48 Hours in Cork27/02/2013
by Shane Aherne Boocock
And it be a grand good day to you too,” was the greeting from my smiling landlady at the Garnish House B&B as I stepped out of the car. Cork, now that word will put a smile on just about anyone’s face. They say the Cornish people smile more than anyone but I think the residents of this strong-featured part of Ireland might have something to say about that.
On a cold and crisp, clear blue sky day I had driven from Cork Airport to the city centre. As a proud Aherne I was visiting Cork for the first time to see for myself where my maternal grandparents had been born, prior to them settling in West Yorkshire just after 1900.
It was the last Saturday in September when I set off on an exploratory walking tour of this picturesque city. It’s the best way to acquaint oneself with a new place, with a map in one hand and wide open eyes watching the comings and goings of the locals. The route I took was one I had found in a leaflet called iWalk Cork. It quickly introduced me to some of Cork’s heritage attractions, architecture, public sculptures, festivals and markets, and thriving theatre and arts scene in this vibrant European island city.
My walk started right across the road from my guest house at University College Cork, an institution that was originally established in 1845 as one of the Queen’s three colleges, the others being Galway and Belfast – if you have time you’ll get to view the largest collection of Ogham stones (an Early Medieval alphabet carved into stones used primarily to write the Old Irish language), the Honan Chapel and the Lewis Glucksman Art gallery.
Around the next corner I found Fitzgerald’s Park where the Cork Public Museum is housed in what was known as the ‘Shubberies’’, a two story Georgian house built in 1845. The collections in here cover the economic, social and municipal history of the city from the Mesolithic period onwards – a great way to learn the background of a city. ??From Fitzgerald Park I strolled leisurely down the Mardyke, which is the lovely setting for the Cork Anthem, ‘The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee,’ the north and south water channels that created the island city being the River Lee.
My next port of call was hustling my way through thronging crowds of shoppers on North Main Street, once the central street of the medieval city of Cork. Bronze plaques now mark where renowned street traders and merchants once operated. Not far away is the Church of St. Peter and Paul, architecturally considered one of the finest churches in the city.
Nearby also on Paul Street is the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City’s municipal art gallery and a national cultural institution, and almost next door is the modern 1,000 seat Cork Opera House. ??The lifeblood of the city and great thoroughfare is known as St Patrick Street or ‘Pana,’ it began life once as a waterway but was covered over in the 18th century. It is now a fashionable shopping street with side-by-side big name designer stores.
The final leg of my walk took me down the side of the South Channel to the imposing Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral. Designed by William Burges and consecrated in 1870, the cathedral lies on a site where christian worship has been offered since the seventh century.
In the afternoon I wandered through the Cork English Market, one of the oldest of its kind. Trading as a market since 1788, it pre-dates similar markets in Europe. Indeed, Barcelona’s famous Boqueria market did not start until 1868. It has survived the famine, revolutions, wars, fire and economic decline and it has long been recognised by locals as the place to meet, eat and shop.
Another must-see Cork attraction that I visited on Saturday afternoon was the Cork City Gaol opened in 1824 and reported as being “the finest in three Kingdoms.” It is a wonderful piece of Georgian/Gothic architecture, with a number of particularly pleasant and unusual features – in fact, from the outside it looks more like a castle than a purpose built prison. Today it offers visitors furnished cells, lifelike characters, sound effects and some fascinating exhibitions.
On Sunday with a few clouds darkening the sky I visited the Cork Butter Museum, once one of the most important butter markets in Europe when it was in use from the late 1700s until 1924. Located in the historic Shandon area of Cork city, the museum traces the central role of dairy culture in Ireland. The museum depicts and explains the internationally important Butter Exchange in nineteenth century Cork as well as the traditional craft of home butter making. There are some standout exhibits, informative display panels and an audio-visual presentation.??Another interesting building to visit is the tower of the Red Abbey, the only structure in Cork which has survived since medieval times. It was originally an Augustinian friary founded in the late 13th or early 14th century. All that remains today of the structure is the bell tower of the abbey’s church. Cork City Council is restoring the Red Abbey which is listed as a national monument.
As the light faded on my last day I climbed up to Elizabeth Fort, a 17th century ‘star fort’ just off Barrack Street. Originally built as a defensive fortification outside the city walls, the city eventually grew around the fort, and it took on various other roles – including use as a military barracks, prison, and police station. A portion of the fort is still open to the public, and from its walls it offers some of the best views of the city – one of the finest ways to remember my stay.
Before returning to the airport I detoured to visit Blarney Castle which is seven kilometres northwest from Cork city. Blarney Castle was built nearly 600 years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy. Over the last few hundred years, millions have flocked to Blarney, making it a world landmark and one of Ireland’s greatest treasures. Now that might have something to do with the Blarney Stone, the legendary Stone of Eloquence, found at the top of our Tower. Kiss it and you’ll never again be lost for words – it must be why people tell me I talk so much.
There are a variety of reasons to visit Cork, including searching for long lost relatives and none better than a good pint of Guinness and some oysters. However, with a bit of forward planning, a pair of sturdy shoes and an appreciation of a fine European city you’ll walk away knowing that in this part of Ireland, lots of Irish eyes are smiling just at you.
Blarney Castle – From City Centre follow signs for Limerick (N20) to Blarney Village, www.blarneycastle.ie
Church of St Peter and Paul, The Presbytery, 35, Paul Street, T: +353 (0) 21 427 6573
Cork Butter Museum, The Tony O’Reilly Centre, O’Connell Square, www.corkbutter.museum
Cork English Market, Access via Princess St, Grand Parade and Oliver Plunkett St. www.corkenglishmarket.ie
Cork City Gaol, Convent Avenue, Sunday’s Well, www.corkcitygaol.com
Cork Opera House, Emmet Place, www.corkoperahouse.ie
Cork Public Museum, Fitzgerald Park on the Mardyke, T: +353 (0)21 427 0679, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Crawford Art Gallery, Emmet Place www.crawfordartgallery.ie
Elizabeth Fort, Keyser’s Hill, Barrack Street, www.discoverireland.com
Red Abbey, Red Abbey Street, www.discoverireland.ie
Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Bishop Street www.cathedral.cork.anglican.org
University College Cork, www.ucc.ie
Garnish House, Western Road. www.garnish.ie
Download iWalks brochures using the following link: www.discoverireland.ie/cork
Shane Boocock flew to Europe courtesy of Etihad Airways in their wonderful Pearl Business Class flat bed service from Sydney to Manchester via Abu Dhabi and was hosted and flew to Ireland from the UK courtesy of Tourism Ireland (NZ)