Cafe Move: “We Wanted to Offer an Alternative”

 

For one Wilton-based exercise centre and class space, Saturday mornings mean one thing: members getting together for a cup of coffee before working together on movement and flexibility. The endgame? Building up to the task of executing a handstand. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Café Move co-owner Robbie O’Driscoll about a pressure-free alternative for New Years’ fitness kicks.

It’s 9am on a fresh Saturday morning at Doughcloyne Industrial Estate, just up Sarsfield Road, and nestled among the warehouses, retail units and even a children’s amusement complex, lies an exercise and fitness centre unlike any other. Café Move is being opened as we come in the door, and at first glance, as wooden pallets create a small corridor to a fully-stocked coffee bar that’s being readied for the day, slinging tea and speciality coffees as well as protein supplements, the idea sets in. Opened three years ago by owner-operators Robbie O’Driscoll and Karen Lunnon, Café Move styles itself not necessarily as a gym, but as a ‘movement centre’, prioritising exercise and wellbeing in comparatively unorthodox ways, especially for the current climate. Weight equipment is noticeable by its absence, and brass rings for gymnastics and acrobatic use hang from the rafters on both floors. The whole air of the place seems to be the polar opposite of the iron temples that seem to be springing up all over the city as of late.

At the forefront of the centre’s drive for accessibility is a simple yet starkly ‘different’ idea: a class simply entitled “Coffee and Handstands”. Doing largely what it says on the tin, the class allows for participants to file in early for a cuppa and some chats with the facility’s staff and fellow exercisers for about an hour, before getting down to the brass tacks of stretches, collaborative warmups and exercises combining gymnastics with resistance training. For O’Driscoll, it’s about bringing a lifetime of movement and fitness experience to a welcoming, inclusive space. “The whole concept comes from the point that exercise and socialising ought to be brought together, for the full package of developing a person. There has to be a bit of craic, in regards to exercise. It needs to be a constant, week in, week out, and if you’re doing it by yourself all the time, it’s going to suck. But if you’re in the company of good people, and the theme of the class is that it’s playful on the weekend, I think it ticks all the boxes regarding staying social, staying healthy, staying strong. And it’s a draw to have that chance to bring people together, to have the chats, a bit of interaction and discourse before we get things moving.”

It’s one of those questions that seems so simple for an interviewer that it becomes difficult by overthinking: how does one teach somebody a handstand? Even the mention of the word ‘handstand’ likely conjures up one’s own childhood images of small gymnastic feats among friends while out playing, gangly legs kicking up awkwardly into wobbly displays of athleticism that ranked alongside cartwheels and forward rolls as serious achievements for the day. The process of reverting to that mindset, and tapping into exercisers’ inner children, is what sets the class apart from any other offering in Cork gyms at present. And it’s making a difference, says O’Driscoll. “In this environment, there’ll be a general warmup, so everyone can benefit from strengthening and mobilising the fingers, wrists, hands, shoulders, core. So, nothing is outside the capacity of anybody. Anybody can join the class, we have an age bracket here from early twenties up to sixty. And as the class progresses, we split into groups, who is able for what, and then there’s individual practice. And it’s taught in a way that involves a partner or a group, so that everyone achieves their handstand, achieves their goal. You have that sense of camaraderie, it has that playfulness to it… There’s one person that sticks to mind to me, Martha, she showed up here a year-and-a-half ago with a shoulder injury, she was an avid Taekwondo player. She turned sixty recently and is now kicking up into a handstand, coming from a place of no gymnastics training, arriving with an injury and developing that practice is something.”

The centre’s regular custom has been slowly increasing in number over the past three years, as its reputation has spread among people looking for something different from a fitness experience. But even for such an eclectic group of people, this morning ranging from athletes to former quantum physicists, the idea of building from absolute zero to a handstand might be strange for different reasons. The idea, however, has been received well, according to O’Driscoll, acting for some as a goal, and for others, a gateway to more movement. “Let’s say somebody hasn’t been referred to us, they see a post (online). ‘Coffee and handstands, what’s that about?’. So, they’re quite apprehensive, they’re expecting something a bit hipster-y. They expect, ‘hey, man, peace, high five, wanna mocha-chocha-latte’, and I can see how we’d fall into that mix, with pallets around the place and coffee. But we meet them on a one-to-one level. People who have been recommended to us are all quite enthusiastic about arriving on, they’ve heard great things about us. People outside the centre, in (the fitness space in the city) look upon us as being quite airy-fairy, that’s one term we hear a lot. Maybe they’re the regular gym-goer and they see us with coffee and hanging upside-down, and it seems like an airy-fairy approach, not understanding that when we get into it, there’s some serious training, there’s a lot of sports-science, exercise-science, and I’ve travelled the world collecting these exercises to bring them to a public domain.”

