The English Market – A lovely indoor market that has been around since 1788. It features local food specialties, including vegetables, desserts, meats, cheeses, and fish. There are even a few restaurants that serve up traditional and modern favorites. More info here: http://www.corkenglishmarket.ie/
St. Finbarre's Cathedral – The current Gothic Revival cathedral was completed in 1879. The location has been a site of worship since the 7th century and home home to 3 different cathedrals over the years. Despite being situated close to the city center, it feels like a place out of time. The small graveyard, understated gargoyles, and copper and gold leaf decorations add to the magical feel. The entry side of the cathedral is perfectly placed to catch golden rays of afternoon sun — a fabulous photo opportunity! More info here: http://www.cathedral.cork.anglican.org
Cork City Gaol – A fantastic historical monument thick with ghost stories. The World Ghost Convention, an event for families and those with an interest in the occult, has been hosted here in the past. I have been advised to go into a cell, close the door, and imagine being doomed to stay there for years: quite a melancholy thought! I advise a hot whiskey or a nice tea afterward to warm the, ahh… spirit! More info here: http://www.corkcitygaol.com/
Church of St. Anne Shandon – The clock atop the church is called, "The Four-Faced Liar," on account of all four clocks showing different times. For the price of €6, visitors may climb the tower and ring the bells to their heart's content. There are sheets of common tunes available to assist you in your musical endeavor or you are free to improvise! (I have not yet attempted an AC/DC tribute, but someday I may go play "Hells Bells.") More info here: http://www.shandonbells.org/
Uncredited stars: buskers and street fairs
In recent decades, Cork as reinvented itself as a center of culture and art in Ireland. There are festivals, exhibitions, and performances happening in every season — often right out on the street!
You'll find talented (and not-so-talented) performers ranging from solo women with guitars to tap dancing older gentlemen, from hammered dulcimers to the ubiquitous "human statues" so common in tourist spots, and from 4-piece rock bands to a lone pianist who rolls his piano around the center (or "centre," if you'd like to go local ;). On Saturday mornings, there is a small farmer's market where one can buy fresh farm-made cheese, hand-baked bread, organic veggies, and crêpes made on the spot. Temporarily located in front of the Opera House (did I mention Cork has an Opera House? amazing!) during sprucing up operations in the city center, the market has now returned to its customary location on Cornmarket Street. On Sundays, down on Grand Parade near the city library, there are food stalls set up by local restaurants and vendors. And everywhere you go, there are buskers filling the air with music.
Cork city pubs
The Corner House (Coburn Street) – the only pub in Cork to serve genuine Irish owned whiskey exclusively (foreign whiskeys need not apply!). So far, this is my personal favorite. A relaxed atmosphere with plenty of space and, occasionally, traditional Irish music. I love the fact that there are always candles burning and, even when full of lively patrons, it never feels too crowded. A great place to sit and chat with friends over a hot port!
Mutton Lane (Patrick Street) – a good, solid Irish pub on the main street of Cork city. Known locally for a great, contemporary style mural showing aspects of life in Cork, the English Market, and local Corkonian personalities. The inside is cozy, intimate, and like many pubs, lit with candles.
An Réalt Dearg (Barrack Street) – the oldest pub in Cork, and possibly the oldest (legal) pub in Ireland! Opened in 1698, it was originally known as "The Gateway." [Edit: it’s now been returned to its original name!] The Dukes of Wellington and Marlborough were often to be found drinking here. Remodeled and renamed within the last few years, it is under new management and features live, traditional music every Wednesday night.
Hi-B Bar (Oliver Plunkett Street) – Located in the heart of the city center, this pub is known for the interesting, and occasionally famous, people who visit, with the landlord being perhaps the most interesting of all. He is known to make up his mind instantly about people and the stories are legendary! I was told the following tales by two different friends:
1) Drinking too slowly, or not drinking at all, will invoke his ire.
Customer: "Can I have a coke, please?"
Landlord: "No, why don't you go and try McDonalds!"
2) Then there was a fellow who put two lumps of coal on the fire. Upon seeing this, the owner walked over and swiped the fellow's pint.
Customer: "Hey, that's my pint! I paid for it!"
Landlord: "Yeah, well that's my coal. I paid for it!"
Bring some money, your thirst, and a thick skin!
The Abbot Ale House (Devonshire Street) – Massive 2 pint glasses and a huge selection of imported beer (430 types in total). Happily, it is an off-license establishment, which means you can purchase bottles to be consumed elsewhere. It's a fun place, in any case, so you don't need to leave to have a lovely time. Best beer selection in all of Cork!
