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Pop The Cork (and find the 'Gift Of The Gab')!
Cork (city) in General
Member Name: genny symbio
Cork (city) in General
Date: 21/06/01, updated on 21/06/01 (138 review reads)
Advantages: Plenty to see and do, cheap accommodation, not far from the Blarney Stone
Disadvantages: Rather touristy, not suited to those wanting to 'get away from it all'
Our first thought as my husband and I arrived in Cork was "Oh my god, we're back in Dublin!" Having slept most of the stretch from Cahir to Cork we were worried for a minute that we'd hopped on the wrong bus - the river running through the town centre complete with periodic bridges, the 'Centra Quick Stop' on every second corner and the slightly crumbly stone houses did seem almost uncannily familiar.
But no - we were in the right place after all. As the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland, Cork is quite a buzzing place, full of old buildings, churches, shopping centres, pubs and, of course, tourists.
On arrival, we hefted our backpacks and began to follow my hastily scribbled directions for the 'Sheila's of Cork' hostel. Only about 10 minutes walk from the bus stop (depending on quality of directions and size of backpack), it was a bit of a struggle up a hill but still quite convenient to the town centre. At only IR £10/night (UK£8) for a dorm bed Sheila's wasn't bad at all, including a well-stocked kitchen (complete with recycling bins), a video room with fairly recent videos for hire, a pleasant common room and even a sauna (IR£1.50/person). The bedrooms were fairly small - only 4 beds in ours (meaning less snoring roommates). My only gripe is that my mattress was lumpy and the bed above it too low (I lost count of the number of times I bumped my head!). The staff were mostly Australian and generally quite helpful. [Note to any other Aussies out there: Sheila's also stocks Tim-Tams, Cherry Ripes, Milo and Vegemite!] Oh, and if you stay for three nights you also get a free pass to the City Gaol (Jail) and Radio Museum (normally worth IR£3.50).
As it was pretty late in the evening, we just dumped our bags in our room and freshened up a little before heading out to find some dinner. McCurtain Street, we were informed, was our best bet. The entire street seemed to consist mainl
y of pubs, restaurants and cheap eateries. Being rather tired we decided to get takeaways: I opted for a Tandoori Special Kebab (less than UK£3 and totally delicious and filling) while Dave had a large pepperoni pizza (around UK£4 for 12 inches).
Than back to the hostel to rest up for the next day's sight-seeing?.
We woke up bright and early (well? okay around 10am). First we headed across the river into the city centre, stopping to browse at a few shops on the way to the Tourist Office (on the corner of Grand Parade and South Mall). After picking up some info and browsing through souvenirs we couldn't possibly afford, we headed out towards the City Gaol. On the way we passed by the Coal Quay Markets, which weren't really that exciting - just a few stalls with cheap clothing and so on (though it was drizzling a little and there were also road works on that street - perhaps it's usually more interesting). We also stopped at the Cork Vision Centre, which is a smallish gallery that has a different exhibit every month or so. At the time we were there a mixture of surreal and impressionist paintings/collages/sculptures were on display, presumably by local artists. The works weren't exactly outstanding, but there were still quite a few interesting pieces and hey, it was free.
Cork City Gaol was a fair walk from the city centre (and across the river again), but worth it when we got there. Included in the admission price (IR£3.50, but as mentioned before we got free passes) was an audio tour of the gaol, which was quite informative. It covers the history of individual inmates of the gaol as well as general history. At the end of the tour there is also an audio-visual presentation which was slightly corny but still entertaining, and worth it just to hear the Irish in the audience join in with the song at the end (though I'm afraid I can't remember what it was called!).
We then headed across the river once mo
re to Fitzgerald Park, which houses the Cork Public Museum. Along with a lot of interesting artefacts and information relating to Irish history, what I found most interesting was a selection of personal letters between Michael Collins and his lover, Kate Kearney. (Apparently the entire collection has been divided up and the various selections are periodically rotated around the major museums in Ireland.) The museum is also free, and I definitely recommend a visit. The park is quite nice as a spot to relax for a while (we spent a good twenty minutes or so just sitting and watching the ducks).
We continued on, passing the University and the Greyhound Racing Track along the way to St. Fin Barre's Cathedral. Though it perhaps wasn't as grand as I was expecting, the cathedral was still quite attractive and worth a photo or two. From here we went on to the Red Abbey, which turned out to actually be the fairly unimpressive ruins of an old monastery. By this time it was becoming rather late, so we walked on past the City Hall, stopped at a Quick Stop to get some supplies for dinner and headed back to the hostel.
After dinner we headed out to check out the Cork nightlife. Unfortunately being a Friday night most places seemed a little too crowded for our tastes. I was hoping for somewhere with traditional or otherwise live music, but by the time we went out most places with bands playing (not counting those with abominable cover charge) seemed to have finished and moved on to playing techno or chart music. We finally settled on a pub on the corner of McCurtain and Bridge streets , which was alright as somewhere to stop for a pint but nothing special. (We left after the music degenerated from Texas to the Jackson Five.)
The following day we spent some time browsing about the town centre (Oliver Plunkett Street in particular has some interesting and cheap shops). We then headed for the bus station and took a bus out to Blarney (IR£3 return)
Only a half hour or so out of Cork, Blarney is quite a pleasant little town, though obviously the main attraction is Blarney Castle. Entrance is IR£3.50, which includes kissing the Blarney Stone. The grounds are massive and include a lot of points of interest such as the Witches Kitchen, a Sacrificial Altar and a Druids Worshipping Ground. The Castle itself is fairly bare of the usual furnishings and so forth but is still interesting. If you can brave the narrow spiral staircases, the Blarney Stone as at the top of the Castle. A man is up there to help you lean back over a somewhat dizzying drop to kiss the stone (well worn by thousands of tourist lips). I'd advise you to get a friend to take a photo of you - though the official photographer occupies the best vantage point, the snaps cost between IR£7-£22 (depending on size). You can also get an 'official' certificate (IR£1) verifying that you have kissed the stone from the gift shop down below (though even we decided that was just too tacky!). I don't know whether we actually gained the elusive 'gift of the gab'... only time will tell!
So I'm afraid that more or less concludes our trip to Cork - after a little more time wandering the city and so on we set off for Killarney the next morning.
Though perhaps not the most exciting of cities, it was still a pleasant place to visit and contained enough attractions to keep us busy! I would definitely recommend Cork as a stopover for anyone touring the 'Emerald Isle'.
For more information on Sheila's Hostel go to www.sheilashostel.ie
For bus information and timetables go to www.buseireann.ie
For tourist information on Cork go to www.cork-guide.ie or www.ireland.travel.ie
Stay tuned for more Ireland ops!