The Boys and Girls of Knocka: “The Salt-of-the-Earth, Genuine People”

The massively popular ‘Boys and Girls of Knocka’ group has teamed up with local singers, songwriters and musicians to put together a special CD release to raise funds for local projects, focused on the thoughts and recollections of Knocknaheeny’s people and their relationship with the locality. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with some of the people involved.

The northside of Cork has always been the heart of the city: home to historic trading areas and iconic landmarks, thriving and tight-knit residential areas, and distinguishably working-class arts and culture, from cult post-punk heroes Nun Attax and current black-metal darlings God Alone, to arts facilities like the Firkin Crane Theatre, and rapper GMC’s Kabin project. Concurrent to this fertile ground for artistic development has been an interesting phenomenon, that embodies the potential of the wider social media milieu and its ability to bring people together: The ‘Boys and Girls of Knocka’ group on Facebook. Over the past few months, it’s swollen from a few members from the co-founders’ circles, to over seven thousand members, and plays home to a rich array of historical photographs and material pertaining to the Northside. It’s a study in the reach granted by social platforms to communities, while specialising in local interests and content.

It’s on this group, co-founded by entrepreneur James Twomey and musician Glenn O’Callaghan, that the idea for a song memorialising the old sights and sounds of the area, before they’re lost to regeneration, came about. Sourcing musicians and songwriters to put together an extended-player featuring a song that reflected on the area’s history came slightly easier because of the group’s numbers, says Twomey, as he discusses the group’s community origin. “It was originally Glenn Cal, myself and himself set up the page originally, to collect our old friends from Knocknaheeny, because he lives now in Sligo and I’m in Aherla. We grew up in a big circle of about forty lads, different sorts of groups, as kids and teenagers. As you grow older, guys drift away, so we said it would be great to have everyone in… One lad in particular invited his wife onto the page, and that night, we had about sixty people in total, everybody knew everybody, but the next morning, we woke up and we’d nearly two-thousand people (laughs). I couldn’t believe it!”

Twomey and O’Callaghan weren’t long coming up with the idea for a song chronicling the area’s history and culture, in the Irish folk tradition. O’Callaghan, known onstage as ‘Glenn Cal’, had no problem getting the idea off the ground, and building the lead song for an extended-player for the community. Coming from local entertainment royalty, as the son of Ardmore Avenue’s own country singer Dave Cal, O’Callaghan had the firsthand knowledge and feel for the area to pen a homage, but has also struck out on his own as a singer-songwriter, touring with vocal group Westlife among others, and was able to bring that experience to the table early on. “Myself and James were talking about it, and he put me in touch with Myles Gaffney, a fabulous songwriter from the Northside. I’m living in Sligo now, so I collaborated with Myles at the start, with some ideas, but I’m delighted that he ran with it, but there was a great idea, and the song turned out brilliant. It’s great to have it up there. There’s a few videos up there, of songs of my own, and they got a good reaction, and it’s a great platform because there’s a lot of people on there. It really took off.”

Once Glenn had the idea and the concept behind the CD’s lead song set in stone, it was over to singer-songwriter Myles Gaffney to put together the most important piece of the whole thing: drawing on local knowledge and memories of the Knocknaheeny area through the filter of the community, and its experiences. For Gaffney, the song, which came simply to be titled, ‘Knocknaheeny’, was a painstaking labour of love. “I decided to watch and follow the page, and monitor comments from residents past and present. If a topic, place or subject was mentioned by various people a number of times, I would note that down. The first verse had to describe Knocknaheeny, and where it is, to let the listener know what the song is about, and where the community is. The second verse was to describe the people that came to inhabit Knocknaheeny, the basic houses that were built. Single-pane windows, with metal frames with four bare walls, no thrills, no frills. Proper working-class area and housing.”

“The chorus describes Knocknaheeny for what it really is. Friendship, love, neighbourhood, and a working-class community, very content with what they have. The salt-of-the-earth, genuine people. We know Knocknaheeny sometimes gets bad press, and dragged through the muck, but it’s a very small minority who portray this image. Cnoic Na hAoine, which means “the hill of Friday”, is contained in the third verse. On a Friday, before Knocknaheeny was built, monks would travel up the hill to pray in the fields looking down onto the harbour. Seventeen terraces were built in total between two main roads, Kilmore and Harbour View road respectively. Clubs and schemes are also mentioned. Verse four tells of a true working-class area as seen throughout Ireland. A post-office, chipper, chemist, library, school… basic needs for a community to function.”

Once the historic details were down, Gaffney got straight to the nitty-gritty of arrangement, recording and production. And if the weight of the material and its significance to the community was heavy, Gaffney unmade the burden of producing the song by staying in keeping with his own processes, lending it his own voice in the process. “As I’m a traditional Irish songwriter and artist, the production and recording was basically the same as any other songs I’ve written and recorded. Guitar, bass, banjo and squeeze-box were the instruments I chose for this song, to create the sound I was hearing in my mind. I wanted it to be a singalong song, easy to sing, easy to learn.”

Also appearing on the record is guitarist and songwriter Anthony Cotter, now a part of Ballincollig’s phenomenally successful White Horse Guitar Club ensemble, based out of the town’s folk venue of the same name. With his song, ‘Superman’, Cotter brings a more personal look at childhood in Knocknaheeny, reflecting on the emergence of bullying in schools, and stressing the importance of resolving conflict peacefully and maturely. “I based it loosely on this kid from school who was bullied so badly he brought a bread knife to school in his bag. It’s deep enough, but gets the listener to question the bully, and calls out it’s not right, but also that it’s not okay to fight back with violence. I had a superb childhood in Knocknaheeny myself, and with my involvement with St. Vincent’s H&F Club, we give back to the community. Some clubs make good players at adulthood, we make good people.”

