Leaving Cork

My first piece ever, was published in The Irish Examiner.bus 3

Leaving Cork is something I’d expect to be getting used to at this point.  I’ve been doing it seriously for 21 years now. That first time was the worst.  Right before leaving for the airport my Dad and I took a walk down a country boreen by his house in Waterfall, and I waited for him to ask me not to go.  I would have changed my mind so easily then.  But he didn’t.  Instead he talked about the power of youth and opportunity, and the importance of being brave with your life.  That was all very inspiring of course, but what I really wanted him to say was, “Leave? Don’t be ridiculous.  Come back inside and we’ll have a cup of tea”. He didn’t though, and I sobbed and sighed all the way to Shannon, and then heaved my way, in a snotty, drippy mess through immigration.  How did they even let me on that plane?  It was the early 1990s though, the Irish economy was bad, and US immigration officers were probably well used to the sight of heartbroken Irish youngsters setting out to try to make a better fate for themselves in the new world.

It’s been twenty one years now since I left Cork to start my new life in Florida – I know, you suddenly don’t feel so sorry for me anymore, but leaving Cork has become only marginally easier over the years. As I write, I am sitting on the Aircoach from Cork to Dublin. This time I was home for a funeral.  Only the second funeral I’ve had to rush home for over the years, but a very hard loss. Leaving my father behind, knowing that he is now not only bereft of me (and my sister and brother, who both left Cork in time), but also his main partner in crime, his sister Rita, is just so difficult.  I am at that awkward age now where funerals in my parents generation are becoming increasingly common place, and I can’t help but think about how leaving Cork that very first time has taken so many days away from us already.

Whatever the reason for the visit, the rituals of leaving remain the same.  The day before I mentally check  to see if I have met up with everyone I intended to, and eaten everything I meant to. If not, action plans are put into place. The night before I start to gather the mass that began to flow out of my suitcase, like slow seeping lava, since the day of my arrival.  With every day that passes it has poured out in increasing volume.  For some reason, and without fail, I catch myself singing John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane quietly to myself as I go through this process. Contents of suitcase have at least tripled in size, a fact I seem to never remember to plan for when doing the initial packing.  The expansion is fueled by too many trips to Penney’s and Dunnes (shoes that I absolutely did not need, but were only four euro – you’d have to), tons of Cadbury’s chocolate – Twirls, Crunchies, Flakes, boxes of Barry’s Tea Bags (the one Cork commodity that I have not been able to move on from in the past two decades), Sudocrem and the all important 20 pack of Tayto, destined to be reduced to crumbs within two seconds of being packed, as I inevitably sit on the suitcase in order to get it to close.  Zippers strain, and not just on my luggage. The fear of the weighing scale at the airport is totally trumped by the fear of the one in my bathroom in Orlando.  Not only has the luggage expanded but there has also been a personal expansion; the inevitable result of ten days of Seize the Day style indulgence in Clonakilty sausages and pudding, Tom Durcan spiced beef, crusty bread rolls, brown bread, trips to KC’s in Douglas, and an immodest amount of pints of Murphy’s. That other kind of excess baggage is going to take a more sustained and even less pleasant effort to deal with.

The ritual of packing is a good distraction from the reality of the departure.  Used to be my aunt Rita would come over the night before I left and give moral support as I engaged in the ritual. Not this time though; Rita’s in St. Finbarr’s now.  She was buried with her head where her feet should have gone, and though we all noticed it at the time, in good Cork fashion, no one thought to question it.  So I got the packing done on my own last night.  Dad likes to avoid that part of the proceedings so we can stay in the moment a while longer.  Packing complete we sit by the fire watching TV, as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening in the morning.

I did do better at hiding my tears from Dad as he drove me in to Patrick’s Quay to catch the bus this morning. I held it together, singing Neil Diamond loudly with him on the way into town. Because we were running late there was only time for a quick goodbye on the Quay,  “Thank you. I love you”, I said, grateful for the time crunch because I could not bear even the suggestion that he might have tears in his eyes.  Off he drove alone, and I swung my bags onto the bus.

