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The Coal Quay of Cork

Cork – April 2007
‘In the year of our Lord, 1806, we set sail from the Coal Quay of Cork’. (The Irish Rover song). We went to the Coal Quay. Not much to look at, now. The Irish Rover isn’t really an emigrant tale, but we wondered what the boatloads of economic migrants leaving Ireland for America in the 19th century would make of Cork if they saw it now, which of course they can’t because they’re dead, but if they weren’t dead, we think they’d be saying, who’da believed it? The Cork quays are still there, they just don’t have any elegant craft that are rigged fore and aft, any more. But you can somehow imagine it.
Russians unloading grain
A Russian tanker was on the opposite bank, from which was being unloaded grain. A crane lowered its grab into the ship’s hold and brought up a crane-grabful of what looked from where we were like white powder, dripping from the grab, which was then swung round and dropped into a hopper under which was a lorry. Once the lorry was full it drove away to be replaced under the hopper by another. The lorry won’t have had to drive far, as the mill was right close by. Surely there must be a more efficient system than that. We learned that that mill is scheduled for closure, to be relocated further out and its buildings converted into bijou waterside residences, at some point. Periodically someone on the Russian ship shouted through the tannoy, in Russian.
A visiting French naval frigate
Equally intriguing and also on the opposite bank was a French naval ship, with French sailors dressed as they do with a silly red pom-pom on the top of their white hat. And there was obviously some sort of concord going on, for on the back of the ship’s deck a marquee had been erected and people were standing around on one leg with a glass of something. A Black Velvet (Champagne and Guinness) maybe. Probably wasn’t, but should have been. On the back of the ship were draped an Irish and a French flag. Pity we hadn’t been invited, we could have found out what it was all about.
A bistro on every corner
Éamon de Valera came to power in Ireland as it lurched to independence during the 1920s with a vision of a country of Catholic Conservatism, to maintain a land of happy peasants. So there was yet more hardship and yet more emigration to complement that which had taken place in Ireland for decades, emigration this time primarily to England.
It wasn’t really until Ireland joined the EU that its fortunes began to look brighter, with the effect that over the past 20-odd years Ireland has been transformed. It’s now a country with a charming bistro on every corner – well, not really, but it sometimes seems like it’s going that way.
And palm trees
In Cork we were working, and for me who had only one meeting to attend this work was partly on the laptop in the hotel and partly sitting under the palm trees on the quay. For Cork, like the whole of the southwest coast of Ireland, has palm trees in every municipal park and private garden. Palm trees everywhere.
The main shopping street in Cork is St Oliver Plunkett St.


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