The CD launched at Hollyhill Library earlier this month, with members of the community gathering at the facility to mark the occasion with the musicians and social-media folk involved. The record has been received warmly, with outlets all over the area stocking the physical CD, and enthusiastic local radio play. Gaffney is now looking toward what can be done to put the song in the inherited memory of young Norries. “The song has got a great reception, and I’m glad to say people like it. The next step I would suggest is to get the song into the schools. The children of Knocknaheeny are the next generation to carry on the song. The children can make this their own unique song, just for them. Father Greg in the church is a good man to give a song, so he might sing it at Mass (laughs).” Twomey echoes Gaffney’s sentiment about the song’s potential legacy, and the importance of pride of place. “It’s been brilliant, to be honest with you, there’s a song about Knocknaheeny now, that was never there before. And it’s the history of Knocknaheeny. I hope it’ll go on for generations, now, like ‘The Boys from Fair Hill’. We gave Myles the jigsaw, and he really put it together with his music as the glue.”

Proceeds from the four-track CD will go to support various community projects for the locality, and are part of an overall drive by people from the area to overcome the aforementioned social stigma that often affect working-class areas around the country. ‘Boys and Girls’ group administrator Don O’Sullivan outlines what the group seeks to accomplish, and hopefully take forward into further projects. “With the funds raised from this CD and other projects, that we will be planning whether through sponsorship or local fund-raising, we want to be in a position to help small groups locally, that are struggling to find funds, and to raise funds with them. In the case the majorettes or a dance group can’t go to their competitions or events, we want to be able to send them on that bus, either by paying for the bus or giving donations to help the children perform in their category, and let the children enjoy the activities that they trained so hard for.”

“We have seen groups who might not be well known and don’t really have the experience, or the know-how to raise funds, and we will be there for them, and to provide. When we were growing up, every child in the parish was involved in something. GAA, dancing, sports of all types, and that has seemed to slow down over the years. We want to give that injection of self-belief, that it can be achieved again as in years gone by, and that is where we will step in, as our children are our future. We are in talks at the minute with professionals in running workshops for the youth, and these are not cheap, but we hope to have the funds in place to give back to the youth. We just want to keep it, from what we saw growing up, to give to this generation with the chance we had.”

Speaking further on projects happening locally, O’Sullivan is evidently proud of what they’ve accomplished with this piece of music, but also spurred on by the possibilities of what can happen next, calling attention to access to the arts, but also a very special cause that will be fundraising soon, in the spirit of community. “We will be working together in the future on other projects. I think where we are now, we can get planning outdoor events locally, give the public free gigs, as we know how expensive it can be for families to go to a gig. From experience with the schools, there are some music clubs there, and it’s just tapping into that pool of energy, and nurturing the youth to have them play, or even extra tuition from experienced musicians, if they want to take up writing or singing or playing an instrument. St. Mary’s on the Hill N.S. are trying to raise money at the moment for a sensory garden for children on the autism spectrum. It is a lot of money for this, they are looking at 25k to get it up and running, so we could hold a concert in the school with the singers, and raise a few quid with that, or even other projects to help them out with the sensory garden. Our slogan for the page is: Putting Unity Back into the Community.”

‘The Boys and Girls of Knocka’ Facebook group is open to join on the platform now. The group’s Christmas concert happens at Hollyhill Library, on Saturday December 15th at 1pm, including musicians featured on the new CD, on sale from the Library, Singleton’s SuperValu, and CarryOut at Top of the Hill.

Myles Gaffney headlines at Cyprus Avenue on Saturday December 29th, tickets onsale now from cyprusavenue.ie, and The Old Oak. Anthony Cotter and the White Horse Guitar Club play Cork Opera House on Thursday January 24th 2019, tickets onsale now from the venue box office and corkoperahouse.ie. Glenn Cal’s new solo EP will be releasing in the new year, with songs available to hear in the ‘Boys and Girls’ group now.

Prime Time Clothing: “Cork Has to Be in the Background”

Cork’s streetwear mecca Prime Time has long been a part of the fabric of local hip-hop culture. As the shop looks to the future after 26 years and counting on Washington Street, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to director Niall Hassett.

An undeniable part of the appeal of Cork City is the gems of its independent culture and homegrown entrepreneurship, embedded in the city’s layout and grid of side-streets. As the city slowly gives way to an encroaching monotone in the form of seemingly-endless chain stores and ill-considered installations, the value of the city’s community of independent traders, and the value they offer in local service and knowledge, is drawn into ever-sharper focus. For shops like Prime Time, right at the top of the Washington Street ‘student superhighway’, recognising this value is key.

Established in 1992 and still resident in its original premises, the shop has long been a supporter of local music and youth culture, with its co-founders developing an interest in street fashion amid the plurality of teenage tribes that lay at the foundation of youth culture throughout, according to director Niall Hassett. “(Cork) would have been very ‘High Street’ at the time, so your main drags would have been what they were. One, you could call it following the crowd, but two: no other choice. That’s where we came in, at the right time. We were at the bad end, I suppose, of the ‘first’ recession in my lifetime. There was just a greyness, a deadness to the town at the time. That, in its own regard probably helped us. You can feel the same thing going on now, there’s a lot of monotone fashion, everybody on the one thing, which is where we differ. When you do something different, that helps you stand out. Once you get people in the door, the clothes speak for themselves.”

