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Cork City (Corcaigh, meaning “marshy place”) (pop. 300,000) is the second city of the Republic of Ireland.
The city has long had a reputation for independence, proudly bearing the nickname of “Rebel Cork”. During the Civil War, Cork was for a time held by republican forces. More recently, t-shirts proclaiming the Peoples Republic of Cork have been popular.
Designated European Capital of Culture for 2005, Cork’s deluded denizens like to refer to it as the “true capital of Ireland”.
The River Lee flows through the city, with the main part of the city centre on an island in just before the estuary flows into Lough Mahon and thence to Cork Harbour, one of the world’s largest natural harbours. St Finbarr established a monastic settlement here in 606 AD, and the town was founded by the Vikings in the C9th. King Henry II granted the City Charters in 1172 and 1185, and under Norman supervision it grew in medieval times into a maze of waterways. The city was at one time fully walled, and several sections and gates remain. The Huguenots, French Protestants forced to flee their own country because of persecution in the C17th, settled in Cork in large numbers. As native Catholics were prevented by the Penal Laws from becoming involved in trade, the French settlers filled the vacuum as wholesale merchants, beef and butter exporters, tallow-chandlers, brewers and coopers. In French Church Street services were performed in French into the C20th. The city is a still a major seaport, with quays and docks sited along the broad waterway on the city’s East.
Patrick Street is Cork’s main shopping thoroughfare, and has recently been largely pedestrianised and refurbished by Catalan architects. Market Parade leads to the English Markets, founded a Charter of James 1 in 1610, centring around a thriving covered market, ideal for buying local produce. It is also accessible from the tree-lined Grand Parade, home to many offices and financial institutions. Many of its buildings are Georgian, although the modern County Hall tower is one of the tallest buildings in Ireland.
The City Park, officially “Bishop Lucey Park”, between the Grand Parade and South Main street, was opened in 1985 as part of the City’s 800th birthday celebrations. In the course of clearance and construction, archaeologists found portions of the early city walls exposed and preserved just inside the entrance.
At the end of the Grand Parade by the river is the National Monument, unveiled on St Patrick’s Day 1906 to commemorate the 1798 and 1867 Uprisings. Nearby, also beside the river, is a War Memorial to the dead of two world wars, in particular the Royal Munster Fusiliers.
The South Mall is the business and financial centre of Cork, containing many interesting buildings. Many have steps leading from what was once an open flowing river channel, with boathouses below at street level. At the end of the South Mall is the former Provincial Bank, a highly ornate Corinthian structure. Opposite, in Parnell Place, the Cork Savings Bank is also striking. Beside it, in stark contrast is Connolly Hall, the Trade Union Headquarters and also a music venue for visiting groups and artists. Looking across the river from Connolly Hall is the City Hall, constructed in 1936 with funds provided by the British Government in reparation for the burning of the original city hall by English Crown Forces on December 20th 1920. The City Hall houses the annual International Choral and Folk Dance Festival, in which groups from as far afield as Australia and Russia participate, as well as many other events and exhibitions throughout the year.
Paul Street is a former back street, now tastefully converted into a thriving shopping area with restaurants, boutiques, craft and bookshops, in the heart of the Old French Quarter. The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is a beautiful 19th century Catholic church in an ornate neo-Gothic style – call in to quietly experience another world!
The Mardyke Walk (1719) is a pleasant place to stroll. Just off it you can find Fitzgerald’s Park and City Museum. Across the river, Cork’s old City Gaol, now an exhibition centre, can be easily reached by crossing the “shaky bridge” (a suspension style pedestrian footbridge). Across the Western road from the entrance to the Mardyke is the entrance to University College Cork (UCC). The campus is very attractive, with most buildings in the Tudor Gothic style. At the far end of the Mardyke are the University College Sports Grounds.
The most famous landmark in Cork City is probably Shandon Steeple (1722), located on Shandon Street, a steep climb from the North Gate Bridge up to North Cathedral. With its attractive red sandstone (south) and limestone (west) walls, the inspiration for the Cork GAA team colours, it was long known as ” the four faced liar” as each clock used to show a different time.
St. Finbarr’s Cathedral on Bishop St was completed in 1870 on the site of St. Finbarr’s original settlement (606 AD). It was designed in miniature early French Gothic style by William Burgess, who was obsessed with all things medieval, and built proportionately to scale in extraordinary detail – witness the soffits, gargoyles, birds and beasts, the rose-window, and the multitude of ornate carvings and highly ornamented mosaic work. The South Transept houses a cannon ball fired during the siege of 1690.
The Beamish and Crawfords Brewery is recognisable by its half-timbered mock-Tudor frontage and interesting cupola, weathervane and clock. This is the home of Carling Lager and local Beamish Stout (milder and fuller than Guinness – try it!). Murphy’s
Considering its small population, Cork’s cultural life is surprisingly vibrant. Music, theatre, dance and film all play a prominent role in city life. Worth checking out are:,; the Triskel Arts Centre; Cork Jazz Festival; etc. etc. Despite its name, the Cork Opera House presents a variety of entertainment, drama and music, and is one of the main venues for the annual Guinness Cork Jazz Festival (last week in October). The summer season often features top artists and drama companies from all over the world. The Cork Film Festival is a major supporter of the art of the short film. The Granary Theatre often stages good productions, as does the Corcadorca Theatre Company. The Triskel Arts Centre, just off the South Main Street, provides an excellent all-year-round programme of contemporary arts – exhibitions featuring local and national visual art, film, music, theatre and literary events. The old Butter Exchange is nowadays used as an arts, dance and theatre centre, and houses the Shandon Craft and Firkin Crane centres. The Cork Arts Society Gallery on Lavitt’s Quay hosts continual exhibitions of fine art, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, batiks etc. The Crawford Gallery, in the city’s former Custom House (1724) in Emmet Place at the top of Academy Street, houses old masters and modern Irish artists, as well as an excellent cafe and restaurant. The Crawford College of Art & Design, the Cork School of Music and the Institute for Choreography and Dance, a national contemporary dance resource, provide a constant throughput of new artistic talent, as do the active theatre component of many courses at UCC, where the new Lewis Glucksmann Gallery is scheduled to open in the Autumn of 2004
Close to Cork, Dunkathel House is a lovely C18th mansion overlooking the estuary of the River Lee.
Cork Harbour is one of the world’s great natural sheltered harbours, often compared with Sydney Harbour and San Francisco Bay, capable of receiving the largest ships afloat in perfect safety. The great Atlantic liners used to call at the port regularly. The Harbour features several islands, the largest of which is Great Island. Fota Island hosts Ireland’s most important wildlife park, as well as an 18-hole golf course and the historical Fota House with ornamental gardens. Haulbowline Island houses the Irish Naval Base as well as the Irish Steel Works. Spike Island, a former military station, continues in use as an island prison for adolescent offenders. Rocky Island was formerly used as a munitions store.
Cobh (pronounced “Cove”) is situated 24km from Cork city on the southern shore of Great Island. Formerly named Queenstown, the town developed in the late C18th when the Harbour became an assembly point for fleets sailing during the Napoleonic wars. By 1830, Queenstown had become a noted health resort ideal for the typical Victorian holiday. At this time the architecture began to copy features of the English south coast towns such as Brighton. The first steamship to cross the Atlantic from Europe – the Sirius – sailed from Queenstown in 1838, and it became the country’s premier port of call for transatlantic liners. More than 1 million emigrants passed through the port en route to America from the time of the Great Famine (1845-49) onwards. It was largely the money they sent home that helped to build the magnificent St. Colman’s Cathedral (1868), a towering Gothic Revival edifice designed by Edward Welby Pugin, which dominates the town and has the largest carillon (47 bells) in Ireland or Britain. Queenstown was also the last port of call of the ill-fated Titanic. The Lusitania Memorial on the quayside commemorates the ocean liner torpedoed by the Germans off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915. The Old Church Cemetery contains mass graves of the victims of the disaster. The fascinating history of the town is reflected in a new exhibition centre – `The Queenstown Experience’. Nowadays, Cobh is a uniquely preserved Victorian town, with steeply terraced houses, elegant facades, a palm tree-lined promenade complete with bandstand and some excellent pubs and restaurants. The train journey from Kent Station in Cork runs on one of the most charming waterside lines in the world. A Ferry Service operates to/from Carrigaloe, near Monkstown, across the Harbour, cutting out a 20 -mile road trip and Cork city traffic.
I recommend a visit to Fota Island. The C18th century Fota House, once the residence of the Earls of Barrymore, is a magnificent building with more tha 70 rooms. The Fota Estate covers over 780 acres. Fota Gardens consist of a structured arboretum, a rose garden, a walled garden, terraces and woodlands, and contain rare and exotic shrubs and trees from all over the world. Fota Wildlife Park was established in 1983, and has more than 70 species of exotic wildlife roaming freely throughout more than 50 acres of mature grassland, including ostriches, giraffes, kangaroos, zebras and antelope. The dangerous animals are kept in strongly fenced off enclosures. A lot of the species at Fota are in danger of extinction. Fota Wildlife Park is the leading breeder worldwide for cheetahs, as well as being a source of many other zoo animals around the world. Fota Island Golf Course is said to be one of Ireland’s most scenic and challenging courses.
The twin harbour suburbs of Passage West and Monkstown are an attractive alternative route to / from the Ringaskiddy Ferry terminal, linking Cork with Swansea, Roscoff and Le Harve. Monkstown Castle / Castle Mahon (now the Clubhouse for Monkstown Golf Club), built in 1636, is one of the best preserved examples of a C17th great gabled house. Carrigaline is at the head of the Owenabue River. Nearby the extensive Curabinny Wood is worth visiting for its gazebo, the Giant’s Grave on the hill summit, and its fine coastal & forest walks. Drake’s Pool is where Sir Francis Drake and five ships took refuge in 1587, pursued by a powerful Spanish fleet. Crosshaven is a beautiful scenic village and major international sailing and sea-angling centre, and a favourite summer resort for Cork residents since Victorian times. It is the headquarters of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, the oldest in the world. Crosshaven House (1759) provides a fine example of Georgian architecture. Fort Meagher or Camden Fort is dramatically situated on a promontory as part of the harbour defences; it. grew with each new threat of invasion – the Spanish, the Williamites, the French, and the Germans – and was last occupied during WW II, being used since then by the Irish Navy. It is now a major maritime and naval history museum. From Crosshaven a network of roads and lanes lead to a series of small coves with bathing nooks and beautiful coastal scenery – Church Bay, Weaver’s Point, Myrtleville, Fennell’s Bay and Fountainstown. These routes make delightful summer walks.