April 16, 2010 / 10:49 AM / in 8 years

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Cork

CORK, Ireland (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore Cork? Local correspondents help you to get the most out of a stay in Ireland’s second city, whose tradition of independence earned it a reputation as a “rebel city”.

It also boasts some of Ireland’s finest food.

10 a.m. - The airport is only a few kilometers from the center (volcano ash permitting) and buses or taxis will take you into the city. Alternatively, Cork is just under three hours train ride from Dublin.

For accommodation, Garnish House on Western Road, to the west of the city, has been lavishly praised for the warmth of its hospitality, while high on Military Hill to the east, the Ambassador Hotel, with spectacular views, is comfortable and sedate.

Once you’ve got rid of your bags, a good start is the place where, according to legend, the story of Cork began after St. Fin Barre established a monastery in 606 A.D.

Since then, there have been 11 churches or cathedrals on this site to the west of modern-day Cork and just south of the southern channel of the River Lee. (The center of Cork is on an island between the river’s northern and southern channels.)

In triumphant French, neo-Gothic style, the present-day St. Fin Barre’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, dates from the 19th century.

For a small fee, you can enter to inspect the opulent interior of red Cork marble and mosaic flooring, although the exterior is as interesting, with a main door guarded by wise virgins on one side and foolish ones on the other.

11.30 a.m. - Wend your way into the center of Cork along Bishop Street, French Quay and turn right up Barrack Street to take in Elizabeth Fort.

Built around 1626, a plaque describes it as the best-preserved urban military fortress in Ireland. It also bears witness to the intrinsic and often thwarted rebelliousness of the citizens of Cork.

They destroyed the original structure in reaction to the accession of King James I to the English throne and were compelled to rebuild it at their own expense.

Noon - Head back down to the quays, along the south bank of the river. A right turn down Dunbar Street will take you to Red Abbey Tower. Surrounded by mundane housing and colored grey, not red, the tower is all that remains of an Augustinian friary founded in the late 13th or early 14th-century.

12.30 p.m. - Cross the river, left along South Mall to the Nationalism Monument, erected in 1906 in memory of the Irish rebels of the 1798 and 1867 uprisings, then right up Grand Parade.

As you walk up the parade, on the right, the arcades of the English Market are bursting with fresh, organic food.

Several of the stores serve sandwiches and soup or upstairs, the highly rated Farmgate Cafe allows you to eat rock oysters, Irish stew and much more besides, while looking down on the shoppers below.

2 p.m. - Wind your way along the curving St. Patrick’s Street, one of the main thoroughfares, then walk west along Lavitt’s Quay to the opera house. Just behind it is Crawford Gallery, housed in the former Custom House.

The permanent collection includes works by Irish artists Jack Yeats and Sean Keating.

In addition, the gallery houses the Canova Cast collection from the Vatican Museum in Rome, which was brought to Cork in 1818. The then pope, fearing the permanent loss to Italy of these treasures when Napoleon was raiding major European art collections, had copies made under the supervision of neo-classical sculptor Canova.

Happily, the originals survived and Cork found itself in proud possession of the copies.

3.30 p.m. - Afternoon tea or coffee in the Crawford Gallery’s stylish cafe.

4 p.m. - Head down Opera Lane or any of the other streets connecting you to St Patrick’s Street and then on down to Oliver Plunkett Street.

Next to the main post office is a Butler’s Chocolate Cafe, purveyor of some of Ireland’s finest chocolate -- or happiness, as it puts it.

Follow Oliver Plunkett Street to its eastern end, then turn right toward the southern channel of the Lee, passing the Custom House that took over from the building now housing the Crawford Gallery. On the opposite bank, you’ll also see the august City Hall.

5.30 p.m. - 7.30 p.m. - Time for a decadent early visit to one of Cork’s many pubs followed by an early dinner to set you up for the evening’s cultural activities.

Head back west along the northern channel of the river and over St Patrick’s Bridge. The unspoilt and cozy, if not claustrophobic Sin-e Pub is tucked away in Coburg street, just off Bridge Street, which leads off the bridge.

A good nearby choice for your evening meal might be Boqueria, in Bridge Street itself, for tapas made with locally sourced Irish ingredients -- a recurrent theme of Cork cuisine.

