Captured by Cork,
(or, how to really enjoy yourself during a weekend in what has to be one of the finest cities in Ireland and relive those nostalgic memories of youth.)
It may be a long way to Tipperary, but it’s as far to Cork. Cork City that is. Now whether you stay in the Hayfield Manor, or, as we did, in Garnish House, a Guest House out near the University, your stay in this city will be memorable.
My first encounter with this noble city was all of forty years ago, having camped down at Kinsale in a tent that let in more water than it kept out, we decided on the last night to treat ourselves to a really good meal. Four stalwart lads invaded Cork City, where we were told by a lovely Bord Failte girl that the only place for a steak was The Oyster Tavern.
We were not disappointed that night as I first became acquainted with a Porterhouse steak. This was of such a size that it would have fed a family at Sunday dinner. Grilled over red-hot charcoal and served by a tall gentleman of elegant manner in a dress suit, of whom we were in awe and thought must surely be the owner, this was a meal to remember. He looked kindly on us did that gentleman with the cadaverous countenance, and did not make us feel out of place, which we probably were, as he gently advised us on the subtleties of steaks and their accompaniments.
Over the years I have often thought nostalgically of that fine waiter in a little tavern up a tiny alley off Great Patrick Street, the main street that curves through the centre of the city. If I ever heard of anyone going to Cork, I always told them about The Oyster, and never did anyone speak ill of it. In fact, it seemed from their description as if the waiter they had encountered was the one who had been there all those years ago.
Now forty years later, it was time to relive the adventure of the Porterhouse steak. Staying in Garnish House, a most elegant establishment that modestly called itself a guesthouse, but was worthy of much greater status, and where the breakfasts were of gargantuan proportions, we had foregone the usual huge repast in anticipation of the feast yet to come.
As we walked into the city, I told herself of that meal of long ago, of the succulent juices that oozed over the plate from a well-hung steak seared over red-hot charcoal. The taste of the gravy made from the meat’s own juice that clung to the palate long after. The huge hand-cut chips from local potatoes, crisp and golden beside the gigantic field mushrooms dripping with butter. And the smooth well-poured pint of the black stuff. Followed by, of course, a dram or two of Jameson’s.
My cheeks drew in and the juices ran at the anticipation of this pilgrimage from the past.
Down Great Patrick Street and there outside the alley was the old gaslight with its sign, albeit somewhat rusty, with the one word, “Oyster.” All those years I had waited, eaten in restaurants of haute cuisine around the world, sampled food of every nationality, worshipped at the Altar of Gluttony and now had arrived at the Mecca of that memorable meal.
Not to be.
Frantically I searched up and down that alley, but nowhere was that, or indeed, any other restaurant.
The rest of that night is best glossed over as solace was taken in a local hostlery. Apparently “The Oyster” had closed its doors the previous month.
But. Cork City is one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Listen to the variety of languages in the streets. Go into a café and watch the animation of the faces.
And it’s the attitude that’s great.
“Ah sure those shoes’ll nivir fit ya. Go down to O’Dwyer’s, they’re only half the price ye’ll pay here!”
“A point?” ( It took me some time to realise that this was in fact not a small dot, but indeed a pint in the vernacular Cork idiom!)
“Ah, ye’ll be wantin’ to go to …..”
Cork is built on two rivers, so that much of the time moving round the city is over bridges. Remember where you park the car. It’s easy to forget which bridge the car-park is beside, and panic and call out the Garda Siochana to report a stolen car which the Gard will kindly suggest might be in the other car-park…and of course that’s where it was.
It was Saint Finbarre who founded this city with his monastic school around 650 A.D. and the Cathedral which bears his name with its fine rose window and elaborate mosaic pavements is worth the visit.
Or Shandon Church with two sides of the tower in red sandstone and two sides in white limestone. “Partly coloured like the people, red and white is Shandon Steeple,” goes the local doggerel. The famous chimes of 8 bells can be rung by visitors for a few Euro. It was known locally as “the four faced liar” as each of the four clocks on the church used to show a different time. Now modern technology means they all show the same time. Ah well, it’s progress!
Many of the streets of Cork were built over open water, and the landing stages of local merchants, where sailing ships from the Levant and Cathay once nuzzled their anchor chains, are still there.
Great Patrick Street is built over a river, hence the pronounced curve. And indeed the steps up to some of the buildings hearken back to when these were landing stages.
Much as the hills of the city go up and down, so do the voices of the citizens with their sing-song cadence.
This is a city to enjoy. Whether sitting listening to the soft lilt of the West or the foreign tongues, or wandering the streets and looking in the shop windows, or sampling the music of the night in the cellars and pubs. Whatever dream haunts you, this city might just have the answer. Let it wash over you and seep into your bones whether at the Mass or sitting on a bench, this city will have something for you.
If you’re a fan of Jazz, this city is for you. Come in the last weekend in October for the Annual Guinness Jazz Festival. This is when the city pulses and throbs with the rhythms of Count Basie, Fats Waller, Dizzy Gillespie all day and all night.
Or if your preference is for browsing through little shops hoping for the non-existent bargain, visit the Paul Street area, a former back street now converted into a thriving shopping area of restaurants, boutiques, craft shops and bookshops in the heart of old Cork. It has to be said that it is different from the usual trendy street that most cities have nowadays. There is a French feel about this part of the city which isn’t surprising as this was part of the Old French Quarter in the seventeenth century when Huguenots fleeing from persecution in their own country, settled here and started trading.
Not too far away is the entrance to the English Markets where amongst the usual produce are products peculiar to Cork. Drisheen, a mixture of dried sheep’s blood and herbs in a long pudding skin. Or Crubeen, pigs’ feet boiled “with the hoof on!” And Trotters. Sheep’s feet boiled in water.
It’s worth going down to Kinsale for the day, or indeed a few days. Washed by the warmth of the Gulf Stream this little town plays host to a variety of plants not thought of as belonging here. There is a warmth in the air that is almost Mediterranean. At night sit out in the balmy air that drifts in from the warm waters of the South, which started down near the Equator and washed the shores of Mexico. Kinsale is not just a village on the coast. It is highly cultured with a sophisticated and discerning population.
And seafood of course is one of the main dishes on this warm seaboard that teems with an abundance of fish. Try the Mussels Mariniere cooked in white wine with a little garlic and parsley, the juices mopped up with fresh crusty bread from the local bakery, the aroma from the ovens lingering in the still night air. Or the langoustines seared over charcoal, the gentle smell of the charred shells anticipating the feast to come.
And if wild Atlantic salmon is your dish? Caught twenty miles up the river having spent three years across the ocean in the Sargasso Sea, and now responding to the timeless urge to breed in the place it was spawned, it seemed a pity to eat such a noble creature. Wrapped in soaked newspaper, (the Irish Times of course), stuffed with herbs grown on the hillside near Old Kinsale Head, and steamed to perfection over the very hottest of charcoal, the succulent flesh falls off the bones.
Old Kinsale Head is worth visiting to look out over the deceptive and anonymous waves to where the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915 with the loss of a thousand lives.
Most tourist towns boast art galleries where pretty pictures of such-and-such a famous glen or tower or mountain by local artists can be bought, but here the galleries stock quality work not only home-grown, but from abroad. And expensive as well.
Not far from Cork is Cobh, or Queenstown which is actually the Port for Cork and it was here that the Titanic made the final landfall before setting off on the fateful journey as had many an emigrant to the Americas before.
Or venture into the West of the county where thunderous surf pounds the beaches around Clonakilty. Here we stayed in a cottage up a boreen beside a zinc mine with the rustic name of, “Our Lady’s Well Mine.”
A pastoral idyll with echoes of Arcady, except for the blast of gelignite every day at noon.
It can be so hot here on the beach that the sand will burn your feet as you walk out to the water. And when you get into the water be careful of the jellyfish the size of dinner plates, to say nothing of the sea urchins…
Or if you believe in it, you can kiss the Blarney Stone on the top of Blarney Castle, about ten kilometres from the City. The legend derives from Cormac Teige McCarthy who, when he promised loyalty to Queen Elizabeth l, but would not give in to her, got the response from the Queen that he was giving her, “a lot of Blarney.” If after climbing the Medieval stone staircases, hanging upside down over the edge of the castle you still feel like kissing the stone, well and good. Me, I can’t help thinking about everyone else who has kissed it!
It’s a long oul drive to Cork, but not so bad now the Drogheda by-pass is opened with that incredible futuristic bridge lit up by ultra-violet light at night. And don’t you just love the signs that announce, “Toll Plaza 8Kms. Ahead”, where you have to have one Euro thirty for the fare which you throw into a wire basket and the computer counts it quicker than you can and flings open the toll-gate.
But if the drive still seems too far, well you can always fly to Cork…
be really nice to the owner
See more room tips
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.