I never planned on ending up in Cork. I guess I always assumed that my college career would embark on a Dublin bound-journey, in the archaic and beautiful scenery of Trinity (probably because it was the first university I had ever been to, and the Book of Kells is pretty cool). To be honest, I couldn’t have even told you what UCC looked like, this time in 2010. I had no idea that one of the most beautiful learning institutes in the world was located in the south of my own country. For any avid reader of my blog (the group of “avid readers of Gearóidín’s blog” consists of me, my proofreading boyfriend and my mother) you will know why I made the decision to put UCC as my first choice of 3rd level education. For those not familiar, let me just say that fear and anxiety took hold of me and I made a rash and blunt decision to change my plan. I had planned, ever since I was 14, to go to study Law and Accountancy. I had spoken to past and present pupils of the course, I had made a 3 year plan for after my degree, I had booked accommodation! And then, all of a sudden, I switched my preferences! The most rash thing I had ever done.
I had never seen UCC. I had never been to Cork. I had no idea what Cork people were saying, with their sing-song accents and constant referral to someone named “boi”. My first time to enter the city was a stressful affair where my mother and I got horribly lost on Anglesea Street (A fact that seems laughable now), struggled up Bishop Street and tried to park outside the Kane Building before being told that if we weren’t there for “the wedding”, we had to park elsewhere. UCC was not looking good. We drove down on the new motor way on a June morning in a black Ford Focus that was packed with Irish dictionaries and grammar notes – I was having my interview for the Irish Language Accommodation in UCC, were I to be accepted there the coming semester. We parked in the car park at Gaol Cross and walked up the hill toward what was to be my home for the next 4 wonderful years.
We met a boy under the main archway – and I know that I stepped on the crest. The thought makes me shudder. It gets worse – we asked the boy where could we find the O’Rahilly Building and he cheerful directed us. He said walk through the quad…. Of course, any UCC student will tell you that this means, walk around the outside of the quad without walking through the centre or touching the grass. Do not make eye contact with the quad. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. But of course, neither my mother nor I were Munsterites. We had no idea the eternal damnation (or failed exams) that superstition engrained in those fortunate enough to be UCC students. And so, clueless and bliss with ignorance, I walked through the Quad toward the ORB. I’ve been living in fear ever since.
As I waited to be called for my interview, in the lobby of the ORB sat other candidates. A boy with red hair named Dónal, whom I never saw again, a blonde girl who would become my housemate and a girl with dark hair who showed up 20 minutes late in a floral dress who would turn out to be one of my best friends and would live with me for the 3 years I lived in Cork. From that day forward, my life got better. I was accepted to both Áras Uí Thuama and UCC. I moved to Cork in early September 2010. After a few weeks, I had subconsciously begun to refer to my little apartment on Victoria Cross as ‘Home’, much to my mother’s, and particularly my father’s, dismay, both of whom feverishly corrected me with “your home is HERE!” every time I said otherwise. From my very first day, a scorching hot September day where everything was a total blur and I entered hidden places on that orientation tour that I have never been to since (despite 2 years spent giving such tours myself!) to my last day, when I bundled the last of my belongings out of my middle floor bedroom on college road, UCC has been the most unforgettable and enlightening experience.
I cannot overstate the beauty of the campus. I still remember the first night I was late leaving the college. I was a bartender at the time in the Old Bar, and I had the late shift. I left the bar just before 10pm. As I rounded the corner of the main quadrangle, on my way to Gaol Cross, I was struck dumbfounded by what awaited me. The castle-esque North Wing was illuminated by the flood lights below, and by the backdrop of twinkling stars above. I was frozen to the ground, because it was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, even to this day. The campus was silent, and it was only the lights from the Boole Library behind me that hinted at any other forms of life. I stood there, staring up at the old, grey -stoned archway, at the president’s wing, at the windows that had looked out at so many students who had come before me and I was silent. I took a photo on my phone, a photo which I still have. I look at it some times and get the same shiver down my spine as I did on the night in 2010 when it was taken. I was taken aback, not only by the beauty, but by the knowledge that the image before me way momentous – the knowledge that UCC would, from that point on, be mine.
Despite its beauty, UCC would never have held for me the special place that it does were it not for the friendships I made.
