Lord Mayor’s Column, 24 November 2023

Christmas in Cork:

Christmas is an annual stroll down memory lane. It is part of our heritage – our way of life. The ghosts of Christmas pasts are religiously recalled as we prepare to be locked in a type of time warp for a fortnight or so. There are other memories that I can remember – the joy of the school holidays. The dark evenings sitting in the back of the car as my mother collected my Dad from work on St Patrick’s Street or Pana. I remember being taken back by the magical, transforming and bright Christmas lights on the narrow Oliver Plunkett Street. From the safety of the car, I also remember the blustery Atlantic winds and the wintry rain as it dislodged Corkonians in their shopping path.

I remember the Christmas trees on the streets and the Crib in the centre of Pana guarded annually by Share supporters. I can recall the huge crowds hoping over the central rails of the street to get to the other side of the street as if the railings provided an annual workout for our jaywalking Cork citizens.

I remember going to Ballyvolane Shopping Centre, when it initially opened and visiting Santa – those were the days, those wonderful and magical Christmases filled with Santa and the associated photos inset in the family photo albums. I remember my father bringing us to see Santa Claus The Movie in the old Capital Cinema.

The panto in the opera House was annually frequented. The opening bars of the entracte transported one to another world. Dames like Billa O’Connell brought me along in the story – you believed – you watched in awe as the battle between good and evil took place and then everyone lived happily afterwards.

Have my childhood memories changed in 35 years? Do I still get inspired and re-inspired. Yep I still do.  It’s difficult not to be re-awakened by Christmas, that season of specialness. Once the street Christmas lights are turned on, the city seems to buzz with anticipation.

The preparation begins weeks before the 25 December and with growing commercialisation gets earlier every year. Contrasting against all that goes with that debate, the Crib on St Patrick’s Street gets pride of place and reminds one of a fortress surrounded by Share collectors who spread out over the city centre engaging Corkonians.

Prepping for Christmas:

This year is no different in Cork in the build-up to Christmas. At the recent launch of Corkmas, I was particularly delighted to see familiar faces from the city’s hospitality, retail and cultural sector as they actually are ‘Christmas in Cork’. They are the smiling faces that welcome us into crowded hotel lobbies and restaurants in the frenzied days before Christmas and the people who patiently advise us as we scurry to find a last minute present for that awkward relative. They are the creatives and makers who nourish our souls at the plethora of pantomimes, music, arts and cultural events that will be staged in the coming weeks.

Christmas in Cork is also all about food, drink and people. It’s about trying to hit the English Market early in the morning so the crowds will be less and then realising everyone thought similarly. It is about catching up with friends and family for food and drinks, promising to make a bigger effort next year and then promptly forgetting the minute you hop on the bus home

It is about bumping into old class and college mates that you haven’t seen in years, and even if you didn’t particularly know them, spending 10 heart-filled minutes catching up on each other’s lives. It’s about spiced beef, warmth, spontaneity, glittering lights, laughter, it’s about Christmas traditions, both new and old.

For the city’s traders, artists and creatives and particularly during the current cost of living crisis and in the face of growing online shopping, the last quarter of the year is often a  ‘make or break’ period. The season often provides them with a crucial buffer that supports them to keep trading and creating through far more challenging times of the year. 

Launching Corkmas:

With this in mind, Cork City Council, working with local creative agency, Babelfís -and having engaged with yourselves- has created the ‘Corkmas’ campaign aimed at firstly encouraging people to think sustainably by supporting local and  secondly celebrating, discovering, and re-discovering the many experiences and traditions, new and old, that make Christmas time in Cork so unique.

As well the iconic ferris wheel on Grand Parade, this year Corkmas introduces a wonderful new winter light experience in the city centre, SOLAS – which I will invite you to experience with me in a few minutes. The SOLAS light and sound experience will run every day of the week until 21 December, from 4pm to 11pm daily. 

On top of that every weekend from 24 November, SOLAS will be a hub of family friendly fun, musical performances, Christmas singalongs and festive entertainment. Many thanks to Fáilte Ireland’s for their support of the SOLAS winter light experience.

Over seven kilometres of lights are being turned on across city streets and 60 Christmas trees lit up by Cork City Council, Cork Business Association (working with traders) and also by independent outlets.

Over the coming days and weeks you will see Corkmas in public spaces, across media (both traditional and digital) and in a campaign with Red FM at Cork Airport to promote the city’s offering to people coming home and to visitors.

A new map, which beautifully illustrates the festive activities taking place across the ‘magical city of Corkmas’, encourages people to get further details on these varied seasonal events at corkmas.ie. Corkmas has been created to better support, amplify and market what activities there are and striving for a unified voice.

This is only the beginning of Corkmas. It’s a campaign and festive programme that will be built upon in the coming years so that Cork ultimately becomes a destination during the festive season.

So what are you waiting for, Christmas is what you make it no matter what age you are at. Get out and re-witness your youth in the city. Look to the skies and perhaps who will re-awaken your imagination and see a team of reindeer pulling a sleigh with a red suited bloke pushing onwards through the Cork sky…

Check out www.corkmas.ie