It’s all in contrast to the current gym and fitness scene in the city, to say the least. There’s no disputing the rise in gym culture over the past few years, as people take to the benches and attend circuit training to get fit, boost their self-confidence, and get an all-important endorphin rush, the latter being an increasing point of discussion within the overall mental-health discourse. But with a number of new gyms opening up around the city, O’Driscoll is emphatic about creating an inclusive space, where the kind of gatekeeping that can sometimes happen in regular gyms, and the intimidation inherent for some people to working with fitness equipment, becomes a non-issue. “When we first opened, one of the first installments was a café, put right in the centre, creating a social atmosphere for a physical lifestyle and culture, was the idea. Not to say you’re a gym-goer, but that it’s more a lifestyle, you meet people you already know, like the ‘Cheers’ of the gym world. There’s no obligation to exercise in one format here, no dogmatic view. I teach the content I teach, I keep it as broad as I can, without restrictions on the members to not explore their own approach. We shake hands and meet each other, and that was the idea. In this setting, also, it’s more attractive to those who aren’t drawn into the gym scene. I wanted to offer an alternative.”

It’s January, and the natural course of events dictates that people venture trepidatiously into gyms at hotels and other locations around the city, prompted into action by the dawning of a new calendar year, and the traditional cocktails of well-meaning New Years’ resolutions and a seeming carnival of advertising that negatively reinforces peoples’ perceptions of themselves. Playing on insecurities by leading advertising campaigns with unreasonably attractive models and vaguely aspirational sloganeering, the intimidation factor is both a draw for facilities and an eventual turn-off. For O’Driscoll, the inclusive atmosphere at Café Move is aimed at helping trainees avoid that cycle, and play to their own strengths. “We don’t offer fat loss, and we accept anybody in whatever way they show up. We’re more interested in physical ability and whatever that is to the individual. Wherever they’re coming from, wherever they’d like to go, we’d like to be part of the assistance, and offer an environment where they’re not under pressure to adhere to a particular aesthetic, because that’s absurd to me. I believe weight loss, etc. is a by-product of tweaking of one’s lifestyle to improve their physical ability and their quality of life. Nor is it driven by what they ‘ought to’, or ‘should’. Because those negative motivations burn out quite quickly, I’d prefer it to be something that gives them an improved experience of life. ‘Now I can go hillwalking, now I can play with my kids, now I can have fun with my own body.’ Whatever that is to them, I’d like to be part of. And that perpetuates itself, being around others, without the sense of judgement.”

As the interview progresses, our seat at the space’s coffee bar allows us the opportunity to meet the attendees as they come in the front door, and get settled in for a chat before the proceedings. Martha Lynch, of whom O’Driscoll was speaking in reference to transformation stories to emerge from the facility, is softly-spoken, but effusive in her praise for the facility and what it’s done for her wellbeing. After demonstrating a handstand technique hard-won by training and exercise, she’s quick to reiterate. “It’s improved my fitness, my core, my balance, strength… everything. My energy… it’s great fun. We end up laughing halfway through the class most of the time, and it’s just great fun, and the coffee’s brilliant (laughs). It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, Robbie adjusts everything so you can participate in class and do your bit. I’m trying now to learn to do a pull-up, haven’t gotten near it but there’s variations all the way up, and it’s just getting your bit and working your way up. No machines, and you’re talking to people all the time.”

