I am writing this from the Metropole Hotel in Cork, where I was invited to be their writer-in-residence for January, writes Louise O'Neill.
Not that I actually stayed here for the month. I’m saving such eccentricities for when I’m rich and old and can act out my Eloise of New York fantasies, living in the “room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza Hotel with her nanny and two pets.
To be honest, when the Metropole first asked me to be the writer-in-residence, I wasn’t sure what that would consist of. A part of me felt as if I should live up to all the clichés, barricade myself into my room with a bottle of Jack Daniels and throw the television out the window as a way of, I don’t know, protesting capitalism or something. But a) I was on the fourth floor and what if the TV hit someone on the way down and killed them and I had to go to jail? I’m too much of a scaredy cat to go to jail. And b) I hate whiskey.
Instead, I spent my time as writer-in-residence being very polite to the staff and holed up in my bedroom, working on my new novel. It did make me think about the way that society often mythologises art and the people who make that art. How terrible behaviour — and frankly terrible, abusive people — have been excused because they’re ‘artists’, as if being an asshole is a prerequisite for creating art.
You don’t need to have an addiction or lead a chaotic, feverish existence in order to be a ‘true’ artist either. Although I would say that, as I’m basically a 90-year-old woman in a 33-year- old’s body. I require structure in order to work — I need a meditation practice and eight hours of sleep a night and a steady, consistent routine. If I was a musician, I would be Chris Martin rather than Keith Richards.
Anyway, it was fun being a tourist in Cork city for a few days. It coincided with the Cork Person of the Year Awards which I was nominated for, but didn’t win. I would have stormed the stage in protest (Imma let you finish…) but Eilíse Ireland and Simon Meehan, the two young scientists who won, were so incredible that I could only applaud in awe.
I had a short conversation with the lovely Simon Meehan afterwards and now feel like an ancient crone AND an underachiever. Whatever I was doing at 16 (hint — unsuitable boys and crying myself to sleep), it certainly wasn’t identifying natural antibiotics in blackberries (science!) and winning awards.
These kids are going to save the world, I’m telling you. The event, as organised by Manus O’ Callaghan, exuded warmth and sincerity, and the array of talent and courage on display from Fergal Keane to Brian Crowley and Mary Crilly of the Sexual Violence Centre, would make you feel very proud to be a Corkonian.
Tracey Kennedy, the Cork GAA chair, recently said, ‘Corkness’ is that “air of confidence just on the right side of arrogance — an unparalleled pride and our insatiable desire for Cork to be the best at absolutely everything.”
At the Cork Person of the Year Awards, that desire to be the best at absolutely everything seemed imminently possible, if not probable.
I am often accused of being obsessed with my home county (My boyfriend: “we get it, you’re from Cork”). Maybe I am. But I know that I spent a long time feeling as if I didn’t fit in, that I was always on the outside looking in.
At university, in tutorials with students who seemed to know exactly what to say, what opinions to have, I would wonder if their seemingly unshakeable confidence came from growing up in South County Dublin or London.
Maybe I was falling behind by mere virtue of having grown up in a small town, destined to always be a country mouse. I didn’t want that. In New York, I often felt embarrassed by it all — by my accent and my soft t’s (washer? the man at the bodega would ask, perplexed, when I wanted a bottle of water), being asked to slow down and repeat what I had just said. I wished for privilege, for childhood Saturdays spent at the MET and MOMA, an apartment on the Upper East Side and a summer house in the Hamptons.
I wanted things to be easier, not to feel as if I was Sisyphus, doomed to push the proverbial boulder up a hill for eternity; constantly striving to achieve greatness and never quite getting there.
It was only when I returned home to West Cork after everything had ostensibly fallen apart — no money, no job, no boyfriend, no idea what to do with myself — that I began to ask myself what it was that I really wanted and, ultimately, what sort of person it was that I wanted to be.
I wanted to belong. I wanted to feel like I was a part of something.
And I found it, here in Cork, in the humour and the slow pace of life and the pride that Cork people have in each other’s achievements.
If one of us succeeds, then all of us do. And I realised that sometimes it’s just as easy as deciding that this place, this person, this life, is home. This is where I will plant my flag.
I’m from Cork, like.
LISTEN: Popsessed is presented by Conor Behan and Holly Shortall, I’m a big fan of both, and I am, well, obsessed with this podcast. Dealing with all things pop culture, it’s smart and funny.
WATCH: Sex Education on Netflix. A teenage boy with a sex therapist mother teams up with a classmate to set up a secret clinic to give sex and relationship advice to fellow students.
A brilliant premise, an excellent — and diverse — cast, and queer-positive storylines. What more could you want?