A stop-off in West Cork was meant to be just a temporary detour on route to Italy for a Turkmenistan native. But 20 years later, it’s where mum-of-two Jennet Toylyeva O’Driscoll calls home, writes Elaine Desmond
Few phrases spin a thread of historical fascination quite like The Silk Road.
We imagine blazing colours, bazaars, camels, Marco Polo and no rain.
Turkmenistan was a major thread in this network of trading routes. Communal bustle stitched it together.
This history filters down today to a market culture in a country without supermarkets.
This I discovered when chatting with Turkmenistan-native Jennet Toylyeva O’Driscoll.
Jennet travelled far beyond her dry silk road to a rain-laden West Cork that she now calls home.
Her feet itched towards the skies in her youth, first as an air hostess with Turkmen Airlines before a work visa landed her in Ireland at Chez Youen in Baltimore 20 years ago.
A temporary detour before her ultimate dream destination - Italy.
Arriving on the August bank holiday, Jennet coped more than capably with her busy Irish baptism.
She worked at the French restaurant with the cigar-toting Breton and his family for five years.
She credits owners Mary and Youen for comfortably cushioning her Irish arrival. Mary Jacob would patiently wait many nights until well past pumpkin changing hours to ferry Jennet to her local accommodation.
Music and conversation are great loves. Both passions eventually led to her greatest love.
Enjoying the weekly live sessions by the Donagh Long band led to Jennet spotting local guitarist Niall O’Driscoll which led to pub chats in Sean Óg’s bar in Skibbereen.
Jennet and Niall have been married for 18 years and live in Skibbereen with their daughters Leila (12) and Yasmine (7). For Jennet, ‘family is everything’
Naturally both girls are musically inclined, playing piano and singing within this happy household. The Greatest Showman and Hamilton blend with Queen and The Who.
Jennet has also blended in with Irish sport as a coach with St Patrick’s U7s camogie team.
Leila and Yasmine play both Camogie and Gaelic Football. Jennet was even part of the group that founded St Patrick’s, an amalgamation of six local GAA clubs.
She credits using YouTube as a source for studying the rules and honing her coaching skills.
Study is also a large part of Jennet’s life in West Cork.
She studied part-time while working full-time at CH Marine in Skibbereen and the HSE, ensuring frontline workers received vaccinations quickly.
Jennet is a master life-blender stitching everything together seamlessly.
Yasmine was born in March 2015. Six months later Jennet started a Business Administration degree.
Previously she studied Accounting. Currently she is pressing pause on the second year of degree number two – Human Resource Management.
The pause is due to her participation in Skillnet’s Women’s Tech Start Programme where she is an intern with VMware, studying Technical Engineering.
Jennet enthuses about their coaching programme and hopes the internship will progress into more. She credits Niall and her wonderful in-laws in helping her to blend everything.
Besides family and friends, West Cork’s landscape is another rooting post for Jennet. She feels ‘spoiled rotten.’
From growing up in a country where 70 percent is covered by the Karakum desert, she now admits that she ‘can’t go without the sea’.
She was born in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, population over six million, distance to the sea over 500 kilometres.
Jennet now lives in Skibbereen, population just under 2,500, distance to the sea just over five kilometres.
Most will need an atlas to precisely locate Turkmenistan. Geographic logic points us towards Russia, beyond the Balkans and above the Middle East. On map inspection it borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and the Caspian Sea. It is only a few skips and a long jump to Ukraine.
Language along with territorial neighbourliness and her experience of migration prompted Jennet to volunteer with recently arrived Ukrainian refugees.
She explains Russian is a base language for most countries formerly within the Soviet Union.
Translation skills are vital but we know it is her communal kindness which prompts her to help. She understands ‘beginning again’.
Jennet explains that help is needed with information, funding and long term accommodation.
She credits many local people and organisations with already helping where possible.
Ann Hunt, Catriona Buckley, Noreen McCarthy, Helen Dempsey and Kevin McCormack all invest their time and talents.
Skibbereen Medical Centre and local schools have been wonderful.
Eileen and Peter O’Sullivan along with Sheila and Joe Carroll have assisted with accommodation along with many more.
Jennet highlights the refugees' psychological stress.
Guilt compounds their sorrow. They grapple with friends and family deaths and homes lost, on top of guilt. They are here, not there.
Jennet credits the support of many friends in helping her settle in West Cork. Groups like Four Peaks, Ladies Book Club, Drinagh Monday am, and Beautiful Ladies Group.
She says she was: ‘Very fortunate to find stars in this bunch of beautiful friends, you don’t always see them but they’re always there. It’s easy to make Ireland home living with good people.’
But she misses her family and communal gatherings of Turkmenistan where open doors meant big group dinners.
Jennet leaves her door open like her heart.
And the Italian dream? Holidays only.
She is happy her journey detoured to West Cork, dubbing it ‘Ireland’s California’.
And we are grateful for her kindness that traded beyond boundaries. Here is her heart and home now.