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Did You Know … ?
- William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was born in Kinsale outside of Cork City.
- Youghal, on Cork’s coast, claims to be home to the first Irish potato.
- Cobh in Cork’s harbor was the Titanic’s last port of call.
- Queen Elizabeth I, unable to gain control of Blarney Castle, was the first to use the word blarney to mean glib chatter.
- Between 1848 and 1950, 2.5 million people emigrated from Ireland via Cobh, 42% of the era’s emigrants.
Blarney in the mix
Cork, in the county of the same name, is impressive in its own way because of its geography. Its center sits on an island in the middle of the River Lee just upstream from the Cork harbor. Cork, located on the Emerald Isle’s southern coast, was initially built on several islands. However, the waterways between islands have been filled in and form some of the city’s main streets today. The numerous bridges connecting Cork’s center to the mainland are part of the city’s visual charm.
The same can be said for some of the architecture at the heart of this 800-year-old metropolis. The diligent tourist will likely join a walking tour, or simply strike out with a map in hand, to see and appreciate Cork’s collection of churches, mansions and museums, plus Blackrock Castle and the Cork City Gaol.
It also is a city of pubs where visitors may sip whiskey or the locally brewed Beamish stout. Food choices include Corkonian favorites — black pudding and pig’s trotters. (For those who can’t stomach that, it’s good to know Cork earns kudos these days for other, classier dining choices.)
The city hosts festivals that bring Irish sensibilities to the music, theater and other entertainments. Or, for the sports minded, Cork is the venue for Gaelic football and hurling.
Tourists, in their search for an Irish experience with the Corkonian twist, may happily find a little blarney in the mix. It just so happens Blarney Castle and its more famous stone are a few miles outside of town.
In fact, Cork is a short drive from a number of charming seaside towns, too. One such is Cobh, one of several towns lining Cork’s harbor. It offers a delightful riverside panorama accented by a hilltop cathedral. Cobh’s history is a draw, too. Millions of Irish emigrated to England or the New World from here.
Further, Cobh’s docks berthed the ill-fated Titanic and Lusitania. The Lusitania was torpedoed in 1915 a few miles away, near Kinsale, another pretty fishing village, but with special appeal for tourists (partly for its gourmet dining). Museums in both towns provide further insights.
Things to do for Venturers
- Kiss the Blarney Stone. This requires leaning over backwards from Blarney Castle’s parapet walk (while gripping an iron railing). Stick around to stroll in the castle’s gardens and spy ancient stones said to date from a druidic garden here.
- Get your jazz fix at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, in October.
- Tour the city on a rented bicycle.
- Take cooking classes at Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. It is described as the world’s only cooking school located in the middle of its own 100-acre organic farm.
- Also, sample drisheen (black pudding), made from sheep’s intestines which are filled with meal and sheep’s blood. It is often paired with tripe.
- Take a night tour — yes, in the dark — of the 19th century Cork City Gaol. It can be a ghostly experience.
Things to do for Centrics
- Become a qualified Irish whiskey taster during a visit to the Jameson Experience in Midleton (on Cork’s harbor). The Jameson Experience tells the story of Irish whiskey. During your apres-tour tasting session you may qualify for a whiskey taster’s diploma.
- Nearby Kinsale is noted as a gourmet hot spot. Attend the Kinsale Gourmet Festival in October.
- Participate in the Bord Gais Energy Cork City Marathon, the charitable fundraiser known as the marathon for everyone because participants race at all skill levels and can participate as part of a team rather than run the full course individually.
- Make a journey to the county’s Skibbereen Heritage Centre to see the “Great Famine Exhibition.” This was one of the areas hit hardest by the 19th century potato famine. About 10,000 victims are buried in mass graves near Skibbereen.
- Come to town in June to witness the World Street Performance Championships. Or, for June, come for the Cork Midsummer Festival of the Senses, which Tourism Ireland says pushes the boundaries of all the art forms.
- Spend an evening watching greyhounds race at Curraheen Park.
Things to do for Authentics
- If a foodie, plan time for the English Market, which has been operating in Cork City since 1788. You’ll find a rich collection of organic and locally produced fresh foods. Have breakfast in the market.
- Leave Cork City for a scenic drive in the western part of County Cork. See the medieval town of Kinsale and the fishing ports of Castletownbere and Union Hall, among other spots.
- Go to the opera, or see a theatrical production, at the Cork Opera House.
- Ring the Bells of Shandon, located in the 300-year-old tower of St. Anne’s Church.
- Research your family’s genealogy at the Cobh Heritage Centre. The facility, located in Ireland’s single most important port of emigration, has a record finder meant for those with little experience with genealogy research.
- Call at the Cork Butter Museum for some surprising insights into the history of butter and butter making in Ireland. Learn how butter was once preserved in the Irish bogs.
For more information, consult Tourism Ireland at www.ireland.com