If my father was a selfish man, I imagine that he might have felt more inclined to ask me to stay this morning than that first time I left him.  He might have suggested that we turn around and go home for a cup of Barry’s more readily.  But he’s not, and now I have a husband and children and a life on the other side of the Atlantic.  It’s a good life, and I am blessed to have it, but despite my 21 years away it becomes increasingly obvious that my spiritual home is the one by the Lee, and it looks as though leaving Cork is never going to get any easier.

32 thoughts on “Leaving Cork

  1. Well said Cathy, although I’m not as far away from Cork as you are, I still get teary every time I have to leave Leeside, it will always be home


  2. You are so blessed to have such a wonderful father who adores you. I’m so happy you had time to connect with him and to celebrate Rita. She sounds lovely and sounds a lot like you.
    I hope to visit Cork someday soon as it looks so majestic and spiritual…
    Hugs and safe travels back to Florida!


  3. a flight attendant on business jets..
    Away also 21yrs but get back every few weeks…
    I often wonder if my folks stopped me from leaving ..
    Where would I be now????
    A untraveled girl who never left cork ???would I be happier???
    It’s the same questions I ask every time I walk through cork departure gates ….
    Just ate 2 bags of tayto on my flight home to cork ( they sell them onboard now)
    Enjoyed reading you blog,
    Sinead home for 18days 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow
    So true I left for the first time way back I n 1985 for California
    Been back multiple times since then( some for funerals )
    It eventually gets easier mostly when parents are gone
    Sometimes I too wonder what if I never had left CORK
    Where would I be now ????
    in the 80 there wasn’t a lot of work so one kinda needed to go
    Anyway sure it was just for a holiday my dad said
    Left 25 times some of them I cried all the way to the airport
    Thinking I’d never see certain people again ( true )
    I mostly wonder if my kids grew up there instead of here with an
    Abundance of cousins which would be better for them
    Ultimately there is only one answer and I believe that is that
    There was a reason to leave and a reason to not return ( not yet anyway )
    I read the examiner online almost nightly before bed
    Sure I know everything whats happening before they do ha ha

    Thanks for your lovely article it got me smiling and brought back
    Many memories


    Liked by 1 person

  5. In Cork
    The sun is in the right place
    The roads lead to where I’m going
    The crowd is us not them
    Buses go where I am going
    I know who I am
    In Sydney
    The light is white
    and too bright
    The roads are business only
    there is no time for thinking of where I fit
    and buses take me where I don’t want to go

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Gives me great consolation reading this. I know the feeling oh too well of the last night at home in Cork before I board a plane back to the USA!! laughing reading this (pennys, clonakiltys) and tearing up too ( last night with the fire watching tv) thanks xxx


    • Yes Very well written I first read this Years ago and it’s as true today As ever it was I have left and returned to cork Over 26 times these last 31 years It does get a little easier with each Passing years Thank God the taytos are still the same Tom

      Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors as This request may have been sent via VoiceOver text Tom O Connor. Owner O’Connor & Sons Electric Office (650) 813-9159 Cell. (650) 740-1121 Email tom@paloaltoelectric.com Info @www.Paloaltoelectric.com Info @www.oconnorelectric.com


      Liked by 1 person

  7. I understand completely how you feel. We left Ireland in the nineties and lived abroad for almost eight years. I gave it two years before admitting that I would have to return some day for good. Although we didn’t live as far as you from home, we didn’t have a lot of money for trips back but managed it once a year. The goodbyes at the end of each visit are so difficult and I too have traveled on buses to airports with tears in my eyes. Thank goodness for air travel, I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for those who emigrated, or were forced to, in the past and had to travel to distant continents by sea. We’ve been back now almost seven years and living in East Cork and I’m loving every day of it, in spite of the atrocious weather these past few months.


    • I’m glad it’s going well for you back home. At this point I think I’ve been so spoiled by Floridian weather, it would be hard for me to cope with the grey anymore; but there is lots to recommend home too, so I’ll never say never!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The weather is definitely a plus for you. It’s good to never say never as we go through so many different stages in life. Things are rarely written in stone. Enjoy all that sunshine, I’m almost jealous. 🙂


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