This month I came back from a trip to Cork, Ireland. Cork is the Republic of Ireland’s second largest city after Dublin. When I was a child, I used to go to Ireland pretty much every single year due to having relatives over there, however from around the age of 15 those trips waned. I’m 27 now and the only other time I went to Ireland in between then was going to Dublin in June 2016. As nice as Dublin is, it’s not the Ireland I grew up knowing. The Ireland I knew was all in the countryside rather than the city. This time while we went to the city, we did get to see a bit more of the green that Ireland is famous for. And let me tell you, it really is greener than what you’d get over in the UK. It gives a literal meaning to the grass is greener on the other side, or the Irish Sea rather! It was intended to be a trip with my boyfriend, my dad and my aunt and uncle but unfortunately my aunt and uncle couldn’t make it in the end.
We flew with Ireland’s flagship airline Aer Lingus in one of their turboprop planes which was a first for me to be flying in. We landed safely and we arrived at our hotel which was the Clayton Hotel which is a lovely hotel which looks over the River Lee, which goes right through Cork’s city centre. We got into Cork fairly early so not long after we checked in, we started to walk around to get a feel for the place. My first impressions of Cork were that the aforementioned River Lee made it very reminiscent of Dublin and its River Liffey. We walked up Oliver Plunkett Street, a shopping street and turned off to check out the English Market. This market has been featured on television and is renowned for its locally produced artisan food along with its mid-19th century architecture. Walking around we also saw the Crawford Art Gallery and not too far away a JD Wetherspoon. Yes, Wetherspoons in the Republic of Ireland! They don’t even sell Guinness, but another local stout called Beamish.
Afterwards we carried on walking and got to Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a Gothic three spire cathedral owned by the Church of Ireland and completed in 1879. My first thoughts were that it looked very reminiscent of Paris’ Notre Dame on the west façade. It is a beautiful cathedral and I am always in awe of how things like this are man-made, the details are always so intricate. A short walk away are the main campus grounds of University College Cork, a renowned university which makes up one of the Queen’s Colleges, the others being in Belfast and Galway. The campus looked vibrant with its green grass and while it had traditional looking buildings, it also looked pretty modern particularly around the courtyard area with the student union buildings. Have to say, it looked like it would be a really nice place to study. Campus universities are the best, I mean I would say that though! Then it was time to have lunch and more importantly an actual pint of Guinness. Ooh yes.
The second day was quite rainy but it didn’t stop us from sightseeing! We began our long walk over to the other side of the city to see the Cork City Gaol which used to a prison but now it’s a museum popular with tourists. Before that we passed the notable landmark of the Church of Saint Anne in Shandon. It’s known for containing the Bells of Shandon, we didn’t go up it but apparently visitors can go up it and ring the bells themselves. From the hotel window this church didn’t look too far away, although it was a different story when actually walking to it! You can spot it from far off, just follow the gold salmon figure on the top which represents the fishing industry (Cork isn’t far from the coast) but also the fish is a symbol of Christianity. After much walking through residential areas we reached the Gaol.
The Cork Gaol was originally opened in 1824, closing just under a 100 years later in 1923. It housed both male and female prisoners, even children who committed crimes within the city of Cork. It was so interesting walking around and reading the stories of the prisoners in each cell, it’s amazing to think that people were held up in those conditions for the pettiest of crimes. I recall one cell had the story of a 16-year-old and her baby, of course the baby was the youngest resident there. There are three floors of the prison, two of which you can walk around. It does look like your standard prison despite how old it is. Hopefully it will be the closest thing I will get to being in a prison! The prison grounds themselves were beautiful, in a very weird way you felt like you could be walking up towards a stately home with how well kept the garden is, not a prison! It probably didn’t look quite as nice at the time I will guess.
We then spent ages walking trying to find Fitzgerald Park as I thought it wasn’t too far away but it clearly was. I think on that day we clocked up the most steps just trying to find things. Named after Edward Fitzgerald the city’s Lord Mayor, Fitzgerald Park when we finally found it was very scenic with its own little gardens and fountain, even in the drizzly rain. It is home to the Cork Public Museum and a variety of sculptures, most notable is the commemorative bust of Eamon de Valera, a prominent political leader in Ireland. The riverbank of the Lee runs along the park with the back gardens of peoples houses on the other side. I can only imagine how nice having a garden like that would be with having the riverbank and the park to look out at, particularly on a nice day.
My personal highlight was going to Blarney Castle and Gardens. Of course, Blarney Castle is home to the Blarney Stone, which if kissed gives you the gift of eloquence, also known as the gift of the gab. First off, we decided to brave the castle and actually it didn’t take too long to get the top. At the top you can see views of all over Blarney and the countryside. But most importantly, it’s where you get to kiss the stone. But it’s not just a rock on a pedestal, no the rock is down the side of the castle wall so you have to lower yourself (with help) to kiss it while holding onto bars. When I saw pictures of people doing it, I thought it looked torturous. My boyfriend went first and did it, however when I gave it a go and made the mistake of looking down as I lowered myself so I saw the grass on the ground so at that point I gave up. So unfortunately, I cannot say I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone, at least I tried right? I don’t need no eloquence anyway… I jest.
Then it was time to explore the gardens which I loved. The gardens are SO beautiful, green, tranquil and spanning over 60 acres which can be viewed from the top of the castle as mentioned. It was a true picture of spring. Even when you first walk in you are greeted by a big blossom tree. Even if it didn’t feel like spring before, it did now. I was honestly in awe of the intense green grass and trees by the river as you walk towards the castle. I love anything like that as you can tell. It’s also fairly diverse with different gardens within it, for example there’s the Poison Garden – which is as exciting as it sounds filled with dangerous plants. There are also the woodlands and even a little cave we found to venture into! Afterwards we visited Blarney Woollen Mills which is the largest Irish shop in the world so of course we had to get a few souvenirs.
Then we travelled to the harbour town of Cobh in the afternoon. It’s a picturesque waterfront town with colourful buildings (which I’m a sucker for, that’s why I like the houses in Notting Hill!) and overlooked by St. Colman’s Cathedral – one of the tallest buildings in Ireland. Facing the town from the sea there is Spike Island which is the site of a fort which was used for defence and a prison. Now it’s a tourist attraction. Cobh is also associated with the Titanic even though it was actually built in Belfast, but here is where the last 123 people boarded the ship. There is also the Cobh Heritage Centre which has exhibitions on Irish history. We had a quick look in there and then mainly walked around the town and headed up to the cathedral and back. It’s a very charming town with character with lots of history which is why despite it being a small place is clearly popular with tourists.
Pubs are a big thing for when you go to Ireland. My dad really wanted to hear some live music so we went to pubs with that in mind. An easy way to narrow down which pubs to go to is using the Cork Heritage Pub Trail list. On the first night we went to The Poor Relation, unfortunately there was no music that night but it was nice to soak up the atmosphere of a good old Irish pub. There’s something different about them compared to English pubs. By recommendation of the list we also visited The Mutton Lane Inn, the oldest pub in Cork. That night we visited Sin E, a long-established venue for traditional Irish music and it was nice to finally here some live traditional music. It was a cosy pub with an upstairs and a downstairs and there was no stage it was literally people sat around a table with their instruments playing. I thought that was pretty cool though.
On the last day we had our last hotel breakfast, walked around Cork one last time, saw the Parnell Bridge and then it was time to head to the airport. Unfortunately, we were in the airport for hours as our flight home was delayed due to bad weather amongst other things. It felt silly to complain too much about it though considering earlier that day was the Ethiopia Airlines crash which sadly killed so many people. It puts things into perspective, as they say better to be late in this life than early to the next one. I did have a bit of a ‘cultural’ experience while waiting at the airport though, because I finally got to have some Tayto crisps as well as some Rock Shandy Club Orange! I made sure I had Club Orange a few times while I was in Ireland because it’s definitely better than Fanta. Yeeep, I said it. And Tayto crisps are just part of my childhood for me.
Since coming back from Ireland I’ve found I’ve been missing it quite a bit. I would love to do a proper road trip there at some point. I remember going to Killarney when I was about 14 and it still stands out as one of the nicest places in Ireland, so I’d love to go back there. I think generally along the west coast would be nice too. If you haven’t been to Ireland much I fully recommend flying over and staying in a city like I have done with Cork and Dublin because in reality it’s a much easier journey. There are always tours you can go on to see outside the city too, we used Paddywagon Tours who operate all over Ireland for Blarney and Cobh. Next time if I were to go to a city, I would like to see Belfast and Giant’s Causeway. It would be different as I’ve not really spent much time in Northern Ireland before. I would definitely like to return to Cork sometime though, definitely a great city to go to if you’re looking for something a bit less touristy than Dublin but still looking for that Irish city charm.