From St Luke's to Sihannoukville – communities connecting #scmf

Ever since I moved to the Cork neighbourhood of St Luke’s, I’ve been intrigued by Henchy’s bar. You’d be wrong to describe it as an “old man pub” because they’re not the kind of old men you’d normally expect in a city pub.

Henchy’s is full of arty looking old men wearing hats. They each have a unique style of hat, and it’s so full of them that they are spilling out the door, smoking and passing the time of day.

There are fedoras, pork pies, and even one gent with a black beret, a cane and an imposing overcoat. There may be an element of out-artying each other, but who am I to say?

Henchy’s is a village pub right in the city. It’s famous for its arty crowd and good wine. It’s also famous for the art exhibition hosted there annually, with a banner proudly strung over the doors proclaiming ‘Anita’s Orphanage’.

After four years of seeing this banner – and pictures of all size and shape adorning the bar for the month the exhibition is on each year, I finally started to ask questions – who is Anita and where is this orphanage?

The orphanage, it transpired, is in Sihannoukville, a seaside resort in Southern Cambodia. Anita is the founder’s sister, who funded it for many years. And the connection with Henchy’s is as simple as one of those hatted gentlemen, Martin McHenry.

Martin McHenry. Photo: Rory Coomey

Martin McHenry. Photo: Rory Coomey

Martin is shy. He’s exceptionally modest about what he does, and he’s reluctant to be the centre of attention.

Martin was travelling in Cambodia in 2006 when he met Momo Akbar, who founded Anita’s Orphanage. The orphanage is named after Momo’s sister, who funded it for many years. When that was no longer possible, Martin, and a team of volunteers based in the back of Henchy’s Bar, took over the project.

Since 2006 the group have kept the orphanage open through their annual art exhibition, a stew competition and a Grab a Gúna event.

In doing that, they have helped to create a community in St Luke’s, an area with a high level of rental accommodation and a rather transient population.

This year’s exhibition featured work by everyone from well-known artist Willie Harrington, to this lady from Skibbereen, thrilled to have sold her first ever painting at this year’s exhibition.

Art Expo Henchys Bar-25

The beauty of the exhibition itself is that they don’t ask artists for anything for free. In St. Luke’s with its community of local artists, they understand the importance of paying for creative work. What the charity gets is the commission that a gallery would normally take. In the process, the Anita’s Orphanage committee have empowered young artists, artists from Cork Simon’s art class, and brought the work of big names like Maurice Desmond to a local pub.

The exhibition culminates in a fiercely competitive stew competition – so competitive that this year’s winner Steve Plunkett has entered every single year. This is his first win, and I’ve never seen somebody so happy!

Stew Night Henchys-8

Steve Plunkett finally getting his hands on that trophy in Henchys! Photo: Rory Coomey

The links between an urban, arty, transient community in Cork and orphans in a seaside resort in desperately poor Cambodia haven’t just benefited the orphans.

They’ve knitted people together on this side of the world. I met people from all over the world at the art exhibition who look forward to meeting their neighbours at this annual event. Who say St. Luke’s is a village right in the city. Who say they love the feel and the community of the place… and most of that is down to the regular events at Henchy’s that help to feed and clothe people in unimaginably different circumstances.

I’ll be finding out more about those circumstances in January, when I visit Sihannoukville along with Rory Coomey, who took the photos you see above.

This project is supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund.

Monthly recommendations for books,
podcasts and TV along with event updates
and a selection of my writing plus an exclusive
monthly prize!

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Deshocks will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates.