Ireland Trip: 4–Cork and Memory, part 1

We don’t always realize the extent to which time alters our memories. That which seems so vividly remembered may or may not be an accurate reflection of fact. We all have a wonderful capacity for distilling meaning from the events that shape our lives. Sometimes, upon reflection, it almost seems as if things happened for a reason, perhaps in fulfillment of some grand design.

Then, from time to time, you get the chance to revisit the facts themselves. A dusty old photograph, long since forgotten may just emerge as if by magic from a pile of junk you were about to throw out. You look closely. Was I really that awkward? An old video maybe, shot by the parent of a friend on old 8 mm film, the colours faded, the quality blurred and scratched but still, enough details.  The garden was pretty small…funny I recall it as larger. A chance conversation with someone you’d not seen in years; a different perspective on a shared event. So I really was not at the centre of the whole thing…not how I recall it. Evidence; trustworthy but still laden with facts that stand at odds with the remembered details, leaving you unsure of just what to make of it all.

Through it all we still try to bear witness to our own lives.

Not everyone has mastered the art of travelling light, something each and every Taxi Driver we encountered reminded us.

Not everyone has mastered the art of travelling light, something each and every Taxi Driver we encountered reminded us.

Our third extended stop was to be Cork. Since we were leaving from Carlow the choice came down to either taking the train back to Dublin and getting  another directly to Cork from there (Yes,  Sinéad, you were correct) or, taking a bus straight on to Cork without the side trip back to Dublin. We opted for the latter. Not only was it significantly cheaper overall, but also the more meandering route it took brought us through a few places we had never been before,.

A trip on a bus gives you time to think and enjoy the journey. Yes, there are many who just enjoy the feeling of being in control, being actively engaged in moving a vehicle through space and time, but not all of us feel that way. Sometimes it’s nice to just let yourself be transported.

Place yourself sufficiently close to the front and you get the benefit of an ever-changing panorama as the bus makes its way along the country roads. Fields, old churches, abandoned castles;  all just slide along. The vista is punctuated, from time to time, by a stop in one town or another; a coming and going often only signaled to the lazy riders like me by changes in the barely perceptible hum of the diesel engine, shielded, thankfully, from us by layers of insulation.

Not quite the way I remember it. The engines used to be much louder. Or at least that’s how I think it used to be. Same with the trains. On all the trips so far you could not even hear the engines, much less the clicking of the wheels on the rails, just the sounds of the passengers.

My God will those two ever shut up! Two elderly ladies in the row behind me are on the way to Waterford and they haven’t stopped talking, loudly, about … stuff/nothing … since they got on board. No worries, I’ll just slip into that same head space I’ve used so often. You may call it “daydreaming,” but I call it an escape from unwanted noise. It serves me well. Classes, sermons, boring speakers (who would likely beg to differ) and now this, thankfully no match for the layers of sight and sound that can emerge from the juxtaposition of memory and imagination.

Muine Bheag, Waterford, (the place of origin of my Dad’s ancestors) Dungarven and Youghall, one by one the places slip by leaving only a fleeting vista of real life in Ireland. But how much of it was real? Details? No, more like a collection of broad strokes on a canvas. After all, much of the journey was viewed through barely opened eyes and half-listening ears.

Waterford. Just how many young men boarded vessels here to spend the summer fishing the Grand Banks, crew on English-owned vessels. Many did not return. They landed in St. John's, drank their money and could not afford the passage home. My great-great-great grandfather was among them.

Waterford. Just how many young men boarded English-owned fishing vessels here to spend the summer fishing the Grand Banks? Many did not return. They landed in St. John’s, drank their money and could not afford the passage home. My great-great-great grandfather was among them.

And finally we’re there. The bus stop is not far from the hotel but we get a taxi anyway—too much luggage and the trip is all uphill. The taxi driver was originally from South Africa. He’s been back there, of course, but has been here long enough that he considers Cork as home. He’s anxious to tell us of the sights of his adopted city and I compare his items to my own list.

The Cobh: “It was the last port of call for the Titanic and it’s really beautiful.”

Blarney: “It’s great but get there early or you’ll be in among loads of tourists.”

The City Itself:  “Cork was built on an island where the Lee separates two different ways.”

We arrived at the hotel. “It’s a great place. I use the gym there. See that bar there? (It was Henchy’s Pub) You have to go if you want to visit a really nice Irish Pub.”

The river Lee viewed from one of the many bridges.

The river Lee viewed from one of the many bridges.

We decided to first have a peek down in the city centre. Without the luggage it was only a 15 minute walk, all downhill, and soon we found ourselves near St. Patrick Street. Crossing one of the bridges over the Lee memories of time spent with Uncle Michael came flooding back. He used to take me down by the river and we’d feed the ducks from one of the bridges. But which one? The one we were on? Maybe. The next one on either side? Not sure. I thought I’d remembered the spot but frankly it could have been any one of them. It had to be one of them, though, because Drawbridge Street was nearby.

Could this have been the bridge? Maybe, but they all felt kind of right and kind of not right.

