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.

Gender Rebels: Fighting for Visibility and Rights

Gender Rebels are a group dedicated to working on the rights of transgender, intersex and non-binary people in Cork City, negotiating obstacles both infrastructural and everyday, and providing an outlet for social events and peer support. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with chairperson Jack Fitzgerald.

With Pride month in the rear view mirror for another year, and celebrations around the country winding down, it’s easy to bask in the colour, pomp and circumstance that the weekend’s proceedings confer on the city. Inclusivity and visibility have traditionally been at the heart of Pride celebrations, stemming from its roots in civil rights protest. But with criticism mounting in recent times of co-option by major sponsors of the Pride movement, the importance of maintaining that visibility for the city’s LGBT* community on a day-to-day basis has been drawn into sharp focus. For transgender, intersex, non-binary and otherwise gender non-conforming individuals, representation and community has historically been of utmost importance in the absence of substantial infrastructural assistance, with this year seeing Dublin host Ireland’s first ever Trans Pride march.

Enter Gender Rebels, a group formed last year to provide peer support and social outlets with a distinctly Corkonian identity. For chairperson Jack Fitzgerald, being part of its foundation was about strengthening connections between people in the city. “The last peer support group in Cork had kind of wound down, and (advocacy group) TENI was looking for something to fill the gap. Just from other things, they knew who I was, called me and asked would I be interested in taking up the peer support group. From looking at what the support group did and the resources it had, I kind-of figured that I might as well do my own thing here, that wasn’t connected to any organisation. I thought that would give us more of a voice and more visibility.”

Last November saw the group’s inaugural AGM, at the Village Hall community venue on Patrick’s Quay. With the event’s agenda ranging from social events to addressing the wider infrastructural needs of Cork transgender, non-binary and intersex communities, reaching a consensus among members before settling on a mission statement was a considered process. “It took a while. When I set the AGM, the community was very dispersed in Cork, there wasn’t one epicentre for people. Loads of people are online, in online groups, that’s where we advertised it, we got the name out there, as well as networking with people we know, and we booked the space in The Village Hall upstairs for the AGM. It was surprisingly well-attended, about 50 people, which was absolutely fantastic. There, we just said what each wanted from the scene in Cork, what we were looking for, and then, from that, hearing stories. From there, I was able to pull together a steering group, we set it up and outlined the aims of our community, how to raise awareness, and then also to try and get better resources for ourselves here in the city.”

Among the key items on the agenda, and one that has defined the group subsequently, has been that of addressing the needs of the city’s community, in different ways. Recent years have seen an upsurge in national awareness of the issues facing trans, non-binary and intersex people, but on a local level, Gender Rebels have been putting in the work on educating others on the issues that affect people on a daily basis. “The big one is if you’re wishing to transition and get onto HRT, there’s no services in Cork for you. You have to go to either Galway or Dublin, and the waiting list for Loughlinstown in Dublin is twenty months. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get onto HRT after that time, either. They’re using a very outdated mode of care for trans people, they’re not applying themselves to the international standard, the WPAT. There’s a movement in Dublin, This is Me, trying to get the international standard of care brought in. The other issue is people don’t know. They don’t know what being trans is, don’t know what being intersex is. If you’re an individual trying to access a support or service, the people you’re dealing with don’t know what you are. That can be very difficult. People that are going to their GPs or their counsellors are often in the position where they are the educator, and that can be very difficult as they may not know everything themselves, but they are expected to. Other people may choose not to come out because of that, so they may use a service in the city and people may not know they’re trans because they don’t want to have that conversation.”

Among the biggest issues facing the community in Cork at present, is the coarsening of discussion on the topic of gender, thanks in no small part to the rise in agenda-driven online debate channels and personalities. Recurring jokes and memes belittling minority social groups have been a pillar of their online strategies, and Jack has seen the attrition on discourse in his everyday life. “You get the people that think this is some new fad that just came up, don’t realise there’s a history to it, thinking that it’s okay to have “debates” with trans, non-binary and intersex people. This could be a person just going about their day, and all of a sudden, they’ll meet an individual that has this pre-planned debate, made out in their head. You’d be, y’know, just trying to get your coffee. You don’t want to be debating if the ‘they’ pronoun is singular or not. I just want to have a coffee. You’re always expected to ‘perform’. Part of that is, as the gay and lesbian movements have picked up acceptance, visibility and allies, they’re no longer the ‘easy target’. Trans people are likely to be more vulnerable or isolated, so they might be an easier target for this stuff.”

Another stated goal for the group has been garnering better resources with which to work, and provide spaces for people from the community to meet up and support one another. The processes of dealing with officialdom and venues around the city have been relatively easy for the group, with goodwill being extended from different quarters. “It’s been very positive. I was volunteering with Cork Community Art Link, who are at the Lido (in Blackpool). I had asked them if we could avail of the space and they were more than happy to give us that space. So, while you do have those people online that are anti-gay, or anti-trans, the average person is more than willing to be accepting, almost like they can’t do enough for you, and it’s really been heartwarming to see that. People are really kind, or if they don’t know, say, the right way to go about things, they just ask questions like ‘how can I support you better?’, which is really encouraging. Interestingly, we have had difficulty in accessing (lesbian and gay spaces), but it is getting better. The Cork Gay Project has recently changed their remit to include trans men, which is really encouraging. Bi Ireland has been fantastic. I’m surprised by the amount of trans people in bi groups in Ireland. They’re an accepting space and they’ve made sure that they’re an accepting space.”

