There are no Echo boys anymore. Only Echo boys all grown up and still calling the familiar chant down the city streets. I haven’t seen Michael O’Regan in quite some time. Maybe his absence is part of the reason I am becoming disenchanted with the city I call my home.
Living abroad puts double-glazed rose-tinted perspex on your glasses. You miss everything you’d normally miss about your hometown; the people you like; the restaurants and foods you’d normally get; your favourite bars and clubs; and the diversity and multicultural vibe that a city, especially Cork city, could bring. The longer you stay away the more obscure things you miss. I found myself missing the walk from the city out to Blackpool, of all things. While I would much rather walk the 20 minutes from the Opera House to the shopping centre than get on a shitty bus that takes 20 minutes to get from Parnell to the top of Patrick street, now that I have a car I’d rather drive! I missed walking down back roads, like. That’s what being away does to you. You may miss the countryside and develop a new found appreciation for the green grass and the rivers but you’ll also miss the familiarity of walking home from town through a somewhat rundown piece of the city.
To my credit, I didn’t lose my grá for the city straight away. I had some amazing nights out, some lovely afternoons strolling around and one lengthy walk from MacCurtain street to halfway up Washington street, just taking in all the things I hadn’t seen in a year or two. Walking around this Saturday morning dimmed this vision.
I decided to have a walk around the city before going into the library to read my book for a few hours. The rain kept me away from reading outside and the warmth of the library beckoned. I left Paul street and made right towards Grand Parade. I crossed over and walked up Patrick’s street, stopping in to Golden Discs and Easons along the way. Golden Discs was a ghost town and Easons is set to move location to make way for a Sports Direct. Savoy is closed down and an eyesore on the main street. Starbucks and Carrolls Irish gift shops line the top of the street before Merchant’s Quay. I turned down Winthrop street and walked in the direction of the bus stop, passing out coffee shops preparing for the wet day and the heavy black doors of closed pubs. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was the early hour and fact that the streets were fairly empty. Maybe it was a mixture of all of the above. There was no buzz in the place. Cork city just seemed like another commercial haven, sleepy-eyed workers resigned to opening up and suffering for another day.
Walking down South Mall towards Grand Parade was depressing. In a monotone street full of dull browns, blues and greys, Fred Zeppelins was the only beacon of colour with their flame dancing above the door. Two worn out bus drivers smoked fags outside the Maldron, glancing at me as I passed by. I started thinking about the city some more and the only word that came to mind was, “Miserable.” The new Lifestyle (new in the fact that it is one of the newest additions to Patrick street) just looms over the rest of the street. Grey and black fill the sky. Even the two McDonalds has conformed to the same dark green at Dawn’s Square and Winthrop street, uniform in colour and bubbling violence after nights out. The pubs and clubs all look the same in the evening, and I’m not even going to mention the menacing tension that pervades Oliver Plunkett street, Washington Street and the fountain after 2 AM. Queuing up for Hillbilly’s almost guarantees you a front row seat for a brawl, a scrap or handbags at ten paces.
Sitting in the library, in between reading and scrolling through Twitter, I couldn’t get my mind off of the state of the city. Cascades of sneachta and Class A fall from our pockets and rob us of our senses, fueling aggro and tension.
Something was rotten in the state of Cork. Perhaps the sheen on the city when I returned had turned to slime and I was watching it greasily slide over my home by the Lee.
Go tobann, I received a text from my girlfriend. On my walk up to meet her outside the hairdressers there was a bit more buzz around the place. Franchises and brands still filled the streets but once I left the main thoroughfare and stood on Paul Street I started to see a bit more of the city I left behind. Independent coffee shops and natural food stores popped up. Inside in the Cornmarket Centre, under TK Maxx and beside Lidl, Peacock & Ruby, a funky clothes shop, thrives.
North Main street may look bleak and dreary with roadworks and closed shops but Mad, Tony’s Bistro, St. Peter’s visitor centre and loads of other great Cork institutions still function and prosper.
After I met K, we got out of the drizzle to protect her new, beautiful haircut by treating ourselves to lunch in Bracken’s. I got the toasted sandwich with bacon, melted cheese and an Americano. It was unbelievable. I would recommend the cafe to anyone but particularly that sandwich. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Afterwards, we hurried down French church street and got mochas in O’Connell’s Hot Chocolate. We also treated ourselves to a brownie and a slice of carrot cake, slightly breaking one of our resolutions for the New Year. That’s for another post.
On the drive back home I noticed the stunning mural with a stark message on the environment on the wall beside Paul Street car park. The vibrant colours of the kingfisher in action trump any dreary Cork day anytime. Not to get too deep or preachy but I had a sort of epiphany. Driving through Blackpool past Murphy’s chipper reminded me of the hidden gems all around the city and its surrounding areas. The city is not the be all or end all. Take a drive out to Blackpool, or even walk 🤣 Go to the cinema, have a look around the shopping centre or get a sloppy foley in Murphy’s some evening. Make the treacherous journey to Wilton and have a late night Tesco shop. Great craic, I promise you. I don’t need to tell you about KC’s in Douglas, surely. In short, town used to be the place to be; hanging out on Paul street; drinking bottles at the 100 steps by the Heineken brewery; hanging out upstairs in Subway. As we got older it was nights out in Gorbys, Cubins, the Roxy, the Brog. You name it, we were there. Maybe as I get older the more I see the grimy side of Cork in the nighttime. Maybe I am becoming more cynical as I grow up. The fact remains, though, that while Cork city may lose some of its charm as we get older, if we don’t look in and around it, we’ll never find the magic again. It is there if we search.
I’ll do my best to find more quirky, charming and cool spots in and around the city and shine a light on them!