The shop’s first few years of business were a formative experience for the people behind it, with the aforementioned plurality of youth subcultures providing fertile ground for Prime Time to put down roots. The process of getting a shop together and developing their interest in street fashion into a business presented a profound but vital learning curve. “One of the things was finding a shop. There would have been loads of empty doors, but at our age, late teens/early twenties, you weren’t probably being taken seriously. So if it wasn’t for Andrew Moore, who would have been from O’Sullivan-Moore at the time, we’d probably never have got off the time. Louisa (Heckett, owner) would have been travelling a lot at the time, and would have seen bum-bags in Camden Market, picked up a couple of dozen of them, brought them home and tried selling them at shops around the city. One of the responses was ‘they’ll never take off’ (laughs). I suppose Lou felt that if this was the struggle to get places to stock what she wanted, was there other people that were in the same spot?”

The changes happening to Cork’s music scene at the outset of the Nineties, including the rise of current fixtures like Stevie G, made for perfect timing. Attending gigs and club nights on the regular anyway, Louisa and Niall found it easy to leverage their enthusiasm for local music into a bottom line of support, a relationship that continues to this day. “It’s because we were part of it. We were more the retail, than the fashion end of it. We used to be trying to get into clubs around Cork, in our clothing, and we’d be turned away the whole time. ‘Nah, nah, nah’. The first thing we had to try and change was to get the bouncers on side, and that helped us allow more music events to go on. We used to have DJ contests when we were a smaller store, fashion shows, things like that. That helped us blend in. It’s trying to break barriers down, of other people’s perception of what you were. We looked different, we were a bit noisier, a bit loud. That would have invited (hip-hop people). When they came in, we didn’t look at them, or follow them around the shop. Plus – on Friday and Saturday, we would have been in the back bar, listening to Stevie, in Sir Henry’s. We were part of it, we were enjoying it like anyone else. We gave the understanding that we weren’t whoring the scene, or the music, we were part of it.”

Fast-forward to this year, when the shop led an expansion in social media reach and scope, with a marketing campaign that placed Cork hip-hop personalities centre-stage across a series of videos, including the likes of wordsmith Spekulativ Fiktion. Striking a balance of community and putting its message across was a priority throughout the campaign. “It was more the artists’ idea, to be fair. We have a studio above us where we could shoot it, plus then we could obviously help to dress it, and give it an edge. Most of the things we’ll do will come from brainstorming, I suppose, it’s just people starting to talk. It’s someone coming to us with an idea, and us going ‘we have the ability to do this, fuck it, let’s give ‘em a platform’. What is it? An evening in your life? It’s Cork, it’s local. One of the big things with our Instagram campaigns is, Cork has to be in the background. How did Brooklyn become Brooklyn, how did Fifth Avenue become Fifth Avenue? Because people saw their iconic places. So that was always one of our big things: to do Cork, in Cork. Local music, local artists, local people. We’ve got some great stuff here.”

As the years have worn on, those relationships to an ever-changing youth culture have passed through the hands of waves of young staff and managers. Trusting new people with the direction of the shop and its identity has been a key part of Prime Time’s longevity, but so too has been its relationship with the city itself. “Being local. We never opened another door. We’ve had opportunities to open in every town in the country. We got it all the time, we still get it. Somebody opens a new shopping centre, and they ask us ‘will ye come, will ye come?’. We always felt we couldn’t replicate it, because we’re from Cork. People feel that, whether they’re tourists or a local. I wouldn’t go to Dublin, I think it should be Dublin people speaking their locality, their youth culture, what growing up has brought you to.”

After 26 years at the forefront of streetwear and new brands, the shop maintains a steady trade, change being a constant, as the brands they once stocked exclusively slowly became main-street staples. Staying ahead of the game is foremost in Hassett’s mind, however. “We’d love to do our own brand, it’s something we’ve been tip-toeing around. Obviously we should be selling online, but it’s not as easy as people make out. You’ve got a whole new business in delivery, returns, etc. We did it twice in the past and got stung badly, but we did it wrong. We piecemealed it. We would like to get into that. And the new wave (of staff) do want to open new shops in new towns. Maybe I’m a bit longer in the tooth, but I suppose, if I’m to follow through on leaving the youth do their thing, maybe we should. But the brand is the next thing, and perhaps that will give us the opportunity to sell in different place without having to open new doors.”

Prime Time Clothing is open Monday-Sunday on Washington Street in the city. For more info, check out prime-time.ie or find them on social media.

Ó Bhéal: “The Atmosphere Has Been Welcoming from the Beginning”

For the past eleven years, one poetry night has provided a lifeline for the artform in the city, going ahead every Monday night, rain or shine, 50 weeks of the year. For facilitator Paul Casey, overseeing the activities of Ó Bhéal is a matter of duty to the city’s poetry community, and for the social potential of the artform. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.