8 p.m. - From there, all you need to do is cross the river and head west a block to get to Cork Opera, the only purpose-built opera house in Ireland.

If opera is not your thing, this former capital of culture offers an array of theater and frequent festivals, showcasing all kinds of music, cinema and food, which in Cork amounts to an art form.

Day 2

The dilemma is whether to stay or to go. While Cork city itself has many fans, the surrounding county possibly has more and is easily accessible by bus from Parnell Place/Merchant’s Quay on the south side of the River Lee’s north channel.

For those venturing out of town, Blarney Castle, where you can literally bend over backwards to kiss the famous Blarney Stone and acquire the gift of eloquence, is only 5 miles -- 8 km -- or a half-an-hour bus ride away.

Equally tempting, the picture post-card fishing village of Kinsale is famed for its restaurants and is 50 minutes by bus from Parnell Place bus station.

You’ll be spoilt for choice, but one lunch option could be Fishy Fishy Cafe for the freshest and most seasonal of fish to energize you for the various sights. They include forts, a museum, quaint shops and higgledy-piggledy streets.

Arguably the most gastronomic option of all would be a memorable lunch at Ballymaloe House, run by the Allen family, which also passes on its skills at the Ballymaloe Cookery Store.

Situated just off the coast in Shanagarry, Ballymaloe House is a roughly 60 euro ($85), 40-minute taxi drive from Cork, so, on top of the restaurant bill, it’s not a cheap option, but praise from all quarters has run into superlatives.

Provided you resist the above temptations, you could spend a very pleasant second day in Cork and you would be very unlikely to go hungry.

10 a.m. - To work up an appetite, head up the hill to Shandon on the north side of the city, once bustling with merchant activity and now sleepy and shabby.

For a sense of how things used to be, the Cork Butter Museum, housed in what was once the largest butter market in the world, tells the story of the butter trade and the historic and still important modern-day dairy culture of Ireland.

Exhibits range from accounts of witchcraft employed to steal milk, written in schoolboy handwriting, to all manner of butter-making equipment.

11.00 - Once outside, the sound of random bell peals is probably assailing your ears as visitors abuse the invitation to try out the bells of Shandon and take the opportunity for fabulous views back down to the city.

The bells belong to St Anne’s Church, also known as the four-faced liar because the clocks on the alternate white limestone and red sandstone faces of its tower used to all tell different times.

12 noon - You could head further west to the Cork City Gaol museum if you are minded to reflect on the severity of 19th-century prison life.

For those who prefer modern-day indulgence, it’s the hour to choose one of Cork’s finest restaurants for a leisurely lunch.

One tip is Isaac’s in McCurtain Street (on the north side and east toward Kent Train Station -- where the trains for Dublin depart). Isaac’s combines a Parisian cafe feel with creative use of local ingredients.

Alternatively, cross back to the city center, head toward the south channel of the Lee and the western side of town, where Cafe Paradiso on Lancaster Quay has a reputation for some of, if not the best vegetarian food in Ireland.

2 p.m. - From Lancaster Quay, you’re minutes away from the well-wooded campus of University College Cork. It contains the largest collection of Ogham stones (the earliest recorded writing in Ireland).

At the other end of the time scale, the grounds also house the avant-garde Lewis Gluckman Gallery.

First opened as part of celebrations of Cork’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2005 and reopened this year after a closure because of flooding, it hosts a series of thought-provoking, temporary exhibitions.

As a bonus, the top storey provides more impressive views back to the city, while a basement cafe allows you to top up your caffeine levels and soak up the campus vibe.

5 p.m. - Head back toward town along College Road and Gill Abbey Street, back past St. Fin Barre’s and cross into Main Street, home to Beamish and Crawford Brewery, the oldest porter brewery in Ireland.

5.30 p.m. - If you feel in need of a glass, there are plenty of pubs near the brewery.

7 p.m. - By now the airport might be beckoning. If it isn’t and you’ve checked to make sure it’s a Greyhound racing night, you could round off your stay by going to the dogs at Curraheen Park in Bishopstown, a short bus ride from the center.

Failing that, how about a modest and mellow evening meal at Cafe de la Paix, in Washington Street, just along from Cafe Paradiso?

Behind an unassuming burgundy red exterior is a wine bar backing on to the River Lee with a riverside deck to savour the city’s laid-back atmosphere one more time.

Editing by Steve Addison

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