Cork - The People's Republic of

The banks of the lovely Lee


On our way to Cork during the Summer we got a call from the place where we were due to stay, the lady, Noreen, asked what time we would arrive. Dom said it should be around 5 o’clock and would that suit? she replied that it wouldn’t suit AT ALL as she desperately wanted to meet us, and she also wanted to leave to go on holidays herself, and sure how could she do the two things, let alone by 5 o’clock, for the love of God!

With only a passing knowledge of quantum gravity and cosmic strings we couldn’t bend time, we were sorry to miss Noreen so she gave us an in-depth rundown of exactly what we were to do that evening. She started off by saying “I’ll tell you one thing I know about you, you are Australian if ever I met one, boy!”

Corkonians call a lot of people ‘boy’ and use the word ‘like’ a lot. Not wanting to disappoint ole Nor again, Dom, who is not Australian but is often mistaken for one, quickly replied “You betcha!”.

Her tips were extremely useful, and her lengthy monologue ended with an insistence that we get a Japanese takeaway from the top of the road, she assured us it was Michelin Star (hhmm, a takeaway? Michelin star?... we’re not in Australia now, mate).

As Noreen had told us it would be a criminal offence not to get the takeaway, we thought, “Jaysus, we better get the sushi to go, so!” For the record, it was delightful and the owner of Myazaki Japanese Takeaway is a Michelin Star chef - I didn’t doubt it for a minute.

Catwalk calvary

We stayed in a Garrison House within the ancient Elisabeth Fort. Dom had booked the unusual dwelling through the Irish Landmark Trust. The house was restored to how it may have looked in the 1950s when it was occupied by a Police officer’s family. There was no television or wifi, there were books, board games and cards. It was a thrilling moment when the Gatekeeper retired for the evening and handed us the physical heavy leaden key to the large medieval door, the yards of oak that kept us safe and sound within our fortress. We felt like local Chieftains put in charge of the stronghold for the night. The key rested in the centre of our impenetrable triangle, a core elite group of hardened Irish warriors who swapped sushi and played a mean game of Beggar-my-Neighbour. Our fierce Fianna ancestors would be proud.

The Gore Brothers

The next day, feeling very satisfied with our skills at keeping the local Cork rebels out, we jogged around the empty Parade ground in front of ‘our’ house. “Shall we walk the ramparts?” suggested Roisin, as only a half British person can. “We shall!” I declared and we took off up the stony stairs to wonderfully intact Game-of-Thrones style battlements. It wasn’t long before we stumbled across prosthetic gory heads sitting on top of spikes, the trophies from a recent battle no doubt, well played Cork City Council, well played.

Shhh, brainy people at work

Two bubbly volunteer students arrived to ‘man’ the fort. They were very proud to be from Cork and very excited to tell us the highlights to visit. Perhaps being students their first recommendation was University College Cork. It owes its existence to Queen Victoria and indeed was originally named Queens College. We decided to walk to the beautiful 175 year old university. It was a pleasure to walk around, it had that Oxbridge regal air about it that I love. Not to be left behind, UCC had modern twists on campus with the likes of the cutting edge visual arts gallery the Glucksman in situ, worth a look.

I know the county of Cork is bigger than Dublin but even the roads in the city seemed roomier. I love Dublin and I won’t have a bad word said about it but sometimes walking down the congested narrow roads, I get a claustrophobic panic attack. This Covid 2 meters thing, I welcomed it with 6 foot arms.

We continued walking along the banks of the lovely Lee river to have a look at the Cork Water Works Experience. At first I wasn’t so sure what we would be getting into exactly, watching someone flush a toilet, perhaps? However, we were greeted by an exuberant man who interrupted my inquiries with a quip of “Down from Dublin, is it?” said with a smirk - which is a secret joke that happens a lot outside of Dublin. I always laugh along but in my head I’m thinking “Yes indeed, my country cousin, we’re doing a tour of ‘Outside Dublin’, so how much is it for two adults, one child, and a lot of notions?”

The Cork Water Works Experience happens to be well worth a visit. It’s all interactive, explains what water is, where it comes from, how we can save water and energy, etc. In the 18th century the water supply in Cork was so poor that it led to riots on the street and the London parliament had to pass a law to allow the Cork Water Works to be built. It was a game changer and for a brief time (for reasons that are not clear) Cork was known as the Venice of the Atlantic. Now, who’s got notions?!

Water, Water, Everywhere

Afterwards, we were the only people who availed of the playground situated on a hill behind the museum, it became a bit unnerving as we cavorted in the shadow of an old mental asylum that used to give electroshock therapy up until the 1990s.

