Put a Cork in it
Ireland had never made it to the top of my list until we began checking off places we wanted to see before leaving Europe for good, and then it just kept coming up! After some minimal research we opted for Cork, the quieter more refined cousin to Dublin and in the opinion of the locals, the City which should be the true Capital of Ireland.
On a sunny Thursday morning we flew from Southampton, which is absolutely our favourite local airport, it’s so small we always breeze straight through!
We arrived in Cork in the early afternoon and after checking into our huge, lovely and clean room at the Clayton Cork City hotel we ambled out into the crisp clear afternoon to the city centre, some five minutes away. I’ve never seen such a small city, it’s tiny and perfectly formed. We started our exploration by wandering along Oliver Plunkett Street, lined on either side with interesting shops and restaurants. After a while we found ourselves at the English Market, the oldest covered market in Europe and spent some time perusing the plethora of wonderful stalls. I saw my first cows heart, massive in case you were wondering, JHubz partook of a lovely cream doughnut and we bought some delicious truffles for later. Dinner on our first night was at Quinlans Seafood Bar, a fragrant and chunky seafood chowder for us both with a shared portion of butter cooked crab claws, yum.
We were up far too early for our Paddywagon, Ring of Kerry Coach Tour. The heavens opened pretty much as soon as we boarded the bus and I spent the first hour and a half, on the way to Killarney, reading. There was no point looking out of the window as the rain was too hard and the mist all encompassing. John, our driver and supposed tour guide for the day, had informed us when we boarded that he’d come down with something nasty and proceeded to cough, sneeze and splutter all day long – oh the joy. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he might be the worst tour guide we’ve ever had. What knowledge he did share was dull, often inaccurate and peppered with casual racism and misogyny. Thankfully the weather perked up and we were treated to some gorgeous views. Definitely not worth the ten hours of listening to John talking utter bollocks but wonderful all the same. Despite the consistently high reviews this tour seems to achieve I couldn’t recommend the tour even minus John. Each stop was a seemingly pointless ‘here’s another stop in the middle of nowhere selling the same old tourist tat you can pick up at any tourist trap in the entirety of Ireland. You’ve half an hour, off you go’. Thank the sweet baby cheeses I took my kindle. There are, I am sure, many wonderful local artisans who we could have visited instead and who would appreciate an influx of customers. Any who. Ten hours later we practically ran off the bus, thankful to have seen some of the countryside but delirious to be free and chowed down on a mediocre Chinese before retiring to the Clayton.
The next morning, full of hope, we headed out to meet William from Fab Food Trails Ireland for our Taste of Cork walking tour. Having originally been scheduled to visit Cork in June, before our flight was unfortunately cancelled, they VERY kindly offered to put on a tour in November for us. We were joined by four other travellers, all Irish, which added a lovely extra dimension. Not that it needed it. Boy did William make up for the crapfest of the day before! Smart, informative, this is a tour I heartily recommend. The seven of us headed off to the splendour of the Imperial Hotel for our first stop, learning along the way about how the street it sits upon was once where the river flowed before being pushed back a few hundred yards many many years ago. In the stunning art deco restaurant we indulged in half a scone, jam and cream and the local favourite, Barrys Tea, which was a totally fabulous way to start the day!
We wandered until we came to North Main Street with its inlaid brass plaques in the pavement commemorating lanes now long gone and St Peters, a deconsecrated church that now hosts events, a gallery and espresso bar. We were treated to a fascinating history lesson on Corks origins and how the city has doubled in size since the 17th century, reclaiming huge swaths of land from the surrounding river and marshland. We forewent the espresso, neither of us drinking coffee, but the others seemed to think it was pretty fine.
Some further wandering led us passed some wonderful street art and to the Coal Quay and the Saturday farmers market for our next stop at the incredible My Goodness Food. In their own words ‘My Goodness started as a vegan pop up cafe in Cork city centre in February 2014. The cafe focused on alternative diets and specific dietary needs offering gluten free, sugar free and raw options’. Now calling anything Vegan is a sure fire way to turn a lot of people off, me included, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and let the judgements go and let your taste buds enjoy. The were selling refreshing and delicious kefir and incredibly flavoursome raw food snacks. We tried the lemon kefir, which was so freaking yummy we went back to buy some later, and tried an absolutely mouth-watering raw food, fermented and pickled tapas. It was hands down our favourite stop, not only for the fantastic produce but also for their ethos. They’re working towards being zero waste by 2020 and already use compostable cups, straws and forks. Recycling is not enough. We have to stop producing, using and choosing single and multi use plastics. We simply have to make better choices.
And rant over and back to the tour…We next found our way back to the English Market where we visited three vendors. The first was for tasty spiced beef at Tom Durcan, an Irish delicacy neither of us have tried before, many butchers make it but apparently the queues at Tom’s before Christmas are legendary. Next was On The Pig’s Back delicatessen where we enjoyed velvety chicken liver, garlic and brandy pate and three local cheeses, creamy delicate Gubeen, and a blue and a cheddar which were damn fine but I can’t recall what they were called. Our final stop in the English Market was at Kay O’Connell fishmongers for fresh oysters (for those lucky enough not to have haemochromatosis) succulent prawns and perfectly pickled anchovies, delicious!
After a very short walk our last stop was in the beautiful Winthrop Arcade at Cocoa for a decadent dark chocolate truffle and tiny cup of rich thick hot chocolate. I was tempted to buy some of the truffles but the one euro twenty price tag per truffle gave me pause, gulp! They were for sure yummy but we’d bought some equally tasty ones at The Chocolate Shop in The English Market the day before for easily half the price.
The tour was great, we covered a fair amount of Cork and William taught us as much about the wonderful city as he did the vendors we visited. It was a really lovely way to spend a few hours.
We wandered aimlessly for the rest of the day visiting Crawfords Art Gallery and St Fin Barres Cathedral before heading back to Oh My Goodness, stopping in to Bradleys, Cork’s only independent supermarket and a great retailer of local produce to pick up some take home pressies. A final visit to the English Market to buy a round of the fabulously creamy Gubeen cheese, chicken liver and brandy pate and some gorgeous plump prawns and we were all walked out.
We’d tried to get into Isaacs for dinner but sadly they were fully booked so we ended up at the equally well reviewed Elbow Lane. It’s a cosy and charming restaurant known for its wood grilling and micro brewery. The service was fast and friendly but sadly the perfectly cooked steak was massively over seasoned, I’m pretty confident we ate a years’ worth of salt in one sitting.
Cork is lovely! Tiny, charming, walkable, friendly and full of interesting things to do and see. We’re not really shoppers anymore but it does seem to be something of a shoppers paradise for those who are. It is definitely a great place to spend a weekend, we were incredibly lucky with the weather which was cold and crisp with the occasional downpour and plenty of rainbows. And oh boy the accents were divine! I’m now asking every Irish person I meet to say ‘In three days on Thursday I think I’ll go to the cathedral’ try it, you’ll thank me I promise Xx