It’s hard not to look at the current slew of gym openings around the city and county as something of a bubble, if one is being entirely cynical. Time will tell how new facilities might fare in the long-term, and if the ongoing surge of casual interest in personal fitness becomes a permanent fixture in punters’ routines. O’Driscoll and Lunnon have put three years and a lot of very personal touches into Café Move, right down to portraits of their parents alongside various heroes of theirs in the changing facilities. There’s a vision at play here, and O’Driscoll’s mission statement speaks to this. “I’ve often thought of the movement centre, ‘Café Move’, a ‘movement café’, as being a social requirement, in city centres and all major suburbs, as maybe the new age community centre. We’re quite aware that sedentary living, fast food and high technology has us not moving a whole lot, and quite highly stressed. It’s nothing new to say that movement is a requirement, socialising is a requirement. So how I see it in the future is almost like a household name, in a sense: ‘I’m off to Café Move’, or however you want to refer to it, the movement centre, because it is a requirement. They may not be ‘sports’ people, but they do need to move, do need to be around other people, and I see the place like you would, in a day, go to the pub, you go to Café Move. I’d like for it to be a household name for taking care of yourself.”

‘Coffee and Handstands’ happens every Saturday morning from 9am to midday at Café Move, Unit 3, Doughcloyne Industrial Estate, Sarsfield Road, Wilton. For more information, check their social media pages.

Cork Youth Orchestra: “We’re Standard-Driven”

Having celebrated its sixtieth anniversary last year, Cork Youth Orchestra is getting ready to take to one of the biggest stages this country has to offer, as ensembles of young musicians nationwide converge on Dublin’s National Concert Hall next month. Ahead of their big performance, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Tomás McCarthy.

For over sixty years, young musicians from schools all over the county have come together for their first experiences with large-ensemble performance with Cork Youth Orchestra (CYO), rehearsing currently at the CBS school in Deerpark. Debuting in 1958 at UCC’s Aula Maxima for an audience including the then-Lord Mayor and Mayoress, CYO has subsequently fine-honed its reputation for developing members’ talents and its legacy among the city’s artistic institutions. Down through the generations, the ensemble has performed at every major venue in the city, taken excursions around Europe, and performed at the openings of major national cultural events, cementing its place in the fabric of the city’s educational and artistic life. CYO’s musical director and conductor Tomás McCarthy summarises a busy year. “We have an ongoing programme, all leading toward a concert tour of Italy in 2020. We’ve just come out of our sixtieth anniversary, with concerts in City Hall, Killarney and Kenmare. Over six concerts, we played to nearly five thousand people. We had five sold-out concerts in City Hall. In April, we had four orchestras performing, and one of them had 120 members, who had been in the orchestra at any time between 1958 and now, including two people that had played sixty years ago. In preparing for the concert, we had two of the principle performers from Phantom of the Opera, and they were phenomenal to work with.”

Under McCarthy’s tuition, the ensemble continues to go from strength to strength, and a two-year path to a major performance series in 2020 begins with next month’s gathering of youth orchestras at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, under the auspices of the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras (IAYO), itself based in Cork city centre. As another year begins, McCarthy’s twenty-first as musical director and conductor, he brings us into the nitty-gritty of preparing for a performance on such a large scale. “The National Concert Hall comes part of our journey toward Italy in July 2020. We’ve been working all year ‘round on the concerts we’ve performed, and in amongst all of those are the rehearsals. We also have to rehearse for this concert in four weeks’ time, which is a much different programme. We would be the largest orchestra taking part, and at that, we’re the largest youth orchestra in Ireland at present, with 131 members on-stage. There’s a huge logistical support team involved, it takes fourteen people to run this, and it can’t be done without their involvement or input. A managerial team, libraries, roadies, transport… the National Concert Hall is a great opportunity for our members, who have never and may never again have the chance, that’s the primary reason for doing this. To play there is a good experience for all players, and we’re delighted to be able.”

The background of the ensemble’s membership is varied, taking in a wide range of young ages, and attracting applications for positions from around the county, such is the standard of musicianship that the ensemble has displayed in recent years, and its subsequent reputation for polishing and enhancing musical talent. Maintaining this state of affairs is a priority for McCarthy. “Of the 131 members, we would be approaching most communities in Cork county and city. The majority of our members and performers would come from the county. We have people in from East, West and North Cork… Kinsale, Midleton, Carrigaline, they come from everywhere, really. So, without specifying schools, most of the city schools would be represented. We’re Cork, the greater Cork area. We’ve taken sixty years to establish our identity, and we’re quite proud of that. We’ve established a reputation as the primary orchestra in the South of the country, we would be highly-regarded, and people are aware of our audition process every Spring. We’re standard-driven. It can be quite difficult to get in at this point, because the standard of tuition has risen dramatically in the past few years. It’s a wonderful thing to see, and we’re one of the beneficiaries of this.”

While the CYO requires time, effort and a good amount of dedication over one’s time in the group, it offers young people something a little bit more than average by way of an introduction to professional musical experience and a set of events to attend. Generations of families in Cork have come through the Orchestra’s ranks and picked up social and teamwork skills that complement their innate musical abilities, and members find those skills easily transferable in other environments. “I had three of my own children go through the orchestra. My youngest has just left, she’s eighteen now. It involves getting ready to go from around six o’clock, and getting home at ten o’clock on a Saturday. You have this teenage outlet, from September through to May. For any young person to have somewhere to go to meet such a large group of friends, and they become friends for life, it’s a great attraction. For some the music might even be secondary, but it all mixes to become a powerful energy. People always comment on that, this togetherness. They don’t have to work hard to make this happen: they’re talented, and they’re team players. It’s a magic you won’t get with an adult group.”

Over the course of twenty-one years, McCarthy has seen a great amount of young people become alumni and continue their musical training through third-level education, further orchestral experience and their own solo adventures in other genres and formats. Narrowing noteworthy examples of same down to a few favourites, then, is understandably difficult. “The list is so long. Speaking from my own family, my brother Declan has gone on to play with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. Another brother, Mícheál, has gone on to be highly-regarded on the Australian music scene. Not to name names, one of our former members, Muirgen O’Mahony, has qualified in London as a singer, and on New Year’s Eve, performed live with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, so that’s an accolade for her. We did a survey a few years back, and 27% of our members continue into the profession.”

This year’s IAYO excursion, entitled Young Musicians Centrestage, will feature, alongside the Cork contingent, orchestras from Galway, Meath, Dublin, Louth and Limerick. It’s a unique annual opportunity for audiences to see more than four-hundred young musicians from around Ireland, performing classical works and new arrangements. McCarthy has put together a special programme of performance for the occasion, and discusses what goes into selecting pieces for the ensemble and the stage on which they’re performing. “We’re going to be performing a piece called ‘Danzen #2’, by Arturo Marquez, and we’ll perform a Festive Overture by Shostakovich, as a sample of what we’re doing: good, strong, classical work.” As the year’s preparations for the 2020 performance in Italy continue, and the ensemble enters its seventh decade, there’s a lot for McCarthy to consider as he collects his thoughts heading into the NCH performance. “I’ve always loved performing there, and I’m delighted to be able to accomodate the members, give them the opportunity. I’ve played there as a teenager, and to come back there as a conductor several times over the years, it’s a fine experience. It’s about the young people, their experience, and their families, seeing their children onstage, the pride they get from that.”

The Cork Youth Orchestra perform at the National Concert Hall in Dublin as part of Youth Orchestras Centrestage on Saturday February 9th, with performances beginning at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets priced from €7.50 to €15.00 are on sale from the National Concert Hall box office or online from http://www.nch.ie. See http://www.iayo.ie for more details.

Cork Humanists: “We Are Very Open to Everybody”

Since its first convening in 2011, the Cork Humanists group has provided a community space for non-religious Corkonians of all shades and self-designations. As the Humanist Association of Ireland convenes a national meeting next month at the Imperial Hotel under the group’s auspices, Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with group heads and humanist celebrants Geraldine O’Neill and Ted Jones.

The changes that have overcome Irish society in the past two decades have been unprecedented, with the pace of same accelerated by the fall from broad social authority of the Catholic Church, the fragmentation of the post-crash political landscape, and a new generation dead set on bucking the precedents observed and furthered by their forebears, partially in response to the social legacy of austerity, as well as subsequent employment and housing issues. These circumstances have created the perfect conditions for the formation of a community space for skeptics and non-believers in Cork city to converge upon, to discuss ethics and compassion from a humanist standpoint, and how best to proceed about volunteerism, outreach and accomplishing shared goals.

