It’s not a beautiful word, is it, Munster? It doesn’t reflect the beauty of the place it names — it sounds too like munter, “an unattractive person, especially a woman”. Or the Munsters, that kitsch monster family from 1964 who were never quite as famous as the Addams. Or Monster Munch. Or mustard. There’s a medieval city in Germany called Munster, and a suburb in Indiana, pop 22,000. And there’s us.
I was made in Munster the year Sgt Pepper was released, before releasing myself from Munster nineteen years later; provincial Ireland was not a fun place to be in the Eighties, especially for women. Far more exciting the vast anonymity of London, the friendly sunshine of Barcelona, the heat of faraway places where it never rained and nobody knew your business.
So when Cork is set solidly at 1987 in the aspic of your mind’s eye, it’s always peculiar when you visit and see how much things have changed.
We have a gay Indian Dubliner as Taoiseach. We have shamed shame, so that it no longer shames us. These days we have pride, and progressive legislation
And a crazed spaghetti of new roads so confusing that you keep ending up on the motorway to Dublin every time you pop out to the local shop, which now sells hummus and almond milk, as well as Cork favourites like frisbee-sized Danish pastries and buckets of mayo-drowned coleslaw and scary looking fried meat items behind heated glass counters. Overpriced wine
Obviously, old habits prevail, our ingrained insecurities, our addiction to stuff — although to be fair, this is not just Munster, or even Ireland. But Cork’s esteem indicators have their own Cork flavour — people telling you how many bedrooms are in their house, and fretting about which year their car was made because it’s displayed on the reg. The ubiquity of four wheel drives and blonde ponytails. The migration routes to Lanzarote and Marbella.
The pursuit of stuff and objects and things as a way of showing how well we are doing. The insane car culture, because nobody wants to take the bus. Amongst the same old comes the beautiful new. Black faces with Cork accents, like Linda in Young Offenders, all part of the slow opening up of the colour palette. The gradual broadening of what was previously a theocratic monoculture. Decent yoga studios and decent coffee. Blindboy selling out the Opera House, inspiring people to think in new ways, and to spread that thinking wider.
As an insider / outsider, this is quite tricky to write. Cork people tend to dislike it when others who have been away forever pop up with observations about Cork — defensiveness is in our DNA. Maybe it’s a post colonial thing — feck off back to England if it’s so great etc. (It’s not, it’s been taken over by fascists). But amid the cultural shift that has freed us up, some things remain constant —our optimism, humour, resilience. And our terrible, terrible coleslaw.