The river Lee is Cork’s version of Dublin’s superior river Liffey (I’m kidding, friendly county rivalry). Walking along by the Lee is a lovely city jaunt. We walked straight to Fitzgerald Park, there was a gorgeous wild feel to the fountain that centre-pieced the park. We came across a healthfood coffee shop within the grounds, the Natural Food company, that had inviting bright outdoor seating. Pandemic perfection.

Eye see you

From there we strolled back into central Cork. I'm just going to say it: Cork city centre is similar to Dublin city centre. Cork is more hilly, and I loved this, it allows for a better appreciation of the architecture and gives you a stronger sense of the lie of the land. The English Market is in the centre of town and has been around since 1788. It’s lively and good for a wander through. It's one of the oldest markets in Europe, older than Barcelona's famous Boqueria. It has survived the famine, revolution, wars and fires (so, similar to hosting a kids birthday party).

You should never be short of a place to eat or drink in Cork, there are a trillion restaurants, cafes and pubs. You’ve got your two famous churches; St Fin Barre's Cathedral (Protestant) and St Finbar's church (Catholic). Who came first? Who is borrowing from whom? As TV’s Father Ted would say ‘That would be an ecumenical matter’, a theological debate for another time. I imagine Finbar (or Fin Barre) couldn't give a fiddler’s curse.


On a tip from our very friendly National Trust stewart at the Fort, we took a drive to the Marina and walked the terrific Greenway that brought us to the (flooded) Atlantic Pond. The Greenway used to be a railway track. It was serene and, although very active with dog walkers and joggers, there was plenty of room to stretch out our legs in the drizzle and keep socially distanced. As the rain started to come down in sheets, we ran back to our car which was parked in the charming neighborhood of Blackrock. Not a million miles off Dublin’s Blackrock.

We didn't make it beyond Cork city this trip but as everyone knows West Cork is wildly famous for it's beautiful coastlines and the coastal population swells when those Summer months fall.

Something I nearly overlooked which we only checked out on a whim as we were leaving town was Nano Nagle Place, an old convent converted into a Cork Heritage Centre.

The outside had 10 foot tall posters about equality, Black Lives Matter, Enough Is Enough - Go Cork! I booted it up the steps to find a beautiful roof garden, a wild garth, and a drop down waterfall beneath me. I walked over butteresses, peered into nave windows, nodded to a neat nuns graveyard and sat by another man-made waterfall. The space is small but it has been expertly planned. There is a cute Garden Cafe and a bookshop. To be honest, if I had known what existed I would have visited it sooner and spent longer there.


I knew Nano Nagle was a famous nun, that’s pretty much all I knew. So I asked the teenage sales assistant in the giftshop “Can you tell me more about Nano?”, expecting her to tell me it’s a crypto currency. As it happened she was a treasure trove of nuggets about the nun. Nagle’s primary goal was education and she wasn’t afraid of some subterfuge to accomplish it. She wanted to teach the local kids in Cork back in the 1700s but Catholic education was banned at the time so she set up seven secret schools scattered throughout the city. She brought the French Ursaline order of nuns over to help but they were an enclosed order and wouldn't leave the walls of their enclosure so she started a new order of nuns to teach the kids called the Presentation order. My daughter goes to a Presentation primary school, where learning is paramount, now I see where it stemmed from, when you have to fight for something it makes it more precious.

While I was perusing the gift shop a fellow customer walked up and said "Sure, where are ya from like anyway?" Not used to random conversation I looked all around for who she might be talking to, realising it was my good self I answered loquaciously "Dublin". And she was off...

"I feckin love Dublin, I do, I feckin love it, like. Sure, everytime I go there I drink the feck out of it! D'ye know that fancy hotel the Shelbourne? Well, I don't stay there. Cork is great though isn't it? It’s the REAL capital city like, sure we're bigger than Dublin!”

She turned to examine Roisin, then continued “I used to be a Nanny in Boston for 20 years, I wouldn't have kids of my own though, God no, I love my shhhhleep too much, I.LOVE.MY.SHLEEP. God love ya, I don't know how you do it! What d'ye think of this Corona business, is it ever gonna FECK OFF like?! Sure off you go with your good self, watch out for the storm!"

Little did I know a storm had been brewing inside and out. The wind blew myself and Róisín out the door and back into the car Dom had waited in. "Well, how was it?" said Dom.

"Cork’s feckin great, like!" says I "Let's go boy!"


  1. "a core elite group of hardened Irish warriors who swapped sushi and played a mean game of Beggar-my-Neighbour" ;) :) wish i could have been there!


Post a Comment