All posts in Comment

  • Beach

    A Sunday morning walk in Myrtleville, Co. Cork.

    Although my knowledge of physical geography is rather basic, I was taken in by the features of my coastal walk, which were shaped by the forces of the sea and weather meeting the rock and land. The toll of the numerous winter storms were evident even on this calm, bring Spring morning. The patterns of the deposited worn rocks, in successive shelves, crafted by the waves were especially impressive, as I walked along one such shelf about 1.5m above the waves breaking with a further shelf rising c.1m further up again.

    A beautiful example of a sea cliff

    A beautiful example of a sea cliff

    Different layers of deposition and erosion

    Different layers of deposition and erosion

    The pleasant waves appear a little off shore before coming in to meet the exposed rock, with slight splashes made. It is at this place, in these actions, that the sea and land meet. The back and forth of the waves creating a liminal layer between these two worlds.

    (Re)Sounding Emergence
    Recorded using my phone and the Soundcloud App, I capture some of the ambient waves followed by my own treading across two of the beach surfaces. The audio of my walking captures the interactions of my feet on the stones, with my prescence being felt in the very action of each impact. With only the sound as the evidence of this process, the beach and I have equal roles in creating these moments. When the feet are mid-stride, in air, they are absent, it is only when the surface and I come into to contact that we are made present, made be.

    For a superb exploration of coastal areas and experiences, see Anna Ryan’s Where Land Meets Sea: Coastal Explorations of Landscape, Representation and Spatial Experience

  • The Postbox: History, Nationalism and novelty

    Postboxes, once essential pieces of communications infrastructure which connected villages, crossroads and neighbourhoods to the rest of the world, are still noticeable features of landscapes and roadsides. Public postboxes in the Republic of Ireland, administered by the semi-state organisation An Post, are green. While more recent boxes tend to be more functional, older ones had distinct designs such as the hexagonal-sided Penfold or the familiar small box attached to a telegraph pole.

    VR for Victoria Regina 1837 - 1901

    VR for Victoria Regina 1837 – 1901 Greenmount Cork

    ER for Edward Rex 1901 - 1910

    ER for Edward Rex
    1901 – 1910 Douglas Cork

    Postboxes also have symbols, representative of the time of their production. Previous to the current An Post there was P&T (Dept. of Post and Telegraphs) and  Saorstát Eireann (Irish Freestate). However, there are even older boxes, still in use, which feature the royal insignia from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when all of the island of Ireland was part of the UK.  You can still find boxes with ER (Edwardus Rex) or VR  (Victoria Regina) which date from the period 1901 – 1910 and c.1850s-1901 (although Queen Victoria’s reign was 1837 – 1901, postboxes didn’t come to Ireland until at least the c.1850s) respectively. Although rather solid and simple devices, it still is marvelous, if not surprising, that they have survived so long. It is nice to consider the thousands of letters (with the intentions, news, connections and emotions they contained)  that would have passed through them.

    It is noteworthy that these very clear, albeit ordinary, symbols of the British Monarchy survived in places through times when such things were readily destroyed. While statues, flags and buildings were attacked for nationalistic reasons, these objects survived, possibly being saved because of their very ordinariness or usefulness. Also, when the majority of Ireland transitioned to becoming a Free State, these boxes did pose an issue; however, a rather straightforward, yet clever, and utterly Irish, solution was to paint the red British boxes green. This transformation has lasted for over ninety years. The symbol of British Monarchy, covered over by green paint can be a metaphor for so many features in the Irish state, from Primary Schools to Common Law.

    On your travels throughout Ireland, and even in your own neighbourhood, check the postbox, you may find an interesting piece of heritage, geography, symbolism and materiality. However, make sure you get there before 4.30pm .

    For more:

    Irish Postal History site

    An Post: History and Heritage: The Post Box

  • Social Geography: Street Harassment and Everyday Sexism

    Social geography considers how individuals and groups experience and use spaces. In particular, the everyday lives of people – how they move through the world, what they do where, who controls behaviours – are of interest.

    Social concepts, such as gender, class and ethnicity influence our everyday lives. Social geographers, therefore, pay attention to how these elements affect people and spaces. For example, think about how different people move through the city. Can everyone roam freely (as is the ideal in a modern free-society)? Or, are there barriers, both real and perceived? The redirecting of a traffic flow makes a road unsafe for children to play, an elderly person walks the long way around avoid a group of teenagers, a busker is moved along, a deaf person doesn’t go to the cinema because of a lack of subtitles.  All these show how space is used, misused and controlled by people, groups, ideas and institutions.

    The Everyday Sexism Project and Stop Street Harassment are two examples of social projects that demonstrate how gender continues to define how people use and experience the world. These projects catalogue and comment on the daily harassment that women, of all ages, but especially young women (very young in some cases), and LGBQTIA people experience in their everyday lives.

    A search through Twitter for #EverydaySexism or #StreetHarrassment will get a barrage of results that indicate the unpleasantness, aggravation and abuse that women suffer on a daily basis.

    • “”Hey baby, you need a ride? I’ll treat you nice” and then, “bitch, I asked you nicely” Why do I leave my house?”
    • “Being told you have to take precautions against men creeping in parking lot. How about security is provided instead?”
    • “Hate it when middle aged blokes in a van think it’s ok to beep at you as you’re crossing the road with your shopping”
    • “Bloke on the train just said ‘I’d love to have sex with you, love’”

    These are real examples of what people have to experience.  It is in all out interests to counteract and challenge these behaviours and circumstances when they arise. Projects and organisations such as these are doing amazing work at highlighting very real and troubling issues, which are very obviously of concern to us all, not just social geographers.

    #SHOUTINGBACK (Extended Version)

    Everyday Sexism: Laura Bates at TEDxCoventGardenWomen

  • Cork Christmas: SHARE

    One of the most distinct aspects of Christmas in Cork is the presence of SHARE collectors throughout the city centre in the week leading up to Christmas Day (which, obviously from my point of view, creates unique geographies). SHARE (Students Harness Aid for the Relief of the Elderly) is a Cork-based charity which supports older people through housing, socialising and activities. It is a most excellent organisation that does a massive amount of work throughout the year. Also, it involves a special connection between older people and students in the city.

    The annual Christmas collection is one of the charity’s main fundraising initiatives. It is run by young volunteers, mainly 16 and 17 year olds from secondary schools across Cork city, with a core group organising the project since September and hundreds of volunteers who give up their time to collect during the hectic days of Christmas shopping.

    The SHARE Crib acts as a focal point for the week's activities.

    The SHARE Crib acts as a focal point for the week’s activities.

    The presence of collectors across the city centre, with their distinctive yellow jackets and vests, gives the city a unique feel in the lead up to Christmas. Although, other worthy organisations and causes may be collected for, during this week Cork is SHARE territory. Collectors can be found on every street corner, while some go on fasts and collect throughout the night. The sheer volume of volunteers, along with their enthusiasm, means it is in your own interest to support them and get a yellow sticker, which provides you with an ‘immunity’ from other collectors. In an age of chuggers, the earnestness of the collectors and transparency of the organistion ensure the support of the shoppers.

    The SHARE sticker, found on every coat for Cork people, leading up to Christmas.

    The SHARE sticker, found on every coat for Cork people, leading up to Christmas.

    The devotion and passion of the students, the local cause and the festive tradition combine to give SHARE a special status in the life of the city. The patterns of giving, the spread of volunteers, the shaking of the collection boxes, the meaning of the stickers, the Crib and the sentiments behind students helping the elderly, produce some of the geographies I feel compelled to mention!

  • The Lough, Frozen

    The Lough

    The Lough (pronounced lock) is one of Cork city’s most well known features. It is a freshwater lake, with a selection of birds and fish, that serves as a centre of recreation. December 2010, when the photo was taken, was first time I’d ever seen it frozen, with the abnormally cold temperatures that winter causing many freak events. Until then, I never thought, I would actually see the Lough like this. The place has been forever changed, maybe enriched, after this, I am always aware of the potential changes that exist within the waters.

    Reflecting from a much wilder winter, I am struck at how relatively minor temperature fluctuations have significant impacts on our understandings and experiences of place. Although my preference for human geography has involved me moving away from climatology and meteorology, it is still important to acknowledge the power of physical forces in defining and shaping our worlds.

