When Americans ask me, "Where are you from?" I always say, "Cork". But they mean, like, "What country are you from?" I'm always miffed when they don't know about Cork or think it means a wine cork. They say, "You mean like 'cork'?" and I say, "Yes, that's what I effing mean."
How could you not know about Cork? It’s the best city in Ireland. But some of those people are from Mexico City, with 20 million people, or Brooklyn, with two million people, and they don’t even know about Ireland.
So despite me thinking I’m cosmopolitan and well travelled, I see how parochial I am when I get defensive.
But I stand by it. Cork has everything. Americans say, “We don’t need to leave America. We’ve got it all: We’ve got mountains. We’ve got sea. We have skiing.” We have all of that in just one county in Ireland. Well, not skiing but, you know, mountains and sea. And we definitely have the best food.
And the people! I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but we’re so charming. We’re dark-eyed, charming, mystical storytellers. I’m just trying to see us from the outside and that’s what I see: strikingly good-looking, sexy raconteurs. But quiet about it, you know? Very quiet about it.
I love all of Cork . . . I love east Cork because of its gentle pastoral land. I always think I know when butter is from east Cork and when it’s not. I love west Cork because of all the Protestants and their industry and their hard-working nature.
Then Cobh has the Cobh Heritage Centre, and you can learn how Cobh people got really rich during the Famine because all the poor people left from there in the coffin ships.
For Cork city, two words: butter museum. It’s incredible. It’s by the Firkin Crane, my favourite place to play in Cork. That’s right next to the Shandon Bells, where you can go up and ring the bells and propose. You can basically do whatever you want in Cork. Well, anything to do with butter.
Vibes & Scribes is a really good book shop. There’s obviously the English Market, which is brilliant, and the Farmgate Cafe there, which has out-of-control apple tart.
Then, this is quite a personal one, but it’s what I tell my friends here in New York to do: try to spot a Higgins.
There are Higgins sisters all over Cork. How many sisters do I have? I don’t know, but they’re everywhere. They’re dotted around Cork. But don’t go up to them. They hate it. It really annoys them that I tell people to do this.
Is there anything bad about Cork? No. Maybe part of me is like, “I want more. I want more Cork.” Then another part of me is like, “No, it’s the perfect size.” Have you ever seen Sylvester Stallone in real life? He’s quite small, but he’s just perfect, and I think Cork is the same: unexpectedly small but still a very durable star.
You know when English guys got rewarded or punished by the king? If they were punished they’d be sent to the stony parts of Ireland, and if they were rewarded they’d get the nice parts. Well, I see myself as going out and working really hard in England and the United States, and then I’m going to be rewarded by going back to Cork, with its beautiful soil and the fabulous sunsets. And I’ll be, like, “I earned this.”
In conversation with Patrick Freyne