Senses of Identity and Belonging

Hybrid Identities

I’ve often asked myself what intrigues me so much about identity. Well, I suppose it makes us who we are. For me, it goes back to when we are born; at birth we are given a name that identifies us as individuals from other members of the family. Then, there is our surname, in other words, our family name that connects us to a group, a ‘clan’ as it were. This notion of ‘clan’ provides the individual with a sense of collective identity; we share a sense of togetherness with those with whom we share our surname. Our names remain with us throughout our lives and it is precisely these names that help identify who we are.

A surname provides an insight into who we are; it can also hold significance as it links us to a specific place. A name can give others an inkling of where we come from. Take for instance my surname, O’Driscoll, the name I ‘carry’, I ‘wear’ if you like; it identifies me with West Cork and even though I grew-up in Castletownbere – to where the name O’Sullivan is linked – I am connected to Sherkin Island and Baltimore where my dad’s family originated. Baltimore was the O’Driscoll clan stronghold where they dominated the regional coastal areas. They had a reputation for being great seafarers, engaged in fishing, trading and piracy!

So a person’s sense of identity can be multi-layered. As well as being an O’Driscoll, I am an Irish citizen from a fishing family/community in West Cork and, as a result, I experience a sense of identity across all four layers. These layers are both at a micro-level and a macro-level blending together to form a unique identity that reveals to who I am. Furthermore, I lived in France (in both Paris and coastal Brittany) for over a decade where I engaged with its culture and language. I always feel at home when I return to France especially to Paris and coastal regions as these are places that shaped my early adulthood. As a matter of fact, each time my husband and I decide to ‘get a taste’ of another city/country/culture, we always, well nearly always, end up booking flights to Paris or some coastal area in France! The reason being, I have embraced the culture and it has become part of my identity. This shows a person’s capacity to merge different identities like a mille feuille! There I go – the connection to France and its (culinary) culture! As people are increasingly mobile, we tend to construct hybrid identities through immersing ourselves into and absorbing new cultures. Oftentimes, we form links between our old and new identities thus creating a ‘fusion’. By the way, coming back to surnames… the fact that mine started with an O’ meant, to the French, that I was undoubtedly Irish!

Let’s look beyond the notion of forming identities within the boundaries of family and homeland. Indeed people have become increasingly mobile and tend to migrate more readily from place to place. People are embracing the ‘travel bug’; and with travel now so readily accessible, individuals are establishing ‘routes’ as well as ‘roots’ elsewhere as they settle into and connect with their new place of choice. Hybrid identities are emerging as more and more individuals share mixed heritage. People relate to each other’s mixité – diversity – and, as a result, become similarities as identities merge to create ‘hybrid’ identities. Globetrotters are constantly creating new forms of identity; they become ‘citizens of the world’ so to speak. They don’t necessarily construct their identity in relation to specific places. As such, identity does not necessarily need to be linked to place. In today’s society identity is fluid as we are more flexible and adaptable to change. There is a myriad of possibilities for identity constructions that occur at different stages of life as well as in various contexts… more on identity in next post… watch the space!

What’s in a Name?

Back to my surname, that brings me to Baltimore, metaphorically, of course. I’d like to mention a book that i’m reading at the moment; it’s by Des Ekin, author of Stolen Village, a book that brings to light that sack of Baltimore, an intriguing story that occurred in 1631.

Back to the task in hand, the book I’m reading at the moment is Ireland’s Pirate Trail, the very name puts a smile on my face as my mom always says that the O’Driscolls were pirates; and, so they were, she is right in saying that but as a youngster it really wasn’t my ideal image of my ancestors!

Exploring our past is a great way to understanding our present, and who we are, and as such why we are…

My grandfather was a fish merchant and traded with France. My dad and his brothers were fishermen as were many of my cousins. Collectively, the family have an innate relationship with the sea and coastal environment. It’s in the blood as we say, we have salt in our veins.

You recall the sense of place I discussed in another post, an attachment that people establish with specific places, well for me, as long as I’m on the coast is what’s the most vital to me. Of course I have a strong connection to West Cork but just being able to see and feel the sea no matter where I find myself…

During my research in both Brittany and West Cork, many of the interviews and conversations held with locals highlight the importance of being in a coastal environment rather than being somewhere specific.

