Cork is a medieval city, one that has seen upheavals, rebellions, famine, prosperity, disenfranchisation, civil war, sporting glory, political intrigues as well as scandal of all kinds. Ghosts, legends (a lot of them still living) and a hive of musical geniuses are found out of proportion to most cities and it has a literary tradition that resounds down through its entire history.
As Cork is so small and walkable, its history is far from abstract. In fact, it’s all around you as you spend time wandering around its streets. You will sense it and live it; you can’t hide from it. The city’s Heritage Pubs are the nerve centres of this history, having been shaped by it, and there are a number of books available that will help you understand the uniqueness of this place and its drinking establishments.
Foremost, for me, are Conal Creedon’s Passion Play and Second City Trilogy. Passion Play, in particular, is based around the author’s own home area of Devonshire Street and its surrounds. I’d suggest getting a copy of this book and reading it in the Sin É, which is just around the corner, or indeed before you visit Cork at all as it really does sum up the dreamy reality that is this neighbourhood – funerals, beer, horses, swans and coffins are not out of place and if you just go with it, you won’t be either.
Second City Trilogy explores universal themes such as resentment, pity, love and hope but in a book that drags you in, puts you in the room and allows you walk the very streets of Cork, you will connect to the very soul of the city. Unfortunately, the play was out of print the last time I looked, but try email@example.com or contact the author himself.
For all you punks and ska heads out there, Kevin Barry’s ‘City of Bohane’ is set in an Irish city in the future. There is almost a bass line or rhythm coming at you from its pages and it has a collection of characters and egos that, in my opinion, is pure Cork.
I’m convinced this fine city is the book’s inspiration and it will literally plug you into another level. In recent times, you could still visit homes on the northside where the Holy Trinity gazed down on you from the mantlepiece along with JFK, James Connolly and Bob Marley. Read this book and you will unlock another level!
To get an idea where these authors get some of their characters from, go back even further. I recommend the writings of Sean O’Faolain and Frank O’Connor, especially O’Faolain and his short story Up the bare stairs. I see Creedon in him or is it that I just see Cork in both? Indeed, Dublin does not have a total monopoly on James Joyce as his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ includes Daedalus having to visit Cork and is a pure example of the mountain not coming to Muhammad…
Last, though not least, if you want to understand the soul of Cork and its people, you must read The Mad Woman of Cork by the great Paddy Galvin (may he Rest In Peace). To help you understand the language and unlock the various levels of Cork slang, look no further than Dowtcha Boy, which is a book by Morty McCarthy.
Order a pint of Mi Daza and you’re off.