Perhaps the most peculiar thing I saw during the first week of classes at University College Cork was the Hot Beverage Society. I was confused how a student organization could keep membership when its primary purpose was the communal appreciation of tea and coffee. Yet the group’s table was the most popular in the quad! As it would happen, some of the most formative moments of my first two months in Ireland and its southern gem—Cork—would involve beverages of the hot variety.
Soon after moving to Ireland, I headed out to Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. While there, I spent time with a few of the Benedictine nuns living and working at the abbey as well as those involved with the new Notre Dame Centre at Kylemore. It was a fantastic fáilte to Ireland and its beautiful west.
After long walks and talks around the gardens and grounds, some of which devolved into quick jogs back to shelter in the incessant rain, tea was the ubiquitous healer and conversation promoter. Before driving in Ireland for the first time, late at night on the pitch-black and sheep-laden roads of Connemara, a shared cup of tea amongst my car companions was my invigoration. I credit it’s soothing sensations as the only reason I was calm (and awake) enough to slam on the breaks when greeted by a snoozing sheep sprawled in the middle of the road just a few feet around a curve.
Another kind of fáilte!
As I’m learning, Cork likes to assert a rebellious nature. The painted electrical boxes throughout the city centre speak to Cork’s self-assigned importance: “End Dublin rule in Cork!,” or “Ireland is like a bottle. It won’t float without a cork.” Perhaps one of Cork’s most important points of pride is—dare I say—tea.
Barry’s Tea to be exact, based in Cork.
There are twelve students in my masters program at UCC, ten are Irish, one is Colombian and Lebanese, and one is “the American,” as they’ve jokingly started calling me. We’ve formed a great bond quite quickly, enjoying conversations about the world, sports, and politics. The relationships started in class, but they were strengthened over tea and shared meals. This past week, we gathered together in my apartment for tea and biscuits. I mark this as my first Irish #madeit moment.
My new friendships with other Mitchells have also grown over hot beverages. Tea and coffee is in ample supply at Azza and Carla’s beautiful Galway abode, gracing our conversations and explorations along the Atlantic. It’s also fueling Azza and my new attempt to write a novel in November with NaNoWriMo (wish us luck, please). Sharing hot beverages with Claire and Chris has made our times sitting and chatting on St. Stephen’s Green that more special. Megan and I relaxed after a long day jazzing at the Cork Jazz Fest with another kind of hot beverage, this one made with lemon and cloves among other things.
Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t report enjoying a pint or two of Murphy’s over the last two months, but tea has been the unforeseen through-line, kindly steeping my new Irish life with friends and great conversation.