When We Were Kings and Queens of the Road: Cónal Creedon

Downtown Cork city is like being centre stage in a West End musical. It’s an animated warren of shops and arcades, inhabited by every class of shopkeeper, hawker and market trader you could imagine. It’s a city of characters and chancers, and a wander through the streets is an education in itself.

It’s true to say that I learned more about life and human nature on my walks home from school than I ever did in a classroom. Each journey an adventure, a voyage of discovery, an exploration that offered an opportunity to engage with the city and its people.

Cónal and Asha

Many decades have passed since my school days, and yet that sense of wonderment is still indelibly etched deep into the creases of my cranium. And so, after all these years, I regularly find myself back at the school gate, waiting to collect my niece Asha – what a wonderful opportunity to re-engage with the city and reflect on a refresher course of life and human nature through a new set of eyes.

On a typical damp Wednesday afternoon, our first port of call is for a hot chocolate in Cork’s English Market. Then onward to the Kino Cinema for a game of Ludo. She has been known to rearrange her dice while I’m momentarily distracted by some old black and white Japanese film flickering in the background – she has learned from the best.

– “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” says I. – “But ten out of ten for trying!”

More often than not we will swing by the Crawford Gallery to chat with friends and check out what’s hanging on the walls. With the darkness of evening coming in, we leave the Kino and make our way back across the flat of the city. We usually drop in to John Breen at Waterstone’s, sometimes we pop in to say, – Hello, to our favourite shopkeepers: Catriona in Oasis, or Noelle in Peacock and Ruby, or Breda in Miss Daisy Blue.

Hot chocolate is a necessary part of fuelling for the trip home

Cork is a city of steps and steeples, more steps and sheep hills that stretch endlessly upwards in every direction from the deep bowl of downtown. We make our way up along Shandon Street, lamppost by lamppost until we reach Mrs. O’Driscoll’s magical toy shop. She is the Queen of Shandon Street and her shop a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of flashing fairy lights where all that glitters is gold. Then one final stop off at Linehan’s sweet factory for a natter and a packet of Dolly Mixtures for the long walk home…

Linehan’s sweet shop is a firm favourite

And as we amble along from post to pillar, it’s non-stop chatter about this and that and nothing at all. She might mention something about homework, to which I give a stock reply:

– “Ah sur’ missing the homework one night wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it? It never did me no har-um…”

And that’s the way we go, doing the Pana Shuffle, weaving in and out of winding streets and market stalls, crossing bridges and stopping to chunter with whoever, whenever we take the notion.

As I say – our meander through the streets of downtown Cork is a bit like being in a musical. Maybe it’s the sing-song sound of people talking, or the way Corkonians engage in a deep and meaningful way about nothing at all – and there is always a sense that at any moment the whole street could burst out into song …
Yep, the walk home from school is an education in itself – and me and my niece Asha are PhD students – figuring it out as we go along.

“A photograph me in a cowboy suit with my dad.”  

“An interesting juxtaposition – it’s as if as I got bigger my dog got smaller [note still wearing the red shoes!]”

“Me with three of my sisters. I had eight older sisters – my mother once said I was five years of age before my feet touched the ground being passed from one to the other.” 

“Me and Miss Collins my Teacher.”

Cónal Creedon is a novelist, playwright and documentary filmmaker.
Winner of the Eric Hoffer Literary Award USA 2022.
Recipient of Lord Mayor’s Culture Award 2020.
Appointed – Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing UCC 2018.

[www.conalcreedon.com] [www.IrishtownPress.com]

On behalf of the Museum of Childhood Ireland and Robert Burns, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful participants for their time and their stories. We are thrilled to be presenting this project and we hope you will enjoy following along with us in the coming weeks.

Have a story on this topic and want to get involved? Contact us on our social media sites, or email us at cbrowne@museumofchildhood.ie – we would love to hear from you!

By Chloe Browne

Chloe Browne is an Irish writer, curator and Art Historian, with a keen interest in objects and social history.