When the heavens opened and poured down the entire annual rainfall of most small countries in just a few hours, not even the famous Irish weather could put me off exploring Ireland’s real capital city after an impromptu change of plans found me heading to Cork.
I’ll be honest, Cork has never been a place that has been high on my bucket list of places to see before I die. I don’t mean that in any negative way at all, I have absolutely nothing against Cork, it just wasn’t a city high up on my radar with so many other places I wanted to see first. But a change of plans and a trip to Ardmore found me flying into the city anyway as a convenient hub to get further down to the coast of South Ireland, and after just a quick taste I couldn’t resist exploring this compact but eclectic city a bit further.
The problem was that Ireland’s famous weather never fails to disappoint, and the first full day I got to explore in the city was marred by a typically Irish downpour that soaked everything through to the foundations. I didn’t want to let this stop me though as the only other option was sitting in the dingy bar or even dingier common room of my hostel. Neither of which was any real option.
So braving the rain, I stepped out into Cork.
Cork really surprised me with how small and compact it was. Walking pretty much from one end of the city to the other did not take long at all, even with many of the streets blocked off for the annual Cork city marathon. Dodging those damn joggers was made slightly better by the fact not one of them seemed to be happy to be out voluntarily knackering themselves out in the pissing rain. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken so much joy in that.
Nevertheless I couldn’t stay out in the rain myself for too long either. Needing somewhere indoors to escape the weather, I made a beeline for one of Cork’s most famous and well trumpeted landmarks, the English Market.
With no sense of irony at all, or perhaps an absolute overabundance of it, the English Market stands proud right in the middle of the Rebel City’s centre. I have to say though, given it is one of the toutiest of touted tourism spots in the city I was a little underwhelmed at first. It really is just a big food market. A pretty and grand food market I grant you, but a food market nonetheless. I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about, but then I began to look beyond the market toward the grandiose architecture of the building itself and that impressed me much more than anything else. It wasn’t the practical nature of the building that was the draw, it was the ambience, the atmosphere, the history and the people all at once. That was the real draw.
And that – despