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Brendan O'Connor: 'A slow emotion replay of somebody I used to be'


Cork's River Lee... 'It was nearly overwhelming walking in across the bridge'

Cork's River Lee... 'It was nearly overwhelming walking in across the bridge'

Cork's River Lee... 'It was nearly overwhelming walking in across the bridge'

I'm not great for memories. I don't tend to look back. But I guess if you prod them they are there all right, lurking with intent. In Cork, over Christmas, I needed to clear my head, so I decided to walk from my parents' house in Bishopstown into town, wife following in car with children. They weren't driving along next to me like a support vehicle, you understand. I just left half an hour early.

I hadn't walked into town from home in ages. Initially it was pleasant, interesting to see the changes. They've put a new Aldi across from the new Lidl, where Rocksavage used to be. Little things like that. But then I passed my aunt Eileen's house. Or what was my aunt Eileen's house. And suddenly I was dragged involuntarily back into the past. I looked into the garden, and out of the grey December soil emerged the garden she tended so well. The rose bushes she was so proud of were still there, withered and wintry. I remembered how she taught me to tend them. And how she would send me out to cut a few of them just so, for a vase. The back garden was more practical. You'd go out there for chives, snipped at the last minute to garnish dinner, or parsley to be worked into the mash. That was the house where I learned to cook, to read the paper, to do housework. It was like a mini finishing school where she knocked the rough edges off us, where you could decamp from being one of six to being an only child now and then.

On down Wilton Road past what used to be Mrs Waldron's place, with her market garden where you went to get freshly cut and dug fruit and veg, always with very specific instructions about everything. God, we didn't realise the luxury of giving Mrs Waldron a few coins for just-dug potatoes and fresh strawberries and lettuces and whatever else.

On down past Dennehy's Cross and past where Uncle Mick worked, and on to the Western Road. Hard to believe the Western Star pub is gone years now. That's where Mick would give you the odd drink as a young lad, and then, later on, the garden out the back was where we partied after our college exams. I remember it as always sunny out there. It must have been a goldmine then. But somehow now not viable any more. On past Castlewhite, the student accommodation where I shared warden duties in my alleged postgrad years, living over the reception, an unlikely figure to be breaking up parties.

Seeing Castlewhite gave me a taste for UCC so I decided I'd walk home through college later. It was nearly overwhelming walking in across the bridge, looking down by the river where we would hang on sunny days, in an early summer haze. Up past the Boole library, big signs of the times about single-use cups not being allowed in any more. I thought of the countless Styrofoam cups I had picked to pieces sitting up in the mini-rest. Then out on to College Road, past the student services office where you went to hang out if you were at a loose end, and there'd always be someone to talk to. Then past what used to be called La Retraite, accommodation for ladies in their first years in college run, I think, by the nuns. It was where parents who wanted a bit of extra supervision sent their girls. In those unenlightened times it was crudely known by some as the Virgin Megastore, and plenty of us remember sneaking out of there in the early hours, breaking into a run as you headed down the long driveway, not relaxing until you were safely back on the road.

On towards Dennehy's Cross again, and time played tricks and the nearly three decades since I used to pound that pavement home from college melted away and I flashed between being that boy and this man. I walked in his footsteps again, and I could nearly remember what it felt like to be young and wild and innocent and free but also slightly lost in all this new freedom.

The memories are there all right.

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