So I pass the 500th article, an important milestone for Our City, Our Town in the Cork Independent, and more or less the ten year mark of the column. It’s difficult to sum up a decade’s work. On reflection, it has been a great adventure thus far. It has been fantastic to be able to research Cork’s local history and to able to fieldwork and interview people within the city and region. Since Autumn 1999, excavating the city and region’s past has brought many opportunities for rich discoveries about Cork people and places.
The column has led me through my twenties and with each passing year my study of Cork’s local history has brought me a myriad of items to write about. My own views on what exactly local history is have completely transformed and continue to evolve. Even though you can’t change the facts and figures of history, one I feel can change how the story is presented and made relevant in the present day. There are large parts of me now that would talk about local history in terms of local heritage – I have huge interests in the importance of inheritance and passing our local history to the next generation so that they can appreciate what’s on our doorstep and hence build stronger identity and even self confidence links. But perhaps whether or which what terms you use, the story of Cork and its region is something that has drawn me in, holds my imagination and allows me participate in a spirit of discovery and adventure.
On further reflection, I recall a good friend’s remarks who constantly reminds me of three terms to survive- look, listen and learn. Within the City and the region such as the Lee Valley, there is a lot to look at. I never imagined my journey to be as deep and thought-provoking as it has become. There are many sites what I call cherished and sacred spaces within the valley such as Gougane Barra or ‘Pana’. There is also the forgotten country, the rural and urban spaces that the River Lee flows through that we as Corkonians don’t know. However, the scenery and its people have infected me with a passion.
Listen is the next thread. There have been so many people, who have helped me in my exploration of the valley, physically –“ Kieran the sign is behind you”. Or metaphorically, -“Kieran what about looking at this from this angle”. Many people were encountered by wandering up people’s driveways; others phoned or emailed in; others were referrals. Everyone I met had a story to tell. I am very grateful to many people who have shared their cherished memories freely. Many people have talked about roots, where they were from or where their parents or grandparents were from. Cultural heritage to them is the space where they played – the memories they accumulated as a child, where they grew up. To others, heritage was about the places they like going to in the valley – an escape from the pressures of life.
To others, heritage was about the local community; some communities I have rolled into go back generations, others have evolved through time. Then there was the woman I met recently, who was in a nursing home, who looked so frail. She took time to recount her memories. I enjoyed our discussion but I got really upset on the way home. She has accessed my own feelings about, my own love for Cork and how much I continue to learn. What have I learned? – loads but at all times I feel as if I’m only scratching the surface.
The Lee Valley is very much part of the identity of what Cork and its people are about. We have so much to be proud of. My own journey has become more than looking at a river’s journey or the walk of a saint. There are vast depths of time where creativity, conflict, belief systems, emotion and technologies are all present. The stories of human monuments past, present and future all collide to create massive contrasts. It is a place where changes in society and contemporary need from the Stone Age to the Lee Hydro Electric Scheme to the modern bungalow are all represented. Ideas that have survived and evolved reveal insights into survival, change, continuity, tradition, identity, the effects of globalisation, place-making, art and perhaps more importantly the human experience, who were we are and that is perhaps where this research is now at.
Yes look, listen and learn has got me to think about, to be inspired by, to be challenged by, to talk about and to debate Cork’s rich cultural heritage. Above all at this point in time, my work is not what we as Corkonians have lost but what we have yet to find…
Discover Cork: http://www.obrien.ie/book459.cfm