A little bit of “Nice” history…

I recently spent a week in Nice; it’s my second time there. I like to go there during the off-peak season as it’s much quieter and there’s more of a ‘local’ vibe about the place. That said, the city is always dappled with both national and international visitors. Anyway, as I strolled through Nice’s old district I could almost feel a sense of Italy; an identity that remains connected to its Italian origins. It must be said that during the course of most its history Nice would swing between French and Italian dominance. You only need to raise your head to appreciate the names over the shop-fronts. The myriad of restaurants, cafés and other various establishments possess an ambience imbued with “all things” Italian. By the way, for anyone wishing to taste some good pasta I’d recommend La Favola, in Nice’s old quarter.

The Greek seafarers who established and settled in Marseille were those who founded Nice approximately three centuries BCE. The city was probably named in honour of a victory over a neighbouring colony – Nikē is the Greek goddess of victory. After the Greeks the Romans arrived in the first century CE and settled in the mountainous area behind Nice. By the tenth century, Nice was ruled by the counts of Provence when the House of Savoy of Northern Italy, who ruled from Turin, took over in the 13th century. It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that Nice would experience French occupation on several occasions. However, it wasn’t until 1861 when Napoleon III signed the Treaty of Turin that Nice definitively became part of France.

Sandwiched between the Alps and the Mediterranean – entre terre et mer – between land and sea, Nice enjoys an advantageous geographic situation. During the latter half of the 19th century the British aristocracy descended on Nice during the winter season to enjoy its douceur – mild – climate. The favourable climate of Nice and its hinterland continue to attract visitors from the world over. I hope I’ve given you a “taste” of Nice!

Food for Thought: Food as an Important Part of Our Cultural Identity

There are many ‘things’ that connect people to their sense of identity. Personally, I think food establishes a strong link to identity as it is part of one’s culture. If you ask any French or Italian person they will wholeheartedly agree. Food is where memories are made; smells floating in the air, sizzling and chopping sounds, touch of different produce, sight of a delightful plate, and finally the taste… need I say more! Well, as a matter of fact I will…  

When I travel it is not just about escaping the often damp and wet Irish weather, but rather exploring new places and the people that bring meaning to these very places. For me food is an integral part of the voyage. I am passionate about food as it is part of our identity. I appreciate the awakening of my taste buds with new flavours and sharing such sensorial experiences with others, especially my husband who is also passionate about food.

So next time you decide to indulge in a trip to Paris, endeavour to sip your espresso at a ‘real’ Parisian cafe rather than at one of the globally standardised coffee shops! In Italy, bite into an authentic pizza – Margherita is basic but best! – the typical Neapolitan pizza. If you enjoy a great feed of fresh fish especially cod then off to Portugal where they prepare cod in a thousand ways.

Embrace the local culinary identity. Travelling is an adventure that should encompass the taste buds so bring the experience into your plate.

But let’s not forget we have great quality produce in Ireland and especially here in Cork! Both city and county have interesting food markets where local excellence is a trade mark. Yet, despite these resources, Ireland is not recognised for its culinary identity; and consequently, we, Irish, tend to belittle the food distinctiveness of our country. However have you ever asked yourself why we export so much of our produce; why so many foreigners appreciate our Milleens Cheese, produced in Eyeries, West Cork, or Union Hall Smoked Fish, or Clonakilty Black pudding, or our dairy products such as our best butter produced from grass-fed cows… the list is endless. I’m not talking about intensive farming; I’m encouraging you to think about local food at its best. We are fortunate enough to have a rich natural food resource on our doorstep, that is, seafood. Seafood was appreciated by our ancestors, by coastal and inland dwellers alike and would have been a regular part of their diet.  So next time someone makes a comment about our lack of culinary identity, think about our salted ling traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve or our infamous Bacon & Cabbage, and all the new ways in which we can use our local quality produce to embrace traditional food with a contemporary twist. Our senses of identity are created and shaped through our engagement in practices that connect us to particular places. So what are ye waiting for? Go shopping, get your pots and pans out and start experimenting…

I’ve attached a link to an article in the Irish Times; enjoy the read: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/bastille-day-the-french-mostly-know-nothing-about-irish-food-and-cooking-1.3946642

A Breath of Fresh Air…

I enjoy an early-morning walk; before breakfast, especially during the summer time. I actually don’t do it very often as I usually go for my daily walk at around 11 am but relish this early-morning activity.

When both my sister and I are spending a few days at our parents’ we always delight in our early morning activity, usually around 7h30 am. We fill a backpack with our bottles of water, a banana each and sometimes our Mom’s homemade spelt scones with our Dad’s homemade blackberry and apple jam. Delicious!

My sister has a German Shepherd so he is delighted to accompany us. Our usual walk is to the local strand which takes about 20 minutes. Then, we sit on a bench and have our ‘pre-breakfast’ and Darcy has his bowl of water. Depending on the weather we sit enjoying our time; mornings are always so tranquil. There is a certain peace about the place. We sit, watching and listening to the ebb and flow of the tide. Sometimes there are courageous swimmers and fishers out checking their pots. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Arriving ‘home’ we sit down to second breakfast and a good strong cup of ‘real’ coffee. There is something innately therapeutic about the sea, especially the ebb and flow of the tides that mirror, so to speak, the comings and goings of everyday life. It’s good to appreciate and be aware of the small and simple things in life that fill our minds with memories, shared between two sisters.

Next time you find yourself on the coast, find a bench or anything that presents itself in the guise of a seat, and feel your ‘being’ in nature. Be part of the maritime landscape. Breathe in the briny sea air. Perhaps bring a yoga mat or even go for a swim; just 15 minutes of activity, as regular as possible, to increase your flexibility, strength, improve your health, relieve stress and possibly change your life. Once you start it becomes second nature.

Atlantic Irish Mist

For me, a place can never be neutral; landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes…we are shaped by whatever ‘-scape’ surrounds and envelopes us. We come to mirror our environment so to speak.  Have you ever thought about ‘place’ in a profound and philosophical sense?

A rugged terrain appears to characterise its people as tough and hardy; never fearful of getting their hands dirty or their feet muddy.

Coastal in habitants tend to never take for granted the mysterious element that is the sea – calm or chaotic – it will always take its quota of lives.

Lament of a rugged landscape or calamitous sea can be read on the faces and bodies of those working the land or heading out into the vast ocean.

Have you ever felt the scent of the sea waft under your nostrils when you’re journeying through the coast? I’d like to hear about your experiences. ‘Tasting’ a place, literally and metaphorically, is about using our senses to imbue ourselves with the sense of place.

The coast and the sea are important to me. As I sit, I watch the grey clouds travel across ‘an already grey sky’, from the south-west, bringing with them rain from the Atlantic. As they sweep across the sky, Atlantic mist is forming, creating a curtain or rather a blind that closes down on the sea, and thus, shutting out the horizon.

The coast is busy with cargo ships ‘ebbing and flowing’ as the pilot boat transports the local maritime pilots to and from awaiting vessels, each containing specific freight. It’s amusing to guess the size of the boat, from where it came and its onward journey once it leaves the Port of Cork.

The curtain continues to sweep across the bay. I never tire of this view or any sea view for that matter. It is ever-changing; no two days are the same. The curtain draws back, the blind swings up; the clouds are a much lighter shade, yet still no sun in sight, but I don’t mind. That is the beauty of coastal Ireland.

By the way, if you get a chance to view an Irish TV programme called Creedon’s Atlas of Ireland, it is really worth watch. The presenter, John Creedon, explores the true meaning behind some of Ireland’s most unusual and famous place names; each episode is a journey of discovery as John surveys and strides across the island of Ireland for lost meanings in everyday place names. It’s a 3-part series on Sundays at 18h30 for one hour on RTÉ One. You can view it online: http://www.rte.ie/player.

Culture Night – Our Local Craft Makers

Culture Night started in 2006 as a rather small-scale event concentrated only in Dublin. This annual occurrence has become an important and all-encompassing public event across the island of Ireland. It celebrates culture, creativity and the arts. Special and exceptional activities are scheduled at participating locations and everything is available free of charge.

