We are working on a project at the moment and as part of this exercise we asked people a very simple question: “What do you love about Cork?”
As you can imagine we received all manner of responses, which are quite revealing about our great City and County.
One particular response from Fiona Whyte is worthy of special attention as it is so brilliant:
“What I like most about Cork are the ghosts, the ghosts of the older city, guarded behind the imposing presence of Father Matthew.
Move away from Father, over the bridge, along the quays and up Shandon Street, you leave behind the modern city and its quest for sophistication. Here, in amongst ebony skinned youths and pink-haired girls, the ghosts emerge from steep steps and lane ways.
A man in a long brown coat tips his hat at me as he passes by and I swear it’s Frank O’Connor. Shop fronts cry out Polski. A teenage girl at the bus stop checks out her Facebook updates on her smart phone. But the buildings can’t cover their origins of decades and decades ago and everywhere the music of the Cork accent rings out loud, louder even than the bells at the top of the hill.
Going past the North Cathedral and down Cathedral Walk – my mother still calls it Chapel Lane – children in the school yard are shrieking as they fly from a pig-tailed pursuer.
Girls are whirling ropes and one chants rhymes as the others skip. I think she’s my grandmother. I learned those same rhymes from her, and No. 3, the house where she was born, is just nearby. Its walls have been recently painted white but this cover up of its natural grubbiness is temporary, I’m sure.
What’s more, I’m certain now that if I walk through the front door, beyond the heavy curtain which separates the three foot square alcove from the not much larger living area, I will be greeted with a welcoming if toothless smile from the tiny woman who inhabits the chair in the corner. Her white hair is pulled back in a bun. Her black skirts reach the ground and a heavy black shawl is wrapped tightly around her. She holds court from the corner, though she rarely speaks. But all eyes are trained permanently in her direction, for just above her head, perched on a sloping shelf, is the miracle box, a chest of moving black and white images accompanied by muffled sounds. My grandmother’s mother, she lived to be ninety-six.
Leaving Cathedral Walk, I turn back to town and treat myself to a Moroccan couscous lunch in Cafe Bendec. I look out the window, content that here on Pope’s Quay, amidst the scurry of vehicles and pedestrians, the ghosts continue their eternal patrol”