Cork was the final destination on our Irish road trip and I’m not going to lie, I think it was my favourite location of the entire trip. After a relatively short journey east from Kerry, we battled with Cork’s one-way-street system, before eventually parking, checking into our city centre hotel and setting out to explore Ireland’s second biggest city.
So, why did I love Cork so much?
There were a number of reasons. Firstly, the sun had returned to our holiday by this point, which was a welcome treat after our encounters with the rain on the west coast. Secondly, as much as I love being in the countryside and by the sea, I think I’m a city girl at heart – at least when it comes to day-to-day living – I enjoy exploring cities and seeing all they have to offer. Cork is a really easy and fun city to walk around: you’ve got the old city walls (not to be confused with Awesome Walls, a new climbing centre), the River Lee running through the city centre (you know what this means – bridges!) and there’s street art and random quirky wall murals kicking about on every street corner.
The hipster in me loves to discover a trendy coffee shop and one of Cork’s newest offerings, Three Fools, didn’t let me down (just look at the website). As we know, I love the Irish accent and there were some charming male staff serving us that day, complete with Irish accent. The cafe is also unique in that its cube-shape is plonked rather unnaturally but wonderfully in the middle of Grand Parade, outside Cork City Library. Finally, the actual product is super tasty. Their raspberry scones had already sold out at 10am (kinda my whole reason for going, thanks guys) but our alternative scones were yum. And we were able to sit outside! Hello summer holiday!
Nico and Joseph had recommended, quite seriously, that we visit the Cork Butter Museum to learn about one of the most important Irish trades: butter. As I’d visited the Museum of Toilets in New Delhi on a previous holiday, you can imagine their suggestion was right up my street. Fortunately, we timed our visit to the museum just in time for a rather entertaining but equally painful butter-making demonstration. If you’re seeking a Cork accent that you cannot understand, the butter man, as I’m sure he is fondly known, is your man. And there are lots of opportunities for audience participation!
A visit to the Cork Butter Museum costs €4 for adult entry. The demonstration comes at no extra cost (other than potentially your sanity).
My final reason for loving our brief encounter with Cork was that we had the chance to meet up with Neil, a friend we’d met whilst teaching English in Japan. Neil is, without a doubt, the most Irish person I have ever met. He’s from Cork (yes, he’s got a butter-man-style accent) and at that time, he was spending part of his time promoting the Irish Gaelic language and culture (so Irish) and part of his time pursuing his musical ambitions: he’s a mad-talented guitarist. No, but really, I came across a YouTube clip of him playing in the Irish busker equivalent of X Factor the other day; he’s legit! On top of that, Neil lives up to my favourite Irish stereotype: he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
On the evening of our arrival in Cork we had the chance to go and see Neil play, as he does regularly in the pubs in Cork. Waving like a groupie from the crowd, I soon realised we wouldn’t have a chance to talk to him properly that night, so we arranged to meet for lunch the following day. Cue another visit to a cube-shaped unnatural but wonderful cafe on the Grand Parade; hello Electric (Cork is so hipster).
It was inevitable that Brexit would come up in our conversation as, at this point, the EU referendum had taken place only one month earlier. It was interesting to hear Neil’s optimistic take on how the political move could possibly shake up the current status quo in Ireland, with potential for the reunification of Northern and the Republic of Ireland. Even six months after the EU referendum, it’s unclear how the UK’s exit from the EU will affect Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic. Could this be the time for a conversation about the reunification of the two nations? And can visiting Ireland on holiday in 2016 make me Irish, please?
Check out Neil’s official Facebook page here for a sample of his music.
Our final activity of the holiday was a visit to the famous Blarney Castle and grounds, located on the outskirts of Cork. This attraction is definitely worth more than the one hour or so that we gave it but we achieved what we set out to achieve: the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. According to 200-year old legend, kissing the stone gives you the ability to blag your way out of anything. Eloquence, they call it.
As you queue to make this life-changing kiss, you think it looks easy. All you need to do is lie down on your back, grab on to an iron railing, dip your head down this gaping gap and kiss the stone. There’s nothing to it.
I think my face illustrates the reality of the experience.
And so that was it. We lived our Irish coffee dream at the airport bar and I exchanged one Celtic heartland for another as I flew up to Edinburgh for the weekend. Slainte, Ireland!
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