Since its first edition in 2007, weekly poetry event Ó Bhéal (pronounced oh-vale) has provided the city’s spoken-word and verse community with a sounding board for ideas, a platform for visiting poets to have their work heard, and various challenges for aspiring poets to wrap their heads around, as they develop their technique and storytelling. With over 500 installments under its belt, and a number of annual anthologies stemming from its weekly ‘Five Words’ challenge, Ó Bhéal, alongside other semi-regular nights such as Cara Kursh’s Sling-Slang open mics, is a lifeline to the city’s cultural offering. Founder and facilitator Paul Casey discusses how the idea came to him upon coming home to Cork after years away. “There were a number of factors. One was that I was moving back to Cork, and I wanted to work in an area that I was familiar with. I have a particular skillset, I worked in film and multimedia for many years, and I wanted to see if I could use those together, but poetry at that point was my mainstay. I ran a venue in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which was quite productive in terms of creativity, being a remedial, neutral space for tensions in the area. We had a poetry night there that ran every three weeks, and that took off. I was supposed to be back in Cork for the 2005 Capital of Culture that was my aim. I got delayed with a few legal issues, the Habitual Residence Condition kind-of hit me, when I got back to Dublin, I found there was this new law in place to stop me from getting any sort of help until I got a job. I was stuck up there for a few years, in which time I got a good feel for what was happening on the poetry scene. I literally went to every city in the country, to every event I could get to, to get a sense for what was happening. Cork didn’t have anything regular. There were lunchtime readings that Bradshaw Books and Tigh Filí had, they were occasional, not very secure. There was a gap.”

Since its inception, the night has been a place of first call for new and aspiring poets, with an inclusive and beginner-friendly ethos. An open-mic section for poets gives them immediate access to feedback from the night’s knowledgeable regulars, the night’s regular international guests have also provided advice and assistance. As a result, numerous area poets across the age and social spectrum have found their makings at the night, from veterans like Stanley Notte to still-emerging young voices like Matthew Moynihan and Megan Cronin. That accessibility and drive to develop poetry in the city has informed the night from the outset. “We get a lot of first-timers come into us, at the open-mic, reading something that they’ve been afraid to share previously. An equal amount of people have written their first poem at Ó Bhéal, because of the Five-Word Challenge, which was put in place to break the ice for the guests, but also to make the art, the craft itself available to anyone that walks through the door. We’re seeing people get up and read a poem they’d written 15 minutes previous, be blown away by the results, and be encouraged. I found it very contagious for people who came in, and the atmosphere has been welcoming from the beginning, which has become a personality trait of the night.”

Casey’s background in multimedia stood to him as the night’s remit expanded and developed, with one of Ó Bhéal’s hallmarks being the annual Poetry Film Contest, conducted in conjunction with IndieCork Film Festival. Maintaining it over the years, building and screening the contest’s archive on a weekly basis, has been a major point of development for Ó Bhéal, introducing another layer of storytelling to inform new and seasoned wordsmiths alike. “I was involved in film for many years, and became disillusioned with it, because of producers essentially destroying scripts, leaving creatives at their behest. I responded to that by writing poetry. One of my first published poems was a satire against the commercial film industry. I packed that life away for good and was sticking with poetry, and about five or six years later, a year or two into running Ó Bhéal, I was invited by the Munster Literature Centre to attend the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, 2008. I’d never heard of the two words put together, I had no idea that it was a completely unique collaboration of artforms. I was blown away by it, I must have seen over 300 films in a few days, all a few minutes long. It opened that world up to me, and reawakened my skills in film, specifically editing and directing. I saw an opportunity there, and because this is a generation that is visually oriented, that this could be a way to bring back those people, those visually-oriented human beings, back to the written word.”

The night’s remit of accessibility and innovation, reaching people where they are, has created opportunities for social outreach in conjunction with the City Council and Library. The annual Book of Unfinished Poetry, compiled by local teenagers with help from mentoring writers, and Creative Cork, a programme of culture and integration for the city’s new Irish, have been equally important to the community as they have been to Casey, in ascertaining the place and potential of poetry in Cork’s community. “The Unfinished Book, which the Library started during the 2005 City of Culture, and is a legacy of that… I only took it over seven years ago, when the City Council asked me if I’d be interested. I’ve given workshops to writers of all ages for many years, so it worked for me, and I had a base of poets in the area, so it made sense. It’s one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve ever been involved in. Teenagers get nine intense sessions with an established writer, and they come out with the requisite skills to develop into a fully-rounded writer. It’s extraordinary, the quality of poems we get back are good enough to go into adult journals. The enthusiasm is phenomenal. It’s a difficult one to co-ordinate, ‘cause it’s five schools, five local libraries, five writers. We’ve just finished this year’s one, and because the city is bidding for City of Sanctuary status, a number of schools have been identified as Sanctuary Schools, and we’re working with them.”

Ó Bhéal’s annual showcase event is the Winter Warmer poetry weekender, happening this November at venues across the city. International guests join nationally-established writers and the night’s regular clutch of poets and attendees for a series of special events that comprises the jewel in the Ó Bhéal crown. “Winter Warmer is the culmination of the year for us. We have over twenty poets, usually over two days, and we try to get as many international poets as we can afford. It’s funded by a lot of local businesses. It’s very piecemeal funding, so it’s more of a shoestring budget. But we have a number of partnerships that help us overcome that, such as Ark Publications, who send us over three or four high-quality international poets every year. We put them up, and pay them a fee. We mix it up with national and local poets, but you need that international flavour. We also fuse the artform with others wherever possible, so you’ll have the poetry films, but this year, we have The Ballad of Reading Jail, a three-hander play of Oscar Wilde’s epic poem. We have hurling poetry on the Sunday, and we’re going to have 25 visitors from different festivals join us for a sequence of hurling and camogie poems, before taking them to a hurling match.”

Ó Bhéal happens every Monday night at the Hayloft Bar, upstairs in the Long Valley on Winthrop St.

Doppelganger ‘Zine Fest: “It Was Just a Matter of ‘Let’s Do This'”

The history of Cork music and culture has been marked by the development of its community media. In recent times, the humble ‘zine has been hauled from its legacy context, as a vehicle for literary and community exploration. On October 20th at St. Peter’s, Doppelganger sees a celebration of ‘zines’ cultural impact past and present, with speakers, workshops and a library of ‘zines for public perusal. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-ordinator and arts facilitator Oriane Duboz.

From a unique place in the received oral history of Cork music, to formal celebrations and exhibitions in the city’s library spaces, the humble fanmade ‘zine has been an unlikely survivor in a scene marked by near-constant change over the years. Symbolic of the DIY spirit of the city’s creative community, ‘zines find themselves in something of a moment again, allowing publishers and writers to reach people directly, as best seen lately with the success of poetry ‘zine A Vent Zine, an exploration of words and visuals co-edited by Cork-based arts facilitator Oriane Duboz. Following on from the success of the ‘zine and various workshops she’s done with community groups, a celebration of the medium is in order. Doppelganger sees Duboz assemble speakers, workshops and even her own personal zine library for a day-long event in St. Peter’s on North Main Street on October 20th, the result of a lifelong fascination with the medium. “I didn’t know there were ‘zines, as I was getting into ‘zines, y’know? I always liked the content, reading little publications and reading what people do on a small scale, seeing original artwork, political opinions, social opinions. I owned them before I knew what they were, so that’s my personal approach.”

Upon her arrival in Cork a little under two years ago, Duboz’ interest in zines saw her looking to find a project in the medium, amid her work with some of the city’s busiest musicians. Finding a place for it in the modern landscape turned out to be its own challenge, but the creation of A Vent Zine saw co-editor Jonathan Crean provide Duboz with an outlet. “It was brought to me. I wasn’t on the first issue, he created the first issue by himself. Because he was on his own, you know how it is, you can’t do everything. When I saw the first issue, I felt it was unfair that it wasn’t more ‘out there’. I just wanted more people to see his incredible work, and he needed help. I just told people about it, and people were enthusiastic, which is really cool.”

Having garnered an understanding of the Irish ‘zine community by her work with the publication and talking with other ‘zine enthusiasts around the country, the idea for an event that allowed people to see for themselves the impact of the medium wasn’t far behind. How exactly one lays out a ‘zine fair, however, is another matter. “That kind-of evolved. The idea came from people asking me what a ‘zine is, and what the purpose of it is. The old-school ‘zine, which was most popular from the seventies to the nineties, and the new wave of ‘zines are so different, but they have the same purpose, which is to talk about what you want to talk about, without any barriers to communication. I was like, ‘ah, I’ll do that in a pub, people can grab a pint and look at some ‘zines’, so that was the original idea. And then St. Peter’s got interested in the project, and it transpires I have way more ‘zines than I thought. Then Tom from the Forgotten ‘Zine Archive in Dublin let me take a loan of a good amount of ‘zines from the ‘80s. He has over three thousand ‘zines, so I took ‘zines from Cork, Waterford, Sligo. Anarchist ‘zines, feminist ‘zines, some amazing stuff there.”

The highlight of the day-long event for many will be a ‘zine-making workshop, which sees Duboz provide a from-scratch tutorial in creating a ‘zine. Everything from editorial and themes, to binding and presentation is covered, and for Duboz, this workshop is an important entry point for her and attendees to the world of physical DIY publication. “The idea and purpose of the workshop came mutually. People looking for a platform of communication. I was like, ‘I have a platform, if you want, we can do that’. At first, the idea was not to make it a business or anything big, it was just a matter of ‘let’s do this’. Fortunately, it’s become a little bigger than that, again. The way I designed the workshop was with my friends, using their questions and the barriers they encountered. The first thing I want to do is break psychological barriers, that peoples’ thoughts aren’t legit to put on paper. That’s nonsense, but we all have that. So, that’s the first and biggest step. And then we just do it.”

Amassing a huge library of ‘zines between her own collection and trading copies with others around the world, her full library of publications will be available to peruse on the day, with a huge amount of ‘zines on music, culture and politics on hand to read. But adding the final touch to the fair’s offering will be the appearance of speakers from the worlds of ‘zines and DIY music, reflecting on the versatility of the medium. “When you first meet people from the ‘zine community, your instinct is to ‘feel’ if it’s a real ‘zine interest, content and aesthetic and all that. ‘Cause there are people who are interested in the economic side of it, and try to get in and sell a ‘zine for €15. ‘Sure. We’re not even speaking the same language.’ The people I invited to talk, I selected them for that interest. They create DIY, they live DIY, just like punk, y’know. So, Natalia Beylis from Woven Skull, a very cool, very DIY person. Declan Synnott, who wrote his PhD dissertation on punk as a philosophical process. Knows his shit. I wanted someone who knows, and studied the theory side. There’s William from Cork Community Artlink, who’s lived a punk life, his whole life.”

Doppelganger: Cork ‘Zine Fair happens on October 20th at St. Peter’s on North Main Street. Kickoff at 12pm, free entry.

Cork Chilli Company: Too Hot to Handle?

Cork Chilli Company is set to host its first-ever eating competition at its stall at Douglas Farmer’s Market, in aid of St. Vincent de Paul. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with company head Gary Barriscale about what potential contenders are up against, and SVP regional co-ordinator Gerry Garvey about the challenges the charity faces this winter.

It’s a novel idea, albeit one that resonates with both pop-culture kitsch and the county’s growing reputation for homegrown food production. A chilli-eating contest: competitors square up to the specialist produce of the Cork Chilli Company, a Douglas-based start-up, and test their mettle, as the heat intensifies with each round. It’s not for the faint of heart, or the weak of constitution, but oddly enough, Cork’s first chilli showdown, happening on October 6th at Douglas Farmer’s Market, is the product of popular demand. The company’s stall has been kept busy by the adventurous palates of the city’s foodie community, who called for the competition to take place.

Gary Barriscale is part of the team behind Cork Chilli Company, and while the idea is an opportunity for potential competitors to sample a wide range of palate-testing peppers, all proceeds from donations raised by entrants go to St. Vincent de Paul in Cork, a cause close to his heart, as his father was deeply involved in the charity’s activities in the city and county. “It was the obvious choice for our business. We grow more than forty different varieties of chillies here in Cork, so we have the means and raw material to be able to run the competition. Several of our customers had asked about doing one, and running it as a fundraiser seemed like a much better reason to put it on, rather than doing it just for fun alone.”

St. Vincent de Paul has been a source of support and help for people in need throughout the country for generations, assisting families and individuals through difficult times in their lives with the help of public donations. This winter poses the greatest challenge in a generation for the charity, as living costs skyrocket amid an unprecedented housing crisis, and weather events continue . Gerry Garvey, South West Regional Co-ordinator for St. Vincent de Paul, speaks on the importance of fundraisers like this. “We can’t help out people in need unless we get donations and fundraising coming in. It’s particularly important at this time of year, because we’re just into back-to-school costs, and with cold weather now, we’re going to have huge costs for heating, as well as our everyday costs. Now until March is an important time. People are struggling to pay mortgages and meet rental costs, especially people on welfare, which hasn’t risen in line with living costs. People are under immense pressure.”

Barriscale’s family connection to SVP informs his decision to run a fundraiser for the charity, but the other part of this story is also born from homegrown efforts, with the Cork Chilli Company quite literally growing from a window box. “The interest originally came in 2013, from a fascination with growing a few chilli plants on the windowsill at home. In 2014, I filled my window sills with chilli plants, and started a night-course in horticulture to learn proper growing skills. Around that time, I also became very interested in hydroponics. I found it fascinating, as it eliminates the traditional soil-borne challenges with growing, but it also adds many other challenges. In 2015, we built our first polytunnel in the back garden, and in 2016, with the help of some friends we built our first commercial-sized polytunnel. The number of plants has increased every year since then, and all are grown hydroponically. (The same year), we started developing our range of chilli sauces. We had just two to begin with. We also did our first farmers market on 1st of October 2016, selling sauces, fresh chillies and chilli plants. We moved to Douglas Farmers Market in December 2016, where we have been ever since. We continue to develop our range of products, and as of this week we have 8 different sauces, ranging from very mild to blisteringly hot, with several in between to cater for all tastes and heat preferences. We’re happy to keep things small for now, concentrating on growing quality chillies, and making high-quality, small batches of delicious sauces.”

There’s been plenty of interest in entering the contest, but as of yet, very few have been brave enough to line out. For those that fancy themselves brave enough to tuck into some speciality chilli – what exactly will be served up, and how will a winner be determined? “The contest will be run across a series of rounds, with participants able to withdraw at any stage. The chillies will begin at a mild heat, and will increase in heat, based upon the Scoville Scale of chilli-pepper heat as the rounds progress. Each contestant will receive a single chilli in each round, and will be required to eat the entire chilli but excluding the stalk. Chillies likely to feature in the contest will be Jalapeno, Ring of Fire, Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Ghost Chilli, Moruga Scorpion to name a few, and culminate with the world-record holding hottest chilli, The Carolina Reaper, if anyone makes it that far. The winner will be determined by being the last remaining contestant willing to continue in the contest. In the event of a tie, remaining contestants will be given an additional minute to consume as many chillies as possible, with the winner being the individual that consumed the most whole chillies in the time.”

So, with the gauntlet thrown down and the terms outlined, what’s the interest been like, and more to the point, in the spirit of good fun that events like this are about… what’s at stake? “Loads of people are interested in coming to watch, but what we really need is people to put their mouths where their money is, and enter the contest. The prize for the winner is incredible: a lifetime’s supply of bragging rights… and possibly a small trophy. All going well, we would like to make it an annual event, where the champion can defend that title again next year.”

Initiatives like this are a lifeline for St. Vincent de Paul, providing fun and unique experiences for people to partake in, that come from others’ passions and bring help local communities together for the cause. But with the challenges that lie ahead, fundraising is of utmost importance. Gerry Garvey explains how people can parlay their life’s loves into helping the effort. “Lots of people do fundraising efforts. Schools often do food and clothing appeals, we often have independent companies come to us and ask how to get involved. Our biggest fundraiser are our Flag Days, starting from October, through to the end of December. If people want to organise individual fundraisers, they can reach out to us and speak with our regional fund-raiser Anna McKernan, and lend a hand with our ongoing campaigns.”

Foróige Big Brother & Big Sister: “It Changed Me”

For over a decade, youth work organisation Foróige has been matching socially-minded working people with teenagers that can benefit from an hour or two a week of chat and collaborative activity. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with programme facilitator Sinéad Murphy, as well as programme siblings Martina Lyons and Jamie Halpin, about the project.

For youth work programmes all over the world, the idea of a ‘sibling’ programme has been a mainstay of their services. Pairing working adult volunteers with the experience of a lifetime with young people at a crossroads in theirs has long fostered mutually beneficial relationships, providing the young person with purpose and direction as they move forward with careers and study. On September 8th, Foróige in Cork City will provide training for prospective new big brothers and sisters for their programme, at the project’s headquarters on Watercourse Road. There, potential big siblings will garner experience on both informal and formal levels, regarding the place of their efforts in the wider world of social work in the city.

Programme facilitator Sinéad Murphy gives us some insight into the creation of the programme, explains how the idea found its way to Cork, and how it was implemented not just in the inner-city, but at Foróige clubs around the country. “It came from America, a programme that’s been running there for well over a hundred years at this point. We would have brought it in Ireland in the early-2000s. A pilot programme was set up in Galway in 2003, 2004. We’ve had it in Cork since 2007. The siblings will meet up once a week, usually for an hour or two, to go for a coffee and a chat, or do some fun activities. It’s a commitment for a year: based on studies here and internationally, for the best benefit of a programme for a child, it should be running for a minimum of a year. It’s not something you can dip in and out of – you’re making a commitment to this young person.”

For the programme itself, Foróige liaises with local community organisations and agencies to ascertain young people’s strengths, in order to match them with an adult that can help develop them further. “We don’t seek them out as such – they might come to us through an agency that refer them to us, they might be sent to us through school, through a parent or a youth worker. We have young people from all over the city and parts of the county – it’s not targeted areas, as we don’t want to stigmatise young people over where they’re from, we work with them on the basis of individual need.”

For Murphy, the programme’s reward is in seeing the results of matches, as bigger siblings spend time developing ongoing friendships and mentorships with their charges as their time in the programme moves on. “You can tell from seeing matches, you can see confidence and self-esteem building for a young person when they’re involved. I’ve clearly seen it, in my time working with people, I can see that change. Definitely, it’s very positive in terms of promoting school, and school completion, having a goal regarding what they’d like to do after second level… it definitely does work for young people in terms of development, goal-setting, and helping them with independence and decision-making.”

At present, the programme is in recruitment mode, as the number of children and teenagers seeking mentorship or being referred is beginning to surpass the number of adults currently able to commit. Murphy outlines how people can get involved, and what to expect at training on the 8th. “Contact us directly. We have a Facebook page now, ‘Big Brother Big Sister Cork’, and you can get in touch via our website. We arrange to meet people on an individual basis, where we would chat with them, explain what’s involved, and it goes from there. It’s a stringent recruitment process, because it’s a one-to-one situation, and we have to make sure they’re the right person for the role, really. Interviews, references, garda vetting, big-sibling training and child-protection training. It can be a lot more difficult also, to get male volunteers, but certainly, we’re always, always looking.”

Getting involved with the programme came along at the right time for Jamie Halpin, as his academic career in social work required something a little extra to ground him in his discipline. Working with young people helped broaden his understanding of the demands of his course and the work that would follow. “Originally, I was going to study Social Work in UCC. I met with the director, she recommended that I do some volunteer work before going into it, so that sparked my interest. I went to VolunteerCork on North Main Street, asked for some help with voluntary work, and the Big Brother/Big Sister programme was the one that appealed to me. I contacted them, had an interview with a case worker, and it went from there, and I haven’t looked back.”

Of course, it’s not just a one-way exchange. While the aim is to link up with young people and provide them with direction and encouragement, the perspective that such a relationship can bring to the big sibling bears much consideration, while the supports that are available to him via the programme have helped him in other ways. “Getting involved with the programme is one of the, if not the most, rewarding things I’ve ever done. For me, the main thing is it’s helped me become a far more responsible adult. Spending time with a young person on a weekly basis, biweekly basis, making sure that we’re both on time, because they’re younger, in their teens. Organising with them or a parent regarding where to meet. I always want to have something different, interesting or fun to do. I want to actively listen, then, I suppose, to anything that’s going on for them, good, bad, that’s big in their lives. It was a great way of improving my own socialising too. I’d moved around the country, so finding like-minded mentors (was a big help for settling back down).”

For Big Sister Martha Lyons, once the initial interviews and exams were all done with, the process of getting to work with young people on their personal development was a matter of drawing on her training. Getting herself in the right headspace to be a Big Sister was another matter. “I suppose, sticking with the same time every week to meet with your Little is important, or not going out the night before if you’re meeting your Little the next day. It’s something you do when you can schedule things around it so it doesn’t feel like a burden, you’re excited to do it.” Like Halpin, Lyons’ experience in the programme, working with young people and helping advance their development comes with the upside of getting their perspective, and depending on the young person’s willingness to share, getting into their interests. “I’m quite lucky I have a lot of nieces and nephews roughly the age of my Little, so it wasn’t completely alien. Our parents look at us and think everything we do is out there, but I’m just learning with K-Pop is, what all these PlayStation games are, and I don’t think I’m going to get my head around it! But if she’s interested in it, happy about it, that’s all that matters.”

Getting involved is, as stated, a commitment, and one that requires a lot of thought and planning on the part of potential Big Siblings. Lyons has words of advice for anyone considering giving their time and effort. “Do your research, get stuck in. There’s so much support, and Foróige are so good with support, always on call. Other than that, it’s all down to your Little, what she likes, what she doesn’t like. They will tell you, and you can trust them to tell you!”

For more information on the Big Brother/Big Sister programme, email brenda.keatingomeara@foroige.ie, check out https://www.foroige.ie/volunteer-enquiry, or find Cork Big Brother Big Sister on Facebook.

Rebel Reads: “Our Commitment is to Always Fight for This to Happen”

With progressives and community activists more mobilised than ever in recent years, the time was coming for a hub for ideas, thoughts and events. Enter Rebel Reads, a new community bookshop and co-operative space on Father Mathew Quay. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-ordinator Declan Synnott.

The tide has turned in Ireland in recent years. Our well-documented conversion from a once-conservative island fealty to a diverse, forward-looking nation has been an increasingly common international media story. The last thirty years have seen everything, from the decriminalisation of homosexuality and divorce, to liberalisation of laws regarding marriage equality and reproductive rights. The latter saw an unprecedented civic partnership of social and political groups come together, to push for citizen’s assemblies and eventual referenda on these matters, leading to hard-fought but decisive results in its favour. The question of ‘what next’ has many answers, and a great many debates are to be had regarding civil partnership among community groups and progressive political factions.

But on a local level, taking that energy and organisation forward and building on the work of the Together for Yes campaign was of vital importance, especially in the light of the loss of community arts spaces in recent years. Rebel Reads, a community bookshop and organisation space on Father Matthew Quay, occupies the campaign’s former headquarters, and as co-ordinator Declan Synnott reveals, came from the desire to move things forward. “An initial callout was made via Solidarity Books’ Facebook page. Solidarity Books was an anarchist bookshop on Douglas Street, which closed in 2015. People were attempting to reorganise, and we began holding meetings every few weeks to discuss how we’d go about it. The plan was to have a physical space with a bookshop running out of it, that would be acting as facilitators for radical, left-leaning political activities and organising, but also open to cultural and creative activities on the independent level in the city.”

The process of assembling a team and reaching consensus on a mission statement, while building on effort and enthusiasm, had to be taken seriously. In carrying on from Solidarity Books, a hefty precedent exists, and providing a progressive space requires solid policy and a plan. “Within those meeting was an overt focus on dialogue and discussing what individuals wanted and what the city needed, and start to organise according to ability to start to address these issues. That meant setting up working groups, so there was a policy group, for organisation and operation, PR groups for social media and engaging with the outside world. But there was always the understanding that they would be coming from a left-leaning background, working toward the end of social change. That was the discussion, understanding that that’s what we wanted.”

The idea of a multi-use space grew from these discussions. The process of taking ideas from different sources on board, and putting them all in one place to set about actioning them, has been essential to its development and general pitch to the public. “Part of our view is wanting to enable people to do what they want to do, or need to do, in the city. So, we’ve always had something of an open call for people to come and propose uses of the space, and we’ve attempted to enable people to do that by themselves, so that we would be in a facilitation role, providing resources. Again, it’s a conversation, we talk to them, see what their needs and our capabilities are, and find common ground.”

Community spaces right now in the city are at a premium as gentrification continues, which makes the shop’s existence even more important at this time. The response, support and interaction from other community organisations has been essential to its development. “It’s all been incredibly positive, people have been supportive. The space we’re in came through Cork Together for Yes, a lot of us were involved, and we’re, as is our policy, a pro-choice organisation, so that was one very natural relationship. But lots of people from varying backgrounds have been involved, and it’s been a positive response, whether it’s wanting to collaborate or showing support. There is that understanding that having community-focused, non-profit spaces in the cities is getting harder. People tacitly understand our existence is precarious, and want to help work to secure it. We knew space might be transient, and the nature of the rental market, gentrification, our government not really caring about how these things happen once profit is generated. But part of our commitment is to always fight for this to happen, and so many people feel the same way, cares, and reaches out.”

In terms of events – there’s screenings and plans for quiet gigs, and there’s already been cookouts and repair shops. The role of events in the space’s development is that of creating a destination for all manner of interests. “We have regular things, a screening every Friday, music. We have vegan food nights, repair cafes. All of those things are about community outreach, where people feel comfortable coming into a space where paying in isn’t essential, where we can do donations or keep admittance as low as we can, and that emphasises how we operate as a bookshop as well. We have couches, we want people to come in, drink some free tea, hang out and feel like they don’t have to pay any money to be in a space. Having these events is to have a sense of like-minded people, sharing an experience, and fostering a sense of co-operation and unity. Cities are alienating places, and spaces like this are where you find support.”

What’s in the future for the space, and what is its importance in light of the changes happening to the city over the next decade? “I believe that people will always come in with great new ideas. Keeping that open to external ideas, and letting those develop more, and more. It’s gonna add to what’s there and assist in changing things. We’re not focused on development for profit-making. We’re focused on aiding communities and positive, radical social and political change, and we’re always going to be dedicated to that. Offering support, a view to alternatives, and a sense that people care, people care beyond monetary value, about individuals.”

Rebel Reads is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10am-7pm, at 14 Father Mathew Quay, around the corner from RTÉ Cork. For more information on events and concerts, check out @rebelreadscork across social media.