By Graham Clifford
The Lithuanian and Cork accents intermingle, dancing along to the sound of the click-clacking scissors.
“Some of my friends say they can really hear my Cork accent now,” jokes Raimonda between haircuts in The Barber Shop on Fermoy’s MacCurtain Street.
She’s worked here for a dozen years and her story mirrors that of so many Lithuanians living in North Cork today.
From just outside the city of Kaunas, Lithuanian’s second city, Raimonda heeded the advice of her classmates and joined them in Dublin back in 2003 – but the city wasn’t for her.
“They said, come to Ireland, you will love it and there is plenty of work. Immediately, I got a job as a hairdresser on Grafton Street but living in the city didn’t appeal to me, so I headed south,” she tells me.
She found work in Carrigaline and was joined by her husband Darius and eldest son Kajus (now 19) – her youngest boy Roy would be born in Ireland soon afterwards.
“We loved Carrigaline and slowly but surely we settled into life in Ireland. Initially I thought we would be here for two or three years but then you put down roots. The children start in school and they make friends and we grow in our careers,” she explains.
SPORT HELPING TO BREAK BARRIERS
In 2006 the family decided to move to Fermoy as property prices in Carrigaline were sky rocketing.
“We wanted our own place but buying down in Carrigaline was almost impossible. So, we looked everywhere and ended up coming to Fermoy. It was the right decision and we love living here,” says Raimonda.
Her sons attended the Bishop Murphy school and St. Colman’s, where Roy is today, integrating well and representing their schools in hurling and other GAA sports.
“They play everything. Through sport all barriers are broken down and they make friends wherever they go.”
And both of Raimonda’s sons have particularly excelled on the soccer pitch.
Kajus, who is now studying in UCC, spent three years playing for Cobh Ramblers, while Roy has just been called up for the Republic of Ireland under 14 squad.
“So, Roy plays for Fermoy but was selected to be part of the Cork City FC under 12 squad. As a result of how they got on there he, and another boy from Fermoy, were selected to play for Ireland and they will commence training in Dublin shortly. It’s all pretty amazing and we’re thrilled, as is Roy,” says his proud mother.
Darius settled too and works with the ABEC manufacturing company.
I ask Raimonda about how she integrated into Fermoy and if she found it a welcoming town when she first moved here.
“Definitely. I think the Irish and Lithuanian cultures are similar in many ways. We are both small countries and share the same predominant religion. Also, our traditions are similar. But of course, language is the big difference and it did take me time to learn. It’s not just learning english but learning Cork english, the phrases, expressions and pronunciations.”
At home the family speak Lithuanian and even when texting each other will do so in their native language.
“The boys are so integrated into Ireland now and their accents are completely Irish, but I think it is important they understand their past and where we, their parents, are from.”
On Christmas Eve the family will observe their Lithuanian traditions including serving 12-non-meat dishes and sharing what they call ‘Jesus bread’.
“It’s like Holy Communion and it’s blessed and in sheets. Normally my mother will send it over from Lithuania. We eat it, give thanks and express our wishes and desires for the year ahead,” says Raimonda.
The family may return to Lithuania in the new year to visit family and friends, but for now Fermoy is their home-from-home.
Raimonda says: “When we came to Ireland first there was no Skype and all we could do was ring home and write letters. Now we feel even more connected and we can get flights from Shannon direct to Kaunas, it only takes three hours. Many Lithuanians are returning home as the country improves, but for us our life is very much here. Our boys are doing so well, and we feel part of this wonderful town.”