With the polarisation of online discussion and subsequent second-hand talk, it could be difficult for some people to know where to begin getting up to speed on matters pertaining to the city’s trans, non-binary and intersex communities. Discussion regarding preferred pronouns, gender identities and trans rights have come to the surface in recent years, but for Fitzgerald, knowing how to help starts with the everyday ways in which people interact and support each other. “The biggest one is, first and foremost, view us as human. There’s a lot of ‘othering’ that can happen. Some people can be so different to you, so out of your norm, that it’s easy to other them, but when you do that, you dehumanise them. Just realise that we are human and the vast majority of us want to live our lives. I’d be very unusual, by being very proactive and advocating for trans rights, but the majority want to live their lives and get on with things. The second one is, if someone has come out to you, and has changed their pronouns, to just respect those pronouns, try and use them. I know it can be difficult if you know someone for a long time to change to a new name and new pronouns, especially if it’s ‘they’ as a singular. It can a take to while to get used to it. If you do make a mistake, misuse pronouns, etc., what works best, I find, is to say sorry and move on. One thing that often happens is someone will get the wrong pronoun, and then spend the next half-hour saying sorry for it. It comes from a place of kindness… if it’s an accident, it’s an accident. It happens.”

Another pillar of the group’s remit is raising the local profile of the community in Cork, with this awareness feeding into the main aim of better resources and support in the city. To this end, creating visibility has been a major part of the group’s activities. “I think the mere fact that we exist has created a lot of awareness. I’m after getting phone calls or emails from people where a family member has come out, or they have a client who’s trans, and they go online because they don’t know anything about it, they Google it and they find us. We’re a place for them to ask their questions. Another one is having been involved in Pride this year, which allowed us to have our own trans event. In UCC, I’d do a lot of talks… when anyone calls us asking to do a talk, I’d always raise my hand. During the Repeal campaign, I was asked to provide my perspective as a trans person. Y’know, we have meetups and social events, we do so in public, to reinforce the idea that there’s nothing wrong with being trans. We can exist in public spaces. When we launched the group, a gay man came up to me and said he thought it was unusual that we would have gatherings in public. He said he knew two trans women that wouldn’t “pass”, didn’t ‘look’ female, and because of that they shouldn’t be out in public. It’s that kind of thing we want to challenge. We are as entitled as anyone to be in these spaces.”

While the social events include coffee gatherings, nights out and games nights in places like Tabletop and Barcadia, an important offering for the group is a closed-doors peer support group at the Lido, happening monthly. Provided is an accepting space for people to present themselves as who they are, with group discussions, workshops and changing facilities available. “Mainly, we meet up in cafes. It’s a lot more chill for people. If you saw us sitting around, you wouldn’t twig that we are trans, non-binary or intersex. We just look like everyone else. We get people that go to our peer support meetings, those are closed spaces, people can be ‘more’ themselves, can dress the way they want, act the way they want. Some people can be more reserved in public, depending on how ‘out’ they are and where they are in their transition. It’s a place to support each other, discuss their experiences. If someone is just coming out, don’t know where they fit, groups like this are very handy, they can hear stories, ask questions. Oftentimes, it’s the first space (people) have been in where they’re ‘out’, or the norm, they’re not ‘unusual’. And just to have that, where they’re not the different person in the room, can be very liberating.”

The group has come along in leaps and bounds, with another AGM due later in the year, advocacy work ongoing, and social activities planned throughout. Fitzgerald points to ongoing growth and hard graft. “To grow bigger, have more events. Weekly events. Down the line, our own centre or space. When you look at Belfast, they have the Trans Resource Centre there. Seeing what they’ve done up there, we’d love to have something similar up there, where you can get resources and info. Another thing is more of an online presence, at the moment, we’re all based on Facebook. We want to move from that to our own website, so that will be a resource to access, as people might be afraid of using socials, others might not know they’re out, etc. There’s a few other things lined up, but right now it’s about getting stable, growing and building our community.”

For more information on upcoming peer support groups and social activities, email genderrebelscork@gmail.com, or find Gender Rebels on Facebook.

Tour de Munster: “It’s Not Just About the Bottom Line”

As fundraising season is on for Tour de Munster, businesses and community groups around the county are doing their part. Ahead of this year’s cycle, Noel Doherty, Sean O’Riordan and Rose Murphy of Fitzgerald’s Solicitors get ahead of the peloton to tell Mike McGrath-Bryan about the route, the sights and the work it does for Down Syndrome Ireland.

It’s a trek that involves months of preparation, with twice-weekly training sessions placing participants in the right frame of mind for a physically demanding four days of cycling around the roads and byways of the province. And yet, the Tour de Munster, one of the pillars of the local fundraising calendar for businesses and community groups, is embraced by the people that partake and help make it happen, with proceeds going to Down Syndrome Ireland to assist their activities around the province, including Cork’s centres and facilities. It’s happening this year from August 9th to 12th, and among the businesses most intricately involved is Fitzgerald’s Solicitors, based out of Lapp’s Quay in the city centre, where three senior solicitors are among those that swap the suits and ties of legal life for compression shorts and indoor training. Gathered around the phone at their office, it’s clear that the excitement is building, as they discuss their internal fundraising efforts, as well as those happening around the county.

“We do a fun-run in September or October, in Mahon, usually and raise funds from that, everyone gets an hour on the bike, and we’re there for the day”, says Rose Murphy.  “I run the Facebook page for Tour de Munster, and get to share the events that people put on: there’s a lot of coffee mornings, and concerts, especially in rural or provincial areas, as we get a lot of cyclists from all over the six counties.” Noel Doherty, a veteran of the tour, interjects with stories of the firm’s own fundraising. “We’ve had a cake sale, we’ve made cakes and sold them to other businesses around our building. It takes a great collective effort for (groups around the city and county).”

The tour route, well-honed over the last number of years, is absolutely no picnic, and makes for the polar opposite of an office fun-run. Running 640km in total, the route takes cyclists around the counties of Munster, with more than a few hills along the way. Much to your author’s surprise, it’s an involved process to get in shape and focus, says Doherty. “It’s great because we would be regular attendees of Tour de Munster training in Cork, so all of the Tour de Munster cyclists in the area get together every Monday and Wednesday at 5.45 up at Harlequins, we go with Paul Sheridan, the organiser, and we cycle somewhere between fifty and seventy-five kilometres each. Paul organises a different route every single night. Lots of hills, great fun. You could leave the office with your head bent from dealing with cases and issues, and after half an hour of training, it’s fantastic, the wind has blown all the worries out of your head.”

Although the run of the ride is spread across four days, there’s no two ways around the fact that it’s a hard slog. Having taken on the Tour for the last eight years now, Noel Doherty is more than qualified to discuss the challenges that lie ahead, and advise potential riders on what to avoid. “Saturday is the most difficult and most enjoyable day. You move out from Tralee, out the Blennerville Road and take on the Connor Pass. If you have any wind against you, or rain, I tell you, that’s a really tough ride. But it’s fantastic, because the easy riders and the inexperienced would go up first, about thirty or forty-five minutes ahead, and then, the faster riders chase behind, and everyone congregates at the top. And then in the afternoon, the process is reversed: the fastest head away first from Torc Waterfall, and wait for the others at Moll’s Gap, for the last riders to come up. So it’s a real community.” Adds solicitor and cyclist Sean O’Riordan: “That day, we stop for tea in Killarney at Deenagh Lodge, a project run by Down Syndrome Kerry, an employment for adult and older people with Down Syndrome. It’s really fantastic.”

By the same token, the Tour offers a look at the province’s formidable countryside, and the many views and natural wonders along the way. But for those partaking over a number of years, these are far from the only highlights of taking to the road, according to Murphy. “Just the effort that people from different branches of Down Syndrome Ireland put in to be on the road and cheer us on. They’re out there, they organise every stop and break, and they’re there to meet us. We may not see them again ‘til the following year’s Tour, but it’s a special effort they make to support us.” Doherty chimes in on the effect this support has on riders. “They have different signs on the road, blowing their horns, welcoming us, and the support that you get, really picks you up. You could be very wet and tired, sore, but you’re meeting local families, and they’re there thanking you for the effort.” O’Riordan proposes that the finish is the highlight, but perhaps not for exhaustion reasons. “Patrick’s Hill is an iconic location, you’ve done another tour, been through all the hardship, and for the big crowd and the Barrack Street Band to be there, it’s an unreal experience.”

For Rose Murphy, the benefits of the Tour de Munster and its fundraising drives are more keenly felt: her nephew Finn avails of the local services of Down Syndrome Ireland, and the impact that its local activities have had for her and others’ families and friends is profound. The collaboration of businesses and community organisations to support Down Syndrome Ireland, meanwhile, has meant the expansion of its services in many areas. “The Down Syndrome centre in Cork is very involved in bringing their members along, and one example that I can work from is Finn. He’s just turned nine, and he’s still in mainstream school. His speech wasn’t great, but because of the services of the Down Syndrome centre… they offer half-price speech and language classes in Centre 21, and my sister and brother in law avail of that every two weeks. I’ve gone to the service with Finn and the words are just flowing out of him. They have to take credit for that and right away I can see where my fundraising is going. It’s very hard to keep going back, asking for money, but when they meet Finn and see how he’s progressed, and that’s one-hundred percent Centre 21.”

While it’s important to muck in with Down Syndrome Ireland by supporting your local Tour de Munster fundraisers, those that need its assistance all year ‘round will tell you that there are plenty of ways to get involved with their centres, projects and facilities. “People can contribute in terms of sponsoring and cycling in Tour de Munster, and spreading the word. Other than that, there are projects like the Field of Dreams, next to the greyhound track, designed to provide activities, training and gainful employment for adults with Down Syndrome. It’s a huge horticultural project with a lot of effort put into it by Down Syndrome Cork, whereby we have a two-acre site, with training facilities, catering facilities and offices”, says Doherty. Polytunnels and raised beds, with a lot of people involved in the horticultural project there. People can volunteer there, whether it’s planting or weeding, and that’s a huge support as well.”

As the city centre’s commercial landscape continues to shift amid change and regeneration, the importance of charity to keeping local, Cork-owned businesses involved in the community cannot be underestimated. Social responsibility will be the key to maintaining ties to the city as change continues to make its way outwards over the coming years and decades, says Doherty. “I think it’s vital. Programmes like these vital because they raise the morale, they bring people together, and allows employees to identify with their industry. Like on the Field of Dreams, companies will sponsor their employees to go out and volunteer, doing a particular project, and at the end of the day they can see that they’ve worked hard and the produce they have at the end of the day. The company makes a contribution, the employees go back and talk to other employees. People like to see that there’s a social benefit and that it’s not just about the bottom line.”

Franciscan Well Fem-Ale Festival: “The First Measure for More Involvement”

With craft beer now firmly at the heart of pubs and venues around the country, women are staking their claim in a rapidly-changing business. Enter the Franciscan Well’s Kate Clancy, who’s spearheading the first all-women craft beer festival on August 10th and 11th. She tells Mike McGrath-Bryan about the idea and how it happened.

The rise of craft beer over the past five years or more has been inexorable: local and regional breweries have become part of the national retail landscape, while home-brewed options have made appearances on taps around the county alongside the brewery giants. Since its takeover by Molson Coors, the Cork-based Franciscan Well has been at the vanguard of this insurgency, leveraging the increased distribution at its disposal with a unique offering of specialty beers and ales, countering the craft-branded alternate offerings marketed to casual drinkers by its parent company’s rivals. It’s against this background of innovation and growth that the latest initiative undertaken by the brewery’s pub emerges: Fem-Ale festival, happening on August 10th and 11th at the quayside superpub.

Talks, musical performances, panels and even Saturday morning pilates sessions make the event’s first annual excursion, which aims to open up the conversation around gender equality in craft brewing, according to the venue’s marketing head, Kate Clancy. “I’ve been working in the Franciscan Well now for three years as their marketing manager. Over the past three years, I have been attending and running beer festivals in Cork. Most events I attend, I normally would end up being the only female attending. This was very noticeable at our last festival, the Spring Beer Festival, which is Ireland’s longest running beer festival. I felt that there has to be women in Cork that are interested in Craft beer but may not feel comfortable in attending these events. I wanted to share with people just how welcoming the beer industry is to everyone, and showcase the women that have been part of the success of the industry in Ireland. Also a female-led beer festival hasn’t yet been held in Ireland, and considering we are celebrating our twentieth year brewing, and that it is The Year of the Woman, I thought, ‘why not do something different?’.”

She might just have a point – craft alcohol has something of a boys’ club around it, but the task of finding other brewpubs and home breweries led by women wasn’t the challenge Clancy quite had in mind, either. “It’s been amazing. It’s snowballed! Once I got in touch with one woman, they were very quick to mention another woman working in some aspect or other of the beer industry, and everyone has helped me to put the list of attendees together (specifically) to ensure no-one was left out! It’s been a pleasure of a festival to organise.”

In terms of the layout of the event, how does it break down between tastings and panels/discussions, and regarding the latter, how were themes agreed upon and reached? “Like all our beer festivals, we will have a bar with over twenty taps set up in the beerhall. Of course all beers that will be pouring will be beers that have been brewed by women. At this stage, I have over thirteen Irish brewers, which is a lot more than what I thought I’d get! As the festival is focused on showcasing women in the industry, the talks will play a major role over the weekend. They’ll start on Friday evening with Melissa Cole, followed by a panel discussion with brewers like Kinnegar Brewing’s Rachel & Libby, and West Kerry’s Adrienne. The talks will resume on Saturday at 2pm, and will be a combination of panel discussions of brewers, journalists, graphic designers, marketers, Christina Wade, the founder of the Ladies’ Craft Beer Society of Ireland, and Edana Hinchy, director of the Craft Brew Labs. There is no specific theme for the speeches, as all the women are coming from different backgrounds. The idea is for them to share their experiences in the industry, and also shed some light on how to get involved.”

The guest of honour is journalist, sommelier and food expert Melissa Cole – a pioneering professional who has blazed a trail for women in specialist service industries. Her importance as a gala headliner, for lack of a better term, cannot be underestimated, especially as part of the festival’s first year. “First off, we couldn’t run a Female festival without asking Melissa, she has done amazing work and is an inspiration to any woman in the craft beer industry. Melissa has been fighting against sexism in the beer industry for twenty years now, and it is an honour to have her speak, and share her experiences at the festival. Everyone is looking forward to meeting her, especially me!” Part of the event’s remit is reaching out to women who would like to be involved with the craft beer industry. Outreach measures are being taken at the event, and followed up on after by the brewery, in addition to the given networking opportunities such an event possesses. “I would hope that the event itself is the first measure to get more women involved, especially in Cork, and again the talks might inspire! I am hoping to run a series of follow-up events after the festival, e.g. tasting nights and tap takeovers. Christina has set up the Ladies’ Craft Beer Society of Ireland, which is based in Dublin, so I’m hoping to set up a Cork based one after the event. I will also be collecting emails over the weekend (and getting in touch).”

That spirit makes its way down to the entertainment on offer across the weekend, as the stage is set for some of Cork’s busiest musicians to showcase themselves and their work. “On Friday night, we’ll have Christiana Underwood and friends taking to the stage, with soul & reggae music. Saturday from 3pm, we’ll have member of local band She Said, and Saturday at 8pm, all-woman vocal trio Koa, off their residency at the Bridge pub on Bridge Street. All females, and all Cork-based!” As the Fran Well looks set to continue a national expansion that has seen its cans land on supermarket shelves and at festivals & events all over the country, the pub where it all started on North Mall continues apace, and preparations are in place for a special anniversary later this year. “We can’t say much about it just yet, but our biggest event to date will be in November, as we’ll celebrate our twentieth birthday. Watch this space.”

Brickx Club: “We Try and Keep It Ethical”

Next month sees the Radisson Blu Hotel play host to a special Corkonian edition of Brickx Club, a regular event for Lego lovers of all ages with its roots in education and therapy. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-founder Kathy Lambkin ahead of the event.

Whether you’re an old-fashioned six-prong bricklayer, a Technic connoisseur, or a current-day youngster engrossed in seeing your pop-culture heroes recast in an infinitely destructible world, there’s little denying the cross-generational appeal of Denmark’s number-one cultural export: the humble yet seemingly ubiquitous Lego. An institution that has thrived over the years from the simple idea of allowing children and adults to develop their coordination and push the boundaries of their imagination, it’s little wonder that the line has stood the test of time. From down-to-earth playsets, allowing children to fabricate castles and police stations, to providing the building blocks for satire in many official film and TV spin-offs, Lego has moved with the times, and provides a perfect happy medium for generations of families at playtime.

It’s this time that former teacher Kathy Lambkin shared with her young son that led her to innovate Brickx Club, and put the pieces together on a social space geared toward developing trainee builders’ skills and perceptions. “I’ll tell you, I fostered a little boy named Leo. He has a club foot, so he couldn’t do anything ‘physical’, so we had to find some entertainment, and that happened to be Lego. I was a montessori teacher at the time, and whatever I did with him, I did at school, and they just loved it. And when they went on to primary school, and I’d meet them, they’d go, ‘oh, nobody ever does any Lego with us’. So, I said, ‘d’you know what, we’ll try it’, and I set up a club in Trim, at the school, and it was jam-packed from the minute I opened the doors. Then I had various friends approach me to say ‘whatever you’re doing, this is good’. So I trained a few of them up and they went off to their own areas. I went and did a Start Your Own Business course, because it was getting that way, and I now have twenty-eight running their own, a licence kind of thing. We try and keep it ethical, and make sure that as many people as possible have children, and many of them have children with autism. So, it means that they can have a job, run clubs, have a few quid and (balance that with family).”

From a single primary-school club to training in twenty-eight coaches around the country, it’s been a period of rapid growth for Brickx Club. Lambkin explains the process of laying foundations for aforementioned growth and how people can empower others in the process. “What I did was, I went over to Copenhagen and trained, I did a thing called Lego Serious Play. It’s a whole system of Lego that teaches people to think for themselves, and problem-solve. It’s for everyone, a lot of the people there were businesses going team-building, but I adopted it montessori-wise. I also went to the UK and did Lego therapy, with a girl over there who’d done a PhD, Dr. Gina Gomez. It’s for kids on the spectrum number one, but now it’s huge, I use it to help advance language skills, speech therapy. It’s so good, a very simple approach where you break it down, back to its basics. I teach kids how to put bricks together. I had a session there yesterday where I showed the kids how to make a basic tower. Sometimes it takes a few sessions, but you see it, and they really, really learn properly, y’know.”

The same school of thought applies to the idea of Brickx gathering around the country as destination events – creating a format, looking for venues and garnering momentum behind extracurricular Lego play presented challenges, but none that couldn’t be overcome by the medium’s inherently social nature, and the impetus to raise funds for wider causes. “I have two kids that we fostered, so we’re used to shenanigans, and we’ve been to refugee camps in Greece, giving Lego mini-figures out ‘cause we heard they had no toys. I run a charity called International Orphan Aid Ireland. We’re going twenty-six years now, we work to bring medical and dental treatment over to (rural areas and islands there). So we’re raising money for that, and for local charity Bumbleance. It’s a good way of fundraising, as it involves fundraising, and we’d have a huge contingency of kids from the special schools come as well, in the locality. It’s a great weekend out, and there’s a huge adult community, brick.ie, and it’s a great showcase for them.”

This August 25th and 26th, the Radisson Blu Hotel plays host to the Brickx Club Festival, with ten ‘zones’ set up for kids to get to work on, from tables and classic playsets to literal Lego pits, into which kids can hop and get started. Even on this aspect of setup and production, the thought and consideration required is quite something. “All those Lego guys, they’re a separate package, find out who’s going, and we provide them a room, look after transport, etc. Brick.ie are charitable as well, so we host them, have a night out, etc. They’re serious, and need a whole day of set-up, there’s going to be a big turnaround, and we’ll be ready. But in my home, I have a store room, full of Lego, and I have it set up in a way that we’ll have several vans pull up in the drive and take away containers of Lego, sorted into, y’know, Ninjago Lego, architecture Lego, etc. all divided up, and tonnes of bricks for the pits. We’ve done it a few times now, so we’re well able for the set-up!”

A native Corkwoman herself, with a penchant for coming home to spend family time on Fountainstown beach, Lambkin has made the effort to reach out not only to families and Lego social groups nearby, but also the known community of adult Lego enthusiasts, in order to showcase their creations and pass on their experience to enthusiastic young builders. When asked for the scoop on their show-stealing creations, however, Lambkin tells us that they’re keeping schtum. “They’re reluctant to talk about them! A lot of these people don’t like bringing the same thing twice, so a lot of these would be new builds. They’d send me a press release with a few words and a picture, perhaps. But there’s a very big community in Cork! We’ve quite a lot of teenagers. I work in Castlemartyr, Bandon, all over the place, and there’s a good mix of people out there, a big population involved in Lego.”

The event is priced for groups and families specifically, with tickets going five-for-40. It’s a staple of event marketing: get the kids, you get the parents. But what is the importance of family participation in the event? “It’s a family event, and we have drop-off workshops. But we find parents that will come in, have a cup of tea, we’ll turn around and five minutes later they’ll be on the floor playing with Lego (laughs). Every big event like this, they have to be for families. They love it. We have one family that comes to everything we do. They come from Palmerstown in Dublin, and they plan out everything around these events. I have tonnes and tonnes of (specialist) bricks that some of these builders just love to get their hands on!”

After a period of rapid expansion, the bricks are coming into place for the Brickx Club, with business about to pick up exponentially. Lambkin takes a breath before going into the details. “We’re going bigger in September. I have two girls with me now that are going to help us go countrywide. We’ve all these people and we’re hopefully going to take on another thirty. We know we’re ready. If we can keep it… we know it’s commercial, but the plan is for people to work in special schools, we’re kind-of all inclusive, and that’s the way we want it. That each person would do a bit of charity work, or special stuff in their own area.”

Movember Cork: “It’s An Awful Shock to the System”

For many men, the discovery and treatment of cancer and other illnesses can be a very close shave. The Movember campaign, now in its ninth year, aims to grow awareness of the importance of men’s health and issues. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Movember campaigner Ashley Hobbs on his Movember experiences.

For the past nine years, the annual Movember campaign has done unprecedented work on the national and regional levels for creating awareness and raising funds for men’s physical health issues. The idea, if it has somehow escaped your notice in recent years, is for participants to shave their beards on the first of November (see what they did there?), and over the following thirty days, cultivate a handsome soup-strainer & document its progress. Throughout the month, as with the rest of the year, the onus is on participants to discuss the importance of getting checked for illnesses like prostate cancer, and just as importantly, raise funds in their communities for the cause via sponsorship, events or other means.

Rowing in behind the cause in Cork City this year are John “Coach” Kavanagh, mixed martial artist and coach for UFC champion Conor McGregor, and his brother, Snapchat-famous media personality James Kavanagh. Speaking at the event’s launch recently, John Kavanagh spoke on his motivations for mucking in, new campaigns, and Growing a Mo’. “I am getting behind the Movember 2017 campaign because I know men are not talking about their health enough, both physical and mental, and we need to get a big conversation going, so men know what they can do to safeguard their future health. I am really impressed with the Movember MOVE initiative, as I think it is important for physical and mental health that men get moving. MOVE is great because it’s not about being the fittest or the fastest, it’s about having fun, doing good, while raising funds along the way.” A social media superstar in his own right, James Kavanagh added: “Movember is not just about growing a moustache for November! People should log on to Movember.com to register and get involved, and raise funds by hosting your own event or donating online.”

