As I had only about five days to play in Ireland, I tried to round out my experience as much as I could. I spent the majority of my time in the rural areas, which are well represented in the other travelogues under Ireland. Thus, I wanted to ensure I spent one day in a truly big Irish city. Cork, the capital city of the southernmost county in Ireland (Cork County) was the city of choice. And a good choice it was (not great, but good).
Cork is Ireland's third largest city and is only a two-hour bus ride from Waterford, and buses run between the two cities every hour. Its downtown grew on an island on the River Lee as it wound it way to the sea. The river valley is pretty steep, and the city metropolis sprawls well beyond the high ground just to the north (in the direction of Blarney... yes, that Blarney... only a twenty-minute bus ride away).
Quite truthfully, Cork is not a picturesque city, or I should say it is not photogenic. While it has a tremendous history dating back twelve centuries, it is not blessed with a lot of ancient buildings to illustrate it. It's ancient Viking walls that once protected the island in its entirely are virtually gone. Most of the sights are comparatively recent, such as the St. Finn Barre's Cathedral that appears prominently in the first two photos -- the church itself is only a couple centuries old, built on top of 7th century monastery. The South Gate Bridge in the second photo is nice, but it was a challenge getting the photo lined up so I avoided much of the industral sprawl surrounding it.
But that doesn't mean Cork isn't worth visiting -- in fact, its worth the trip for two reasons. First is that it is undergoing a major facelift. Second, it's a tremendous commercial and cultural center with lots of shopping and museums.
In the former case, I was present as the final stages of a major downtown-wide drainage project was underway, which should be completed by the end of 2002. Bad news for me, as Patrick Street -- Cork's major downtown draw -- was completely dug up so I couldn't take photos of it. Good news for future travelers as the Street's pedestrian center will be rebuilt and modernized. The beautiful hotels and shopping centers that line it now will make for great pictures in the future. Also dug up is the city's southern park, that contains most of the city's best sculptures and landscape. That will be repaired and refurbished soon as well. So that left me mostly checking out the shops and museums.
Cork doesn't have the benefit of a large and purely pedestrian shopping district, but that doesn't matter as it has a number of large markets and modernized shopping malls. The major draw is the British Market, shown in the third photo. This market covers a city block. It not only sells foods of many different cultures, but also hosts a decent restaurant.
The temptation may be to stay on Patrick Street, but be sure to continue around the Grand Parade and down Oliver Plunkett Street, which is where some of the more traditional and specialized shops reside. Also, there is a separate shopping district across the river to the north that you don't want to ignore -- North Main Street and the vicinity of Kyrl's Quay.
While on North Main Street, there is one very good tourist attraction that you ought to hit before trekking off to the museums. This is the Cork Vision Center, a name that it misleading or deceiving as any I've ever heard (sounds like an optician, don't it?). The ground floor contains a scale model of the entire city limits, and there are electronic booths that provide excellent directions for walking tours of the city. I took copious notes and followed their directions, and saved myself a lot of time hunting for landmarks -- their directions were better than using the city's official tourist map.
I hit four museums on my travels and enjoyed them, although one of them I really don't recommend. The Vision Center's western tour takes you to three of them, the first being the city museum of Cork located in Fitzgerald's Park (fourth photo). The City Museum is free admission and very interesting, although it could be better organized (I found that several rooms had a lot of interesting stuff, but the rooms themselves did not have a clear theme or story to tell). The best room is the one that addresses Cork's role in the Irish Revolution in the 1920s.
The best museums are just across the river from Fitzgerald's, in the old city jail (fifth photo). The Jail (Gaol) Museum and the Radio Museum Experience occupy different parts of the building, and both are excellent -- the Jail especially. You are taken through the old jail, where waxwork scenes in the cells and warden's office tell stories of various inmates, their crimes and punishments. It was interesting to learn that after the jail was closed down in the late 20s it would become Cork's major radio station (hence the radio museum).
The museum I don't recommend unless you have the time is the Cork Butter Museum. I scoured that one in less than ten minutes, and seemed to be a museum based on the idea that butter was once Cork's bumper crop and the industry needed a museum. That said, the museum is in amongst the Shandon district on the northern high ground, and a look at the Shandon Steeple and North Cathedral are worth it.
Cork was a viable day trip for me, because I learned a lot about the Irish urban lifestyle, just roaming the streets and boroughs. But, I wouldn't classify it as a must-do, especially once you've found yourself captivated by the rural scenery and the nearby coastline.
Trip taken 6 August 2002 -- Page last updated 24 February 2008 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin