By Shauna Mc Hugh
The atmosphere on campus on a Sunday afternoon is one unbeknownst to many students, who either go home for the weekends, are working, or even a lucky few who are just sleeping in. However, many people who frequent the place at this hour could tell you that it’s often a stressful climate, full of students who would rather be anywhere else. “Generally, the people in college on a Sunday really have to be there for whatever reason, and not by choice”, Lily Magennis explains. Thanks to her culinary skills and generosity, however, Sundays at NUI Galway have recently become more bearable for the unlucky students who have to spend their weekends studying on campus.
From 3 to 7pm every Sunday, Lily Magennis serves free hot meals in The Hub to the students of NUI Galway. It all started back in September as a “happy accident”, when she was forced to return home early from her job at an Italian summer camp after breaking her finger. Desperately in need of something else to do, Lily found employment with the college’s Socs Box, and began cooking for many of the University’s society events. Not satisfied with this busy workload during the week, Lily decided to continue working on weekends; “I use whatever ingredients we have left on a Sunday and try to recycle it and make a decent meal”.
It’s not shabby leftovers that Lily serves, however. Lily has extensive cuisine experience, which is reflected in the quality of her dishes; “I’ve been working in a kitchen since I was 17, and I’m 23 now. I originally started out as a kitchen porter, but often did many other things for the kitchen team”. Lily’s exploration into cookery “started as an accident, like all good things”, she says. She’s now capable of creating many innovative meals on demand: “Pasta, rice and potatoes are all provided for free by Socs Box, not many people know about this” she shares, “Those form the base for so many good dishes. There are also always meat options and vegetarian options available on Sundays. If a vegan ever shows up, I’d be happy to prepare something for them too.”
There’s now a select amount of people who always show up on Sunday for her food. There’s a group of Chinese mature students who are regulars, and DramSoc have also been in a few times if they have rehearsals on campus at the weekend. There has also been a surge in the number of people showing up. “Lots of friendships have been made there”, Lily enthuses, “I love the Chinese masters students, they’ve even offered to help me open a restaurant in Thailand someday! My friends from Anime Soc come and help a lot too.”
Friendship is what first inspired Lily’s love for cooking as a child; “I grew up in a particularly poor part of Cork. My Dad left when I was young, and so my mam had to work a lot, so I cooked for myself often. I used to cook for my friends too. It would just be some meat and potatoes but it was like gold to them. A lot of my friends were going hungry, that’s what inspired this for me.” Serving meals on Sunday has now become a means for Lily to help a wider community that may be struggling. “Students, especially ones doing Masters or PhDs, often don’t have time to properly care for themselves. People can just come in to eat or talk – as far as mental health goes, it’s amazing how far a hot meal and a chat can go, which has been a happy side effect of all this. I would never judge anyone who wants to come in and talk. I’m a 6ft 4” trans girl from Cork, I’m the last person who can judge!”
The BA Connect with Film, Geography and Archaeology student is now trying to balance this commitment with studying for her last ever semester; “I’m in final year now, so I can’t devote as much time to it as I’d like. I usually spend 12—15 hours a week between prep, clean up and buying ingredients. In semester one, it was just me, now I get help from other Hub staff. This weekend, Anastasia will be doing all the work, and I’m just helping out. The official hours are 3-7pm, but I’m happy to stay beyond that. I just want people to eat.”
While a free hot meal is enough of an enticement for most students, it’s not all that Lily offers, as she often shares her culinary tips and tricks too; “If anyone wants to learn how to cook, I will teach them! I can show people simple things like how to sharpen a knife on the back of a mug, for example, or sometimes I teach people how to dice onions.”
With the service on a Sunday only growing in popularity, Lily has a vision for expanding this initiative; “I’d love to do more days of the week. If people are around on Friday evenings, I’d do something, or I could do breakfast on Monday mornings”, she tells SIN. The only thing holding Lily back at the minute, she says, is what she perceives as an unfair allocation of the college’s funding; “I’d love more funding for this, like 100 euro of the student levy goes to the Kingfisher, which not all of us use, so why not give more to something that could feed everyone?”