I would like to tell you about my experience of it here in Cork this year – September 20. There was a plethora of activity throughout the county and city, however, I spent time at the Cork County Hall where there was a fantastic craft fair organised by Cork Craft and Design. From 2:00 pm, craft makers from around the county were busy setting-up their stands. Table cloths of all colours and patterns embellished the stands. By 4:00 pm all makers were operational, ready and waiting. There was an astonishing amount of crafters selling their creations from ceramics, and wood to jewellery makers, from lace and knitwear to greeting cards as well as artists putting their creativity into giving new life to organic objects found in nature.

As I meandered around the foyer of the County Hall, I was drawn towards the array of crafted objects, neatly arranged, and so appealing to the eye. I paused at each one, contemplating the items that were imagined, created, and produced by resourceful and artistic individuals. I chatted with some of them; sensitive to the personal stories about what inspired them and continues to motivate them to embrace such an aspiring livelihood. It must be highlighted that creative activity is not easy and many craft makers are regularly challenged in their daily enterprise.

I would encourage anyone reading this post, no matter where you are in the world, to support local industries. These small businesses are often the heartbeat of our towns and villages and without them life in such places would dissolve. Next time you are invited to a wedding, or a birthday party, or perhaps you would like to treat yourself, think of all those craft makers and artists in your local area creating unique work that merit your support. Let’s help sustain our local communities.

If you have not yet participated in Culture Night, come along to experience it for yourself, it’s a great way to celebrate and promote culture through creativity. Check out: https://culturenight.ie/. Bring on 2020…

Food Glorious Food…

Unique and quirky Siopa Gan Ainm –Shop With No Name – is located on the Coal Quay at number 3 Cornmarket St, Cork city. This farm shop and café is open from Wednesday to Saturday. It serves wholesome, honest-to-goodness local food. The shop sells fresh-farm vegetables, meats, free-range eggs, cheese, milk, jams and honey as well as being used in their dishes for breakfast, brunch, lunch and ‘high tea’. This is where I go when I need to go to the city. The chef starts the day by offering breakfast; there is something for everyone, whether you are in the mood for a hearty breakfast or a light bite of French pastries such as croissants. Drop in for your mid-morning coffee and scone. Lunchtime offers a daily dish-of-the-day alongside the usual menu. Pop in for afternoon tea with a slice homemade tart topped up with freshly whipped cream or a slice of cake; there is a great selection of ‘leaf’ teas. Here you will find all local produce, menus cater for vegetarians too. I usually enjoy the ‘veggie breakfast’ if I’m having an early lunch and I’m fortunate enough that it’s still being served at that time of the day – the best poached eggs, just as I prefer them otherwise my choice leans towards the ‘veggie toastie’.

Siopa Gan Ainm

There is a homely feel to the place. The owner and staff are friendly. Be aware that waiting times can be (but not always) a little long but please bear with them. Staff members are overseas students who want to improve their English. Once your plate is placed in front of you, you will not be sorry for the wait. Whether it’s the homemade soup or grilled sandwiches, the food is always tasty. The seating is colourful; tables are placed somewhat haphazardly as the place is small. Regulars have no problem sharing their table if needs be as it can get very busy; they enjoy a good banter. There is always someone to chat to; however, there are newspapers and books if you prefer to read. During the winter months there is a wood fire burning which brings a cosy atmosphere to the place. I enjoy having lunch there when I’m in town and usually indulge in some home baking afterwards. Drop in for a look and perhaps you’ll stop for a bite…

The shop is associated with the weekly Saturday Framers’ Market, also located on the Coal Quay. From 9 am stalls are erected; home-grown vegetables, homemade breads, goats’ milk and cheese, locally-grown apples, and plants and flowers. So much to choose from… during the summer season locals are delighted by the presence of Irish-grown summer fruits – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – scrumptious. And, to top all that, pots of homemade jams are arranged alongside the wonderful-tasting fruits. We are fortunate enough to be an island nation and, therefore, fresh fish is easily available. All these family-run businesses are an inherent part of Cork’s cityscape.