  • The Geographers

    They move freely among you; but, there is no cause for alarm. They are, generally, a pleasant, inquisitive and benign bunch. Despite your conceptions, almost prejudices, they are not what you think. Lima, Ulan Bator and Ottawa are not a chief concern of theirs (well not for the reasons you think), neither necessarily are interlocking spurs and V-shaped valleys (although, they may be for a few). They will, however,  refer to place in reverential terms. It is invoked and received with much agreement in their gathers. But, they also have a vast array of other particular words in their lexicon: esker, talus, flâneur, hetertopia, hydrofracturing, and cultural landscape, to name but a few.

    They are a curious and diverse collective. Some look up at the skies, others wander the coastal zones, many cluster in cities, while more talk to farmers, or parents, or, even, the homeless. They measure and observe. They wear body warmers and hard hats. They carry notebooks. Notebooks filled with insights, sketches, diagrams and scribbles.

    They care; about the planet, about people, about life, about the future. Read this carefully, for you may be able to identify one – a colleague, a friend, a loved one, a stranger on the street – and read even more carefully, and you might discover you are one.



  • Ghostly Geographies: Cobwebbing

    Fake cobwebs are a common decorative feature found in houses around Halloween, along with pumpkins, both fake and real, skeletons, severed limbs and ghostly entities.  The cobwebs caught my attention as they are the most mundane of these items, by far.  It is rather ironic that real cobwebs, signs of dirt and uncleanliness, are swept away from suburban homes, while their fake counterparts are strewn with gusto as signs of abandonment, hauntedness and general scariness.


    On reflection, it is interesting that the cobweb has become this symbol. It indicates a space that has been abandoned by humans, presumably for some ghastly or unspoken-of reason, but is occupied by supernatural beings or forces. In passing by or, more viscerally, passing through the cobweb we are entering the realm of the haunted, the ghostly, the spectral. In pop-culture, the heroes (or victims) venture into some form of edge or other place – the abandoned house, old mine, closed down hospital  - and soon enough someone encounters a cobweb, after which all manner of unusual things unfold. The cobweb then is a barrier, it is a manifestation of a threshold which must literally be breached, with accompanying consequences for those who dare to enter those dark territories.

    The suburban fake cobwebs try to capture a sense of this. For those getting into the spirit of things, especially children, the cobwebs can convey a sense of these ghostly themes; and for those who only seen the shallowness and commercialism, perhaps you might consider visiting that abandoned house, old mine or closed down hospital instead…

  • Star Wars Frontiers

    I came across a video by Sincerely Truman, from their Dear JJ Abrams campaign which aims to “Make Star Wars great again” (presumably a reference to the disappointing Star Wars prequals).

    While it is a very clever and well put together video, the emphasis on ‘the frontier’ stood out to me. The first of the four ‘rules’ they chose to highlight to make Star Wars great again was a geographical concept. The original Star Wars took place on the periphery, the frontier: “It happens out here. Away form civilisation. Amidst smugglers and bounty hunters. Star Wars is a Western.” This presents an inherently spatial understanding of Star Wars. An element of the excitement and danger of the original trilogy was the settings: in mob-controlled territories, frozen hideouts and swampy retreats.

    Indeed, the connection between Science Fiction and Westerns is rather well developed, from Gene Roddenberry’s supposedly selling Star Trek as a western in space and Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe beautifully marrying the two (see my previous post discussing geographical aspects of Firefly/Serenity Universe).

    While the argument may rest on simplistic tropes – an urban civilised core versus a wild adventure edge – it is still a good point which draws attention to the role of place, even in deep space.

  • Election Messages

    The forthcoming referendum on the retention or abolition of the Seanad (the Upper House of the Irish Parliament), has seen political parties putting up posters reflecting their respective positions on the referendum. Without going into the debates, I would like to offer one comment on the posters, based entirely on non-representative personal and anecdotal observation.

    Sinn Féin Seanad Referendum Poster

    It seems that the messages differ geographically, reflecting a strategy of communicating distinct messages to different socio-economic groups. For example, posters in areas that would be described as more middle class seem to stress the possibility of saving money, while posters in areas that would be considered more working class, such as the one from Sinn Féin pictured, focus on ‘elitism’ and inequality in the process of electing that body (this refers to the fact that of the 60 Senators only 6 are directly elected by members of the public, but this constituency is defined by having a degree from certain universities).

    This may be a case of political parties speaking to the citizens in areas in which they have strong support, however a consequence of such is the sending of different messages to different groups in society. I’m not entirely comfortable with our political classes carving us up socio-economically, seems a bit divide and conquer to me…