Thursday 18 July 2019

Larking by their own lovely Lee

Jackeen Barry Egan spends 24 hours with Cork's cognoscenti to take the pulse of the Real Capital of Ireland

Barry Egan, extreme right, with some of the second city’s great and good — from left to right, Sandra Murphy (in yellow dress), Lisa Madden, Dominic Daly, Keith Cunningham, Patricia Toscano, Dan and Linda Kiely, Vivienne McCarthy
Barry Egan, extreme right, with some of the second city’s great and good — from left to right, Sandra Murphy (in yellow dress), Lisa Madden, Dominic Daly, Keith Cunningham, Patricia Toscano, Dan and Linda Kiely, Vivienne McCarthy
Patricia Toscano, Dan and Linda Kiely
Vivienne McCarthy
Keith Cunningham makes a point at the gathering in the Kingsley Hotel
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The late Joe Lynch was once quoted as saying: "I love Cork so much that if I caught one of their hurlers in bed with my missus, I'd tiptoe downstairs and make him a cup of tea."

This passionate besottedness is typical of Corkonians. They love their county perhaps the way Roy Keane loves a good glare, or George Hook loves a good moan, or Graham Norton loves a camp chortle or even The Sultans Of Ping love their jumpers.

Talking to various well-known Corkonians last week, I felt they loved Cork so much that if they caught one of their GAA stalwarts in flagrante delicto with their respective partners, yes, they would tiptoe downstairs and make them a cup of tea.

But they would also proudly make the erotic interloper a full breakfast of the best organic bacon and eggs and black puddings from Clona- kilty, finished off with local artisan breads from Bally- maloe and beyond. And then tell them the great places to visit in Cork or sit them down for a chat about how wonderful they were in the match.

Joking aside, there is a kernel of truth in all this. One of Cork's - and indeed Ireland's - more colourful characters, auctioneer extraordinaire Dominic Daly, showed Michael Jackson around Cork once upon a time. "He was quite disarming," says Dom, who is no stranger to being disarming himself, given his great personal charm.

"I was told to meet him at a certain crossroads. He jumped out of a minivan. I thought he'd be in something slightly more impressive. He shook my hand. I was told that he didn't touch anyone. Then the children came along. They had this Ugandan nanny. He said, 'This is Dominic. He is a nice man. Say hello to him'. I showed him a few places in Cork."

He would have fitted in up there in the former mental asylum derelict on the hill, I say, pointing.

"No. That would have been out of the question, because he didn't want a place where anyone could look in on him. He stayed down in Kinsale for a few days. I booked him in there. A lot of people didn't even recognise him. He loved that."

Even to a Jackeen like me, Wacko Jacko not being recognised in Kinsale seems to say more about Kinsale than it does about Wacko.

On this particular afternoon, several of Cork's cog- noscenti have gathered in the opulent penthouse of the ultra-swish Kingsley Hotel to talk (over an endless procession of cakes and teas) about all things related to the Real Capital of Ireland.

"We would never say Cork is the Real Capital of Ireland," says Patrick Bergin-lookalike Dan Kiely. He and his wife Linda - a dead ringer for Miriam O'Callaghan - are the founders of business outsourcing giant VoxPro. "I think we are the second city and that in a way makes us try harder."

I ask him how he met his wife. "Linda was my boss in The Examiner 27 years ago," he says.

"And she's still your boss," says Paula Lenihan, the very chic editor of RSVP magazine.

"I think there are more chief executives in Dublin from Cork than there are from any other county," says Dom, whose daughter, Jessica, lives in Paris with her husband, Ronan O'Gara.

"I was in Dubai last year and a lot of the hotel managers are from Cork," says Sandra Murphy, the proprietor of The Rising Tide Brasserie in Glounthaune.

"Cork people are very loyal. If they haven't been in The Rising Tide in a month," says Vivienne McCarthy, proprietor of Lockdown Models, "we'd say, we better go there. We also go to Jacques [in Oliver Plunkett Street] or Eco in Douglas."

"Douglas is like the Ranelagh of Cork," explains Cork's Red FM presenter Keith Cunningham, aka KC.

"I was in Tom Barry's on Barrack Street last night," adds Dan Kiely, "and the restaurant and bar were packed. And that's a Monday night."

"It's full of surgeons!" says Dan's beautiful wife Linda.

Is it true that if one of the surgeons fell into the Lee, their mother would run out and quickly announce: "Quick! Quick! My son the surgeon is drowning?"

"I think that kind of stuff is gone," says Dan.

Even allowing for journalist-with-drink-in-hand hyperbole, there is a definite buzz in Cork at the minute. On Tuesday night, the restaurant at the Fota Island Resort was packed with people enjoying themselves. Earlier in the city, the sense of anticipation as Noel Gallagher was about to play a big concert was also palpable. Cork people appear to appreciate the art of life itself.

"We are very positive," says Dom. "There is a great attitude of can-do in Cork."

"They are ridiculously cliquey in Cork, but it is in the best possible way," adds KC, who is from Castlebar but is married to a Cork girl, Rachel.

"The perception outside of Cork is that Cork people are very arrogant. It is not like that. People often confuse arrogance with confidence. Cork people are so hugely confident because they are so proud of Cork as a place.

"People outside of Cork don't get that. If you can imagine an entire county with half-a-million people all thinking the same thing - which is: this is the best place in the world - it utterly becomes the best place in the world. That's the energy you get from people down here. I'm an outsider down here. And I'm living here 13 years.

"That's what I love about the attitude and the history of the place. And that is not something that's happened in the last 10 years. This is going through generations - building up this Cork pride."

"We are unique in our sense of humour and wit," says Linda.

Dom has only to open his Montenotte mouth for this wit to become gloriously apparent.

"I seem to remember when Heineken were doing a film about the Murphy's brewery here in Cork, they had to put in subtitles so that people would understand what the people are saying," he says.

"I had another [client], a Lebanese guy, one day in Cork and we were in his limo. We got a puncture. While we waited for the puncture to be fixed, he said, 'What language do you speak to the locals?' Because we speak quite fast to each other."

Everyone in the Kingsley's penthouse explodes in laughter. The larks by the Lee indeed.

"Cork men have a fantastic sense of humour," says Sandra. "That is an attractive quality."

"Cork women are the most stylish women in Ireland," says Dan.

"We get much more dressed up than Dublin girls," says the very elegant Miss Universe Ireland, Lisa Madden. "We make more of an effort. That's why the Ladies' Days at races down here are so successful."

Sitting to Lisa's left, the beautiful Sandra Murphy is a very successful business woman - she was on TV3's The Apprentice - but is somehwat less successful in matters of the heart. She set up a profile on the online dating site Plenty Of Fish recently.

"I got 100 emails," she says. "I set it up on the Saturday afternoon and on the Sunday lunch I was in work, seating people, when there was a guy sitting at the bar in his work clothes. As I was talking to another customer, he said: 'Sandra!' I turned around and said: 'Just a moment'.

"Then I went over and he shook my hand and introduced himself. I was like a rabbit in the headlights, I was so stunned. I felt a shiver up my spine that he wasn't looking for a table. So he said, 'I saw that yesterday you set up a profile on Plenty Of Fish. So I decided to come down, and rather than send you an email I want to ask you out to your face'."

Her reply had five parts.

"One. That profile was to dip my toes in the water. Two. It is online and online means online communication. Three. Nowhere does it list where I work. Four. It is rude to come into my workplace and ask me out here. Five. Would I be interested in going out on a date with you? Absolutely not!"

The chef in The Rising Tide later joked to Sandra that her gentleman caller should have brought her flowers.

"If he did," replied Sandra, "the flowers would have been on his grave."

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