Enter Cork Humanists. Formed in 2011, the group’s manifesto sets it out as a “secular community, based on a progressive philosophical life-stance”. Focusing on human rights and freedoms, the group aims to create an inclusive space for non-believers of all shades and self-determinations, across a wide and sometimes complicated spectrum of skepticism: atheists, agnostics, non-theists, rationalists, and other non-believers all have home at the group. Co-ordinator and humanist celebrant Geraldine O’Neill outlines the group’s origin. “The group came together under the auspices of two students from UCC, who were the first two conveners of the meetings, Aaron Keoghane and Annie Hoey. Both of them at the same time finished their study and ended up going away. Ted (Jones) and myself had been members, and came back, found out it needed revitalising, and we put our names forward and called a meeting. We started to gather people together, and that’s how it’s been since 2013. The group are meeting regularly since then.”

As the aforementioned changes wended their way through society and gathered pace in the last few years specifically, the group has continued organising and gone from strength to strength, currently meeting monthly upstairs at Meade’s wine bar on Oliver Plunkett Street. O’Neill comments on the development and further establishment of the group in that time, as well as the group’s outreach to non-believers around the county and beyond. “When we started back, we had people coming from Kerry and West Cork, coming from Tipperary. All of those areas have now developed their own groups, so there are regular meetings (in those places). We’ve seen people that felt very strongly about wanting to be connected to humanism set up their own groups in their own areas. We have a nucleus of fifteen members, ranging from twenty years of age to seventy.”

As much as things change, however, there is an innate tendency in human beings, much less the Irish, to gather at times of importance in others’ lives, one that has pre-dated organised religion in this country and around which the arrival and foundation of Christianity based itself. Demand in recent years has escalated in humanist celebrants to help mark these occasions – legal celebrants for weddings, officiators for secular days of celebrations like naming ceremonies or age-of-reason days, and overseers for funerals. O’Neill is a registered celebrant or ‘solemniser’ with the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI), the only body legally recognised in Ireland for secular celebrations. “I’ve always been of the opinion that we as human beings need to gather to celebrate events. You can look at every seven- or eight-year-old in the world, when they begin to see themselves as autonomous bodies, with a certain moral code developing. Communion is seen by families as a way of celebrating the presence of this newly-emerging child in their lives, and we look at that and say ‘there is this need, can we meet it in a non-religious way?’ For weddings, we have thirty-two accredited solemnisers. There are spiritualists and others that can marry legally, but they have a religious doctrine behind them. Ours is secular. It is not our place to talk about anything but the couple, the union, and the ceremony being undertaken.”

The group is currently getting ready for a major national event among humanist and non-belief groups in the country, as the Humanist Association of Ireland brings its Sunday Gathering series of talks and debates to Cork for the first time. Cork Humanists are organising and hosting the event at the Imperial Hotel on South Mall, with speakers discussing the act of thought in the current era, but also marking the contributions of one of Ireland’s oldest charities to the city. Ted Jones, another co-ordinator of the group and its convener, outlines the process of putting the event together. “This year, to celebrate twenty-five years of being in existence, (the HAI) are more or less doing a roadshow about three or four times this year. What happens is we make an application to host it, they approve and we agree a date, and set about organising. We have two speakers for our meeting. We have a doctor, Coleen Jones, a psychiatrist, talking on the theme of ‘Thinking in a Modern World’. Your readers may be familiar with Catríona Twomey, of Cork Penny Dinners, and the ever-greater need for the services they offer. They are the chosen charity of our group, and we do collections for them. Their doors are open to everyone without question, and as humanists, we are very open to everybody. It’s part of the ethos.”

As the event approaches, and the group enters its ninth year, Jones collects his thoughts on the speakers and the occasion, and the bearings it has on the group’s 2019 and beyond. The group seeks to add to its numbers via community outreach, and furthermore to this goal, replenish its membership from among a younger demographic. “We’re delighted to be able to host it, show Cork in a good light, and it was taking a longer time for it to permeate in a meaningful sense throughout the rest of the country. But we certainly have a small but active group, but it is growing, happily. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to host the humanist family in Ireland. It’s being held in the ballroom of the Imperial with round tables, and after each speaker, each roundtable will have a chance to discuss among themselves and ask questions of each, allowing everyone to get involved and let the juices work.”

Cork Humanists meets monthly on the first Wednesday at Meade’s Wine Bar on Oliver Plunkett Street. HAI’s next Sunday Gathering happens on Sunday February 3rd at the Imperial Hotel on South Mall, with registration at 2pm. For more information on the group and upcoming events, check out corkhumanists.weebly.com.

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.