I have made some of the most wonderful and life-long friends in the Rebel County. The goodbyes I have said over the past few weeks have been incredibly difficult. Even writing this now is difficult. The lump in my throat is becoming problematic and my eyes are a little more than misty. Because for almost 4 years, I have taken for granted that these wonderful, truly wonderful people, would be there tomorrow: they would be there, in the various rooms in my house on college road; they would be in my apartment in Montana, halfway across the world with me as my best friend; they would be having coffee with me in the ORB or studying with me in Q+1. I took advantage of the fact that I would sit next to these people in Jurisprudence, share a taxi with them to Voodoo Rooms, see them sleep on my sofa after a night on the town and go for a stroll with them around the Lough. I took this advantage because the reality was so much harder – that the day where those friends of mine were no longer a permanent fixture in my life was fast approaching. That day has arrived. Thankfully, the world is made smaller by Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype, but nothing will compare to the wonderful feeling of actually being with my friends in UCC. There is no Snapchat picture that can encapsulate procrastinating in the Student Centre or getting a hot chicken roll at Daybreak on College Road.
The ominousness of goodbye is overshadowed by the unstoppable force of the future. The friendships made are one of the best parts from my time in Cork. I’ve been so fortunate to have found some of the most wonderful people to call my friends. I left Laois, terrified that I would be alone and then arrived in a place so abundant with people willing to accept me, that my fear suddenly turned into a feeling of belonging. Most of the people I have met in UCC are going places. It makes me so happy to see their success and it is but a tinge of sadness that seeing some of the closest friends I have ever had will probably involve a flight and maybe even a visa from now on. I refuse to name names, because I could write a book on the subject alone and I would have to dedicate the first two chapters to introductions alone (and lets face it, you all know who you are), but my UCC family – lets call it what it is – have been there for me, mostly unknowingly, through some of the hardest parts of the past 4 years. To the men and the women, the speech and language therapists, the Francophiles, the lawyers, the Gaeilgeoirís, geologists, teachers, sociologists and the nurses – all of you have shaped my life, made me happy, made me who I am and made me the better for it. I could never thank all of these people enough, show them enough appreciation. All I can do, all I will do, is try to be the friend that they have been to me, since each one of them wandered into my life. My little Cork family of tremendous people have been with me, through thick and thin. They have also been with me through, and formed the majority of, the best parts of my 4 short years. And the tears I have shed in saying goodbye are but a testament to the love I have for all of you.
They say school days are the best days of your life. I don’t know if that is meant to include college. Having spent 4 years in such a beautiful institution, then I can only assume that third level is encompassed by the maxim. UCC gave me a Law and Irish degree that I will be proud of for the rest of my life. It taught me about mens rea, actus reus, res ipsa loquitur, the tuiseal ginideach and the modh ordaitheach. I don’t know how often I’ll use those things, but the University College of Cork also gave me some of the most useful skills I have in my arsenal today. It made me independent and opinionated. It made me strong enough to stand up for the things I believe in, to stand up for myself and to stand up for others when the situation demands it. It taught me that sometimes people will hurt you, and sometimes you will let them. It has taught me that however bad things get, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, or more often, a friend in the tunnel with you, holding a flash light. After my undergraduate I may now be able to hold my own in a conversation about limited liability and directorship of a company, but I am also capable of being a well rounded, driven and happy person. From within the picturesque campus, I became not only a graduate of BCL (Law and Irish), but I also became the best and most confident version of myself that I have ever been. I grew, over the past 4 years, into someone who I am happy to continue to be. And because of that, UCC will forever be part of my heart, part of my home.
UCC was the most unexpected journey I have ever taken and it turned out to be the best, Because the places I have been to, the places I am going and the future that awaits me would never have become reality were it not for my years in college in Ireland’s real capital. I began writing this post weeks before I even began my final exams (in an effort to procrastinate, no doubt) in mid April. It is now almost July and I am still tinkering and fixing it. I am doing so, because I know it is never likely to be perfect. There is no earthly way that I could encapsulate the experiences I have had, the person I have become and the love that I will hold dearly in my heart for UCC and all that it has given me over the past 4 years. All that I can do, all that I am capable of, is to say with certain knowledge that no matter where I go in life, no matter how far away I am, a part of me will always be longing for the beautiful university on the banks of the River Lee.