Uncredited stars: Irish ale and whiskey
There is a common misconception among visitors to Ireland that it is a land of diversity and microbrews when it comes to adult beverage choices. Due to various political and economic factors too numerous to mention, however, there are not many Irish-owned and Irish-made brews. Local favorites include Irish-only creations, but also branch out into fine alcohols from companies in other countries, or brews that are locally made but not locally owned. A poll of my friends indicated their favorites are, in no particular order: Beamish (beer), Guinness (beer), Bulmers (cider), Murphy's (beer), and Jameson (whiskey).
**Special addition (because it should not have been left out in the first place!)**: The Franciscan Well Brewery — one of the only pubs that brews its own beer. A great place to meet up with your mates and share a pint. Known for great beer festivals and fantastic brews, it is built on the site of a Franciscan monastery and well dating to 1219. Required visiting for beer connoisseurs.
Blarney Castle – The home of the famous Blarney Stone, the castle and surrounding grounds have so much more to offer than just the "gift of gab." If you are so inclined, you may climb the steep insides of the castle, chortling amusedly at the funny signs, taking in the view, and eventually kissing the beloved stone. On a crowded, touristy day, however, it could get a bit claustrophobic and may not be worth the effort to climb.
The grounds, however, are fantastic all on their own. The "Rock Close" is an area of beautiful plants, ancient ritual sites, petite waterfalls, and gorgeous rock formations. Wickedly enticing is the Poison Garden, featuring such deadly headliners as Love Lies Bleeding, oleander, and hemlock. There are several hours worth of walks, as well as picnic grounds (thankfully at a good distance from the Poison Garden). Wear walking shoes and bring your camera! More info here: www.blarneycastle.ie
Drombeg Stone Circle – Located approximately 18 km (11 miles) southwest of Clonakilty, Drombeg is one of the most famous stone circles in Ireland. Oriented toward the winter solstice, 13 of the original 17 pillars remain. The setting is pastoral and timeless, with the green hills of Ireland spread out all around, leading down to a distant view of the sea. Please be respectful of the space, as the spot is still sacred to many. Recommended for photographers, spiritual seekers, history and archaeology buffs, and folks who love the outdoors.
The Irish coastline – (Please excuse me while I wax poetic!) The coast of Ireland is so spectacular it deserves its own entry. Dramatic stone cliffs, serene coves, and hidden inlets make for awe inspiring scenery. It is not hard to imagine that many famous Irish writers and musicians found their muses while inhaling the fresh air and gazing out across the Celtic Sea. The famous green of the Emerald Isle often reaches right to the edge of the sea, with wildflowers dotting the landscape. Surfing (with a good wetsuit!) is popular along many beaches, and whale watching is possible in several spots. Renting a car and taking a drive along the coast is highly recommended. Stop at a pub for fresh fish and chips.
Cobh – Pronounced "Cove," the seaport town was the departure point of over 6 million Irish emigrants. Said to be the world's second largest natural harbor, Cobh was the last stop of both the Titanic and the Lusitania. The original walkway that connected the Titanic to land can still be seen in all its crumbling glory, right next to the "Titanic Queenstown Bar and Restaurant," located in the former offices of the White Star Line. (As a big fan of film soundtracks, I had James Horner's Hymn to the Sea playing in my head during my visit.)
Outside the Cobh Heritage Museum is a poignant statue of Annie Moore, the first emigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in the United States. The striking St. Colman's Cathedral overlooks the town. Cobh sits on an island and can be reached by a bridge from the north or tiny ferries from the east or west. Personally, I recommend the ferries for at least one direction, because it's fascinating to see cars shuttled back and forth on such small boats and for such a seemingly short distance.
Bere Island – Beautiful and relaxing with a great view toward the mainland. The view from the lookout tower comes complete with sunken ship (well, mostly sunken – the mast is above the water). The setting for the Colin Farrell film, Ondine, Bere Island is a lovely spot for cycling, diving, and whale watching.
Uncredited stars: the Irish countryside
Whether you are driving from Dublin to Cork, or from Cork to the sea, you will always pass through the verdant hills and fields of Ireland. These pastoral scenes have been described frequently through the ages, but even the most reverent prose or professional photographs have trouble doing justice to the scenery. Green during all seasons, unless blanketed with snow, the fields tempt and inspire one to abandon city life forever and get back to the land. Springtime is even more glorious, with grass and daffodils turning the fields positively luminescent. A must see that is fortunately difficult to miss!
And there you have it: 15 things (plus extras!) that you must see in Cork. There is soooo much more, I assure you! Come out and visit. You won't be disappointed!