I am heading to the Irish Riviera this weekend. This is my personal (and highly unofficial) name for Cork. Being located in Ireland means that in reality, Cork – like all places in Ireland – has a deep and meaningful understanding of rain. It is true however that the temperatures there are marginally higher than the rest of the country, seeing as it is located as far south in the island as it is possible to go.
I associate Cork with sunshine and beaches. This is influenced of course, by the fact that most of my visits there have been during the summer. Both my parents hail from the Rebel County – one from a coastal town – so we were regular visitors as children, usually during our summer holidays. Day trips to the seaside were generally spent in the coastal counties of Kerry and Clare – to Ballybunion and Seafield beaches respectively. But our yearly week long summer holiday was usually spent in West Cork or Kerry– Inchadoney, Ballyferriter, Inch, Ballyheigue, Youghal.
My delusion that Cork is the hottest place in the land is also coloured by the fact that I lived on the dole in Cork over the summer of 1995 – the hottest summer of my life. I remember the searing heat lasting the entire months of July and August. At the time I was living on College Road near the university, across the road from the ‘Curl Up and Dye’ hair salon. I was paying fifteen pounds a week for a hideously decorated room in a student house The job I had lined up for that summer only lasted two weeks. I was working at some cowboy summer school, where I taught French to secondary school children, only a few years younger than I was. I drew unemployment benefit for the rest of that summer. At the time jobseekers’ allowance was £62 a week, so I had enough money to survive. This era was also the time of the EU butter mountains – unconsumed tonnes of butter lay lying in warehouses around Europe. Therefore each week the dole money would be accompanied by a butter voucher, which could be swapped for dairy products. Thankfully the shop next to my house allowed me to use the voucher in exchange for alcohol. A flagon of cider was my drink of choice back then.
I made absolutely no effort to find another job once my fortnight working had finished. The weather was too hot. I preferred to sit in my vest, shorts and flip flops in the front garden watching the world go by.
That summer of 1995, the music festival Feile was held in Cork. Looking at the poster the line-up looks amazing. This was during Kylie Minogue’s Indie-Kylie phase, so she was trying to be taken seriously as a real musician by participating in festivals. I forgave her for this deeply tragic career error in due course. On the Saturday night after the gig, one of my housemates threw a house party. I remember being utterly horrified by the fact that people were doing speed in the kitchen. I was young at the time.
That summer also saw my first ever visit to a gay bar – Loafers on Douglas Street. I remember walking past is about fifteen times before plucking up the courage to enter. It was an afternoon, so I was relieved – yet simultaneously disappointed – that it was quiet. I had a terrible fear (and deep wish) of being ravished by raving sodomites when I went in. No such luck. Sadly that bar shut its doors for the last time a few years ago.
Since that golden summer of sponging off the state I have been back intermittently – again it is usually during the summer months, which influences my belief that Cork is Ireland’s sunshine state.
This weekend I shall be in Ballymaloe. I will venture southwards to see a band of my teenage years – the Hothouse Flowers – live in concert in the grainstore at the old country manor. I wonder if I will still have feelings for them? It doesn’t matter I suppose as it’s in Cork, so the sun will be shining.