believed in the creative power of walking.
The Japanese term shinrin-yoku translates to something along the lines of ‘a walk in the woods’. However, it’s used in specific reference to the meditative qualities of walking in a calming natural setting. Well, not to knock a stroll in the forest, but I get the same effect perambulating through the streets of Cork.
Back in car-bound New Jersey, sometimes I’d take day trips into New York City to walk around, but even there I found myself disavowing the gridded avenues and skyscrapers in favour of the winding peaks of Patrick’s Hill and Lover’s Walk.
While many cities have managed to outgrow themselves, allowing the gentrification of hotels and corporations to turn their city centres into tourist theme parks, Cork still feels lived in.
The city still remains a vibrant place, filled with the activity of blue collar workers, small family businesses, entrepreneurs, musicians, artists and writers.
There’s a loveliness to the diverse identities that comprise Cork. Northside or Southside? Blackrock or Ballincollig? Yet we’d all stroll past the other and offer a smile and a nod.
Then, even as I luxuriated in my family’s home, eating and drinking the New Jersey delicacies I’d gone without for nearly a year, I thought of the Farmgate, Izz Café, Rising Sons, the Franciscan Well, and Lennox’s chips, cheese, and garlic.
I’d wake up in the morning with the mental reflex: “I must go across to the shop for Clonakilty sausages and black pudding.”
And I even missed the rain, and the way the city goes almost depressingly beautiful when it’s wet.
Driving on Route 287, in the climate-controlled comfort of my car, I found myself drifting in reverie. I was walking in a night’s misting rain by St Fin Barre’s, bathed in the gold of streetlamps, the waft of Southside turf fires descending on me in the darkness. Somehow, Cork can make even its most unpleasant moments subtly spectacular.
Ultimately, I think I can miss the rain because of the astounding sun that eventually follows, how the solar rays refract in pints of cider enjoyed outdoors.
I think often of a sunny day on the Mary Elmes Bridge, where I sat with a notebook, watching the river glitter beneath me, and heard two passers-by in conversation.
The man said to the woman, “Would you be any place else, like?”
Well, reader, would you?