Cork is by no means a metropolis, but if you’re anything like me, you quickly get exhausted by the crowded, noisy big cities anyway. If you’re looking for a more liveable, relatively quiet but vibrant place in Ireland, Cork will hold something in store for you. If you’re not put off by the temperamental weather that is. The climate here will treat you to an average of 240 days of precipitation, ranging between horizontal rainfall and the finest, almost soothing drizzle, riddled with occasional flash floods, days of thick fog that settle on the lower parts of town, and the a few days of blazing sun.
That being said, Cork is the perfect amalgamation of a large city and rural charm. Built on the River Lee, which divides into two channels, the city centre is located on the island created by the channels. At the eastern end of the city centre the channels re-converge, leading to Cork Harbour, one of the world’s largest natural harbours. The city centre’s St. Patrick Street – Opera Lane – Oliver Plunkett Street area offers shopping, including high street retailers, a covered market, and several cafes, bars and small restaurants, in case you want to put down your shopping bags for a minute and unwind. If you’re more interested in the cultural side of the city, the Cork Film Festival, the Cork Jazz Festival and Live at the Marquee (an annual music festival) are only a few events the city has to offer, as it once was the official European Capital of Culture. On a more personal note, I can give you 5 reasons, why Cork should be a stop on your journey visiting Ireland.
Food. Cork’s English Market is the primary source of locally produced foods, including fresh organic fish, meats, fruit and vegetables, artisan breads, ethnic food and more. If you want something to nibble on while you’re on the go, try a handcrafted hot dog from O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausage, visit Fruit Boost for freshly made smoothies and juices, the Real Olive Company for some fresh olives and dolmadas, or grab an artisan pastry at the Alternative Bread Company’s stall. I moved away from Cork over a year ago and sadly still miss the market. Other food markets, e.g. in Blackrock or in Cornmarket Street every Saturday sell local produce of organic farmers, cheeses, pastries, gluten free foods and much more. But there’s more to the city’s food culture than meets the eye. Try Novecento for a variety of Italian dishes, Dashi Deli for sushi, enjoy breakfast at The Bodega, or stop for exquisite fish dishes at the Cornstore Restaurant. Due to the large number of foreigners living in the city, it also offers several ethnic food stores, such as pan-Asian, Polish, Slovakian and Afro-Caribbean. Take your pick.
Craft beer. Up until recently, there were two large commercial breweries in the city. Now there’s only one (Murphy’s), but the microbreweries in the area are more than making up for the loss. It all started with The Franciscan Well brewery and their brewpub (awarded the “Best Microbrewery in Ireland” by Food and Wine Magazine, and now also offering excellent stone baked pizzas), but there are plenty others to provide a good selection. With the popularity of brewpubs on the rise, Cork quickly became a coveted destination for the pub culture enthusiasts. Try Porterhouse, the Cotton Ball Brewing Company or Elbow Lane, or the Rising Sons Brewery in the middle of the city, a relatively recent addition to the palette. There are also several off-license stores selling local, other Irish and English bottled craft brews (e.g. Bradley’s on North Main street or O’Donovans in several locations in town). The traditional pubs and the newer brewpubs also offer a colourful addition to the city’s cultural scene, as a lot of them offering live music and open mic nights.
Education. University College Cork (UCC) is one of Ireland’s best universities. It’s been named the Irish University of the Year several times in the past decade or so. The QS World University Rankings recently ranked the it in the top 2% worldwide universities. UCC is leading in food research and is among the world’s top 200 in medicine. If that is not enough to impress you, you can have a go at it yourself. UCC offers post-gradual, continuing adult education and online courses, as well as summer internships and summer drama courses if that’s what you’re heart desires. If you don’t want to jump into the campus life head first just yet, take a stroll around the campus as a visitor, as it’s well worth the trip. Take part in conferences and events organised on the grounds, take a guided tour and even find accommodation within the campus in the summertime.
Cork County. Cork has a lot of interesting attractions and picturesque destinations closeby. Blarney castle, a medieval stronghold a mere 20 minutes bus ride away, is famous for the Blarney stone on top of the main tower. Legend says the gift of eloquence is bestowed on whoever kisses the stone. If you’re not to squeamish to touch a surface with your lips, along with thousands of other tourists daily, you can even get a picture of yourself hanging upside-down as you kiss the stone (while someone holds you so you don’t fall). Cobh, another small harbour town is famous for being the last stop of the Titanic, before it departed on its first and last fateful journey to America. There is a small museum to commemorate the most famous Atlantic cruiser of all times.
The Fota Wildlife Park (the only wildlife park in Ireland) is a real family treat with several attractions throughout the year. For the real whiskey fans, Middleton offers guided tours inside its famous Jameson distillery, along with a short documentary, a tasting experience and a complementary shot of Jameson at the end of the tour. If you’re willing to travel a little farther, visit Kinsale, another picturesque harbour town for its views, walking tours and probably the best fish and chips in the county from Catch of the Day. Mizen Head, the south-westernmost point in Ireland, is also worth a weekend’s trip. Walk across the arched bridge to get to the lighthouse, and enjoy the dramatic coastal scenery.
Multicultural atmosphere. Cork has been gaining cultural diversity as a result of immigration for many years since the mid nineties. Nowadays, with the increased presence of multinational companies, such as Apple, Amazon, etc., their European localisation work and customer care located in Cork, there is a more recent inflow from Western, Northern and Eastern European nations, and in smaller amount from various African and Asian countries. Not to mention the international students who come to study at UCC. This is reflected in the growth of multicultural restaurants and shops, including Eastern European (e.g. Slovakian, Polish) specialist shops, Italian pizzerias, Middle-Eastern, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Japanese restaurants only to mention a few. This usually means you can’t walk down a street without hearing someone speaking in a foreign language. The latest census data indicated that Cork is probably the most diverse city in the entire Ireland.
Interesting trivia: There is an ongoing rivalry between Cork and Dublin.
Some Cork residents refer to themselves as “The Rebels” and the county as the Rebel County.
Don’t be surprised if you run into merchandise celebrating The People’s Republic of Cork.
And next time, we’re off to visit Oxford in England.