Corkman Ashley Hobbs is partaking in Movember again this year after growing a mo’ in previous years as part of the campaign, having been directly impacted by cancer in his lifetime, and helping others emerge on the other side. “Everyone is affected by cancer in some shape or form, be it a relative or a friend or family member. My own father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Thankfully, he came through it, mainly down to early detection and hard work by medical professionals. My grandfather died of prostate cancer, I know numerous friends and family that have had cancer down through the years, and that’s the main reason why I got behind Movember.” Since launching in Ireland in 2008, Movember has been the primary funder of prostate cancer initiatives around the country through a working relationship with the Irish Cancer Society. The crux of the campaign is the fact that most cancers are treatable and preventable, through a combination of early detection and small, manageable lifestyle changes. For Hobbs, this knowledge is something he wishes he knew while heading into his father’s cancer journey. “When you first hear the words ‘it’s cancer’, it’s an awful shock to the system. Years ago you daredn’t even mention the ‘c-word’. It’s something you didn’t even talk about, like if someone had cancer, ‘oh god, that’s it, he’s finished’. When I first heard those two words with my own father, it was shock, it was disbelief. It’s a case of ‘was there a mistake, are we sure about the results?’ You automatically assume it’s a death sentence. What I wish I’d know going in is that many cancers are treatable, and recovery is possible. That’s the biggest thing.”

Movember goes into its ninth year in Ireland in 2017, and has become a cultural phenomenon, coinciding as its emergence did with such happenings as the return of the moustache as part of mainstream fashion, even inspiring legions of knockoff, mustachioed clothing in high-street shops (none of which benefited the charity despite selling off the back of its popularity). At time of interview, Hobbs was on day eight of his 2017 moustache, feeling good about the year’s campaign. “The fuzz has taken hold (laughs). I’d to put a little note on the shaving mirrors at home, not to shave the moustache ’cause it’s a habit. Friends, family and colleagues have been very generous. Everyone has been affected in some shape or form by cancer, and when they hear about a worthy cause, they can be very, very generous. Last year was my most successful year, and this year we’ll push on as well. As I call it, Movember month. At the start of the month I went on Facebook and apologised in advance before I start sharing away. But people are very generous not only with money, but with their time and initiative. They just sometimes need a nudge, but people are good souls, they rise to the challenge.”

Amid all the fun and the broader social goals are some hard numbers to contend with. Neil Rooney, national lead on the Movember project, recently said in a statement: “Movember has set a 2030 target to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25%. Men are dying an average of 6 years younger than women, and we want to highlight ways to tackle this.” Hobbs, having been through the wringer on more than one occasion, is more than able to testify to the difference the awareness that Movember generates makes. “It’s been mainly through Facebook and Twitter, as well as work. This year, we’re offering that the highest donation gets to shave it off! (laughs) Mainly through social media, getting out there, discussing it and talking about it. I’ve had numerous conversations with people that you wouldn’t realise had been affected by cancer, or suicide, or mental health, all off the back of a couple of silly pictures of me with the moustache, and updating it through the month.”

An often-underestimated point of the cancer recovery journey is that of mental health, both for patients and their loved ones, with the shock and displacement of the initial diagnosis giving way to uncertainty, stress and worry. However, the Movember campaign has coincided with the rise in awareness over the austerity years of the importance of maintaining one’s mental health. Opening up, sharing experiences and continuing to talk is key, as Hobbs and his father can attest to. “It’s much more open. People will have a conversation with you, be it about their own experiences, those of a family member, friend, or whatever. You do see it an awful lot more, people are a lot more aware of the issues. It’s through talking, early detection and counselling, that whether it’s cancer or mental health issues, if people just reach out, that alone can make an awful difference… the normal channels can be very much (health-focused). Saying that, my father had to travel to Galway for his own treatment. There’s no way he could have travelled up and down, gone to hospital for treatments, etc., so the likes of CancerCare West, who put him up in their hostels overnight, and while he was there… for an example, he did yoga one night (laughs). My father’s very old-school, and just even being where other people had it, and was able to talk to others, I think that helped an awful lot. It’s not something the older generation want to talk about, but people have to realise it’s not a death sentence in all cases”

The issue of men’s healthcare is especially important and urgent in the greater Munster area, where the issue of prostate cancer in particular is need of addressing, according to Rooney. “According to the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, there has been an average of almost 900 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Munster since 2005. We want men suffering from prostate cancer to maintain control of their lives as they undergo treatment, improve their mobility, mental wellbeing and, ultimately, their quality of life. With these statistics in mind, Hobbs is keen for people to keep in mind the endgoal of Movember, and dispenses advice to prospective Mo’ Bros. “Keep growing the Mo’s. Cancer will be beaten. It’s something we need to talk about. Keep talking about it, raise the profile. Men are stubborn. They don’t talk, they don’t go to the doctor. ‘Sure, it’ll be grand’. But if they leave it too long, it might not be.”

Cork Fighting Game Community: Mastering the Art of Fighting

With the new year well underway, the various gaming communities of Cork begin to line up their year’s big events, from tabletops to TV screens. With expansion on their minds, and an eye to national and international competition, Cork Fighting Game Community look toward bigger things in 2017. Throwing fireballs with Mike McGrath-Bryan are Cork FGC members Chris O’Shea and Joe Devane.

The early-to-mid nineteen-nineties saw the videogames industry grow up in a big way, with the bright, blocky sprites of the ’80s giving way to the basis of the medium’s future as a pillar of the entertainment business. One of the central titles of the games industry’s charge on the Western world was 1991’s Street Fighter II, a one-on-one combat game that boasted detailed two-dimensional graphics, finely-balanced gameplay, and a timeless soundtrack, that maintains a cult following to this day. This following has grown with the medium and changed with the times, but has remained dedicated to the purity and speed of old-time beat ’em ups. Cork Fighting Game Community, operating weekly up to recently in spaces the Roundy pub on Castle Street and the Camden Palace Hotel, serves as the local chapter of an enduring fanbase, for whom the magic of gaming’s adolescent frontier has remained entrenched. “For my tenth birthday, I got Street Fighter II on the Super Nintendo, and my brother and I became the Ryu and Ken (series protagonists) of the house, with our rivalry in the series continuing to this day. That’s what always keeps me coming back, the constant competition with my brother and the few other friends I have that play fighting games”, says Cork FGC member Chris O’Shea.

The group’s foundations happened on social media and forums for dedicated players seeking local competition, as local gamers hosted the community’s initial meetups in their own houses, opening their living rooms up to barrages of monitors and consoles. “The Facebook group actually came into being on boards.ie. I’d started a thread looking for anybody that was willing to host a meet up, and in that same thread discovered that two of the best players in the country today, Ross and Conor O’ Leary, lived literally just up the road from me. Jason Goodison was the guy that actually started the group itself, and was the first to host the group consistently in his own place.”

Being the local chapter of a national community, going to each other’s houses with monitors and consoles, etc., it might have been a little like the Wild West in the beginning, surely? “Personally speaking, it was all pretty exciting. Just like now, it took some coordination with everybody involved. I can’t imagine I was the only person nervous about all these strangers meeting up and was fearing some personality clashes, but once everybody realised we were all there for the same reason, love of fighting games and the banter, it all just clicked.”

With time and organisation came infrastructure, and in short order, the self-organised gaming tournaments that had emerged around the country weren’t long entrusting the Cork FGC with the Leeside legs of national competition, including the developer-sanctioned annual classic, Celtic Throwdown. Tom Devane, also of FGC, recounts that effort. “Luckily, the lads up in Dublin were very interested in getting us involved. Ireland being as small as it is, it encourages all the communities to come together for the benefit of the whole Irish fighting game community. Doom and AJ, the main organisers of (national tourney) Celtic Throwdown, have been brilliant to us, giving us a lot of their expertise, equipment & exposure. Travelling down for regionals to help with setups, tournament organisation, streaming. Stuff we could probably figure out on our own, but having them around to help is a huge bonus, since they’ve been doing this for nearly nine years now.”

Celtic Throwdown is the Irish national lead-in to the Capcom Cup, the premiere accomplishment in fighting e-sports. As the year wears on, the group will begin to liaise with the Street Fighter developers, run qualifiers and regional heats, and help oversee the grassroots framework of the tournament. For all of this formality and structure, though, the centrepoint of the fighting game community is to provide social space for avid Hadouken-throwers. It’s a recurring theme among the members of the community when asked about the time and effort that goes into mastering the art of fighting. Says Chris, “Asking for insight implies I have actually mastered that art (laughs). I’ll try not to throw out the old cliché “it’s just a game”, but enjoying yourself is the most important thing at the end of the day. I’ve lost many times and got frustrated, like every player does at some point, but the enjoyment of the games and the friends I’ve made through them is what always brings me back.” It’s a viewpoint with which Tom concurs. “The most important thing for me is: have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth your time. If you can’t have fun while losing 40 games in a row, you’ll never be able to put in the time required to get good. I’m a terrible Street Fighter player, I regularly go an entire night without winning a game, yet i turn up every chance I get because I have fun playing and interacting with the lads in the community.”

The uptick of this openness has been an expansion into games more friendly for a general audience, with Nintendo’s cartoon brawler Super Smash Brothers bringing new players in. With changes made to the use of their previous venue space, and with the closure of an interim home in the Camden Palace Hotel, the team will likely have to lay low for the summer outside of visits to other fighting game communities around the country, before setting back up in any of the newer spaces opening up to community groups around town.

With all of the recent nostalgia for retrogaming in particular in mind, the question is floated around of the best place for new people to start, that one all-time-greatest scrapping sim. There may be variations on the theme, but one clear-cut winner emerges: the seemingly immortal Street Fighter series. Says Chris of a later instalment, “Street Fighter Alpha 3 was the game my brother and I played to absolute death on the PlayStation when it originally came out. We had no idea of the broken stuff possible at the time, just simple mano-a-mano stuff that kept us enthralled for many a night, until sunrise the next morning.” Tom issues an open challenge when discussing his personal favourite: “For me it’s Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. It’s absolutely gorgeous, some of the best looking, most detailed sprites you’re ever likely to see. The fighting engine feels fast and fluid, with the parry mechanic. Unfortunately due to its age, the only people who still play are absolute beasts, so online play can be a bit scary. But if you’re ever at an event, come find me and I’ll always be willing to throw down in 3rd Strike!”

Cork Fighting Game Community organises and discusses gaming at its Facebook group: search for ‘Cork Fighting Game Community’ and join for announcements of upcoming gaming sessions and events.