Could this have been the bridge? Maybe, but they all felt kind of right and kind of not right.

I said the name and felt drawn as if to a magnet. But to what? Things felt so different.

The corner of Drawbridge Street and St. Patrick Street. Drawbridge Street: in summers we'd make the trek from Dublin to spend a week or so with our aunts, who loved there in the old family home.

The corner of Drawbridge Street and St. Patrick Street. Drawbridge Street: in summers we’d make the trek from Dublin to spend a week or so with our aunts, who loved there in the old family home.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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17 Responses to Ireland Trip: 4–Cork and Memory, part 1

  1. Mary says:

    Yes – I remember you going to feed the ducks with Uncle Michael – Don’t remember this Twilighr Zone shop!! but a restaurant nearby where they had fish fingers on the menu and you very sincerely and politely asked if they also had fish hands:)
    Enjoyed the photos and writing greatly.

  2. SJ O'Hart says:

    I’m really glad you found a bus between Carlow and Cork – you’ve taught me something about my own country that I didn’t know. I probably would just have assumed there was no such bus, and trekked back to Dublin! I love bus journeys too, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned, but I wish I had your ‘headspace’ – old ladies yakking on public transport can sometimes test my patience. I usually just take a deep breath and try to enjoy them and their senses of humour. I loved this post, the dreamy nostalgia and the deep love of the places of your childhood. It was very moving.

  3. Hey, don’t worry about posting your Irish adventures, I’m enjoying them.

    I liked Waterford (and Wexford). We didn’t stay in Cork, too too busy. But I did like the Cobh, looked striking.

    I do the headspace. Easy. But I’m a bus travelling veteran. When you travel on Spanish buses, you learn different coping strategies. Sometimes the interruptions are a distraction like the fight between a gitano family which had half the bus in hysterics.

    • Yes, sometimes the ride can be something of a show, depending on the people who are there. Every now and again you will encounter someone who is out-and-out obnoxious but it’s generally not the case.

  4. Indeed. Cork is simply the backdrop to this introspective post, the focus of which is ‘memory.’ I too am ‘of an age’ at which memory plays tricks and makes us second-guess what we believe to be true and what simply represents the ‘stuff’ with which we fill the gaps in memory. Or, rather, the stuff with which we choose to fill those gaps. Or, rather, the stuff with which we choose to populate or entire histories! And, how can we know which is which? You suggest that old photos, films, letters, and wonderful visits to far-away places such as that which you describe in this enjoyable series of posts. With this entry I do believe that a significant, deeper, theme is beginning to emerge; one which could form the basis for your upcoming novel … the interplay between memory, reality, and our personal desire to ‘paint’ ourselves and our histories in very particular ways. My sister follows my blog and, as a result, we often find ourselves commenting on bits and pieces of our shared past. It’s interesting, and relevant to this current contribution, that it is clear that she remembers our common history in one way while I remember it another. Moreover, she remembers details that I cannot recall and I remember details that she cannot remember. Isn’t it strange how our minds seem to be making decisions without us? Our minds, for psychologies which are perhaps beyond our understanding, seem to mold and modify and edit our pasts in ways which protect us? Prop us up? Put us in a good light? Make us happy? I do not know. I do not think we do this purposefully or intentionally. Such a strange organ, the brain. And, the crazy thing is that the only way we can examine, study, and explore the human brain is … by using … our own humans brains! See what you’ve done … as a result of reading your post … my mind is awash in all sorts of deep, metaphysical, musings. I must awake. I must focus. I’ve got laboratory in just over an hour and I yet to prepare a quiz which I am to administer. Duty calls. D

  5. margber says:

    I love your description of memory vs. fact, Maurice. Sometimes it’s so much nicer to relive the memory than to actually relive the event. Somehow the memories weed out all the clutter and leave us with Utopia.

    Irleland sounds lovely. I’m enjoying traveling to there through your eyes and words. It is on my bucket list.

    • I like the way you put it 🙂
      Yes, get it on the list and, if you have the time, you can even nip across the sea and take a relatively cheap side-trip to England or Scotland while you’re at it.

  6. Tiny says:

    Loved this thoughtful and reflective post! I’m familiar with the “phenomenon” you describe so well. My funniest vivid memory is this huge (3 meters at least) poisonous snake I found and my dad killed at the lake shore where my dad still lives. I mentioned that to my dad and he said it was a small viper, not even one meter long…so yes, we distill our memories. Enjoyed your and your family’s company again through the green Irish landscapes. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Really enjoying your holiday to a special country thanks for sharing Maurice.

  8. elkement says:

    I can relate so much!! Travelling to a place I had seen years before often leaves me with the feeling that ‘all was different back then’. I tend to think you often rather remember your own feelings and thoughts you had back then and you associate a place with your own ideas.

    When I did a nostalgic trip to my former university some years ago I was of course interested in what has changed (or not) at the former workplace – but it was probably more intruguing to ‘re-feel’ what you felt back then. Anyway, I find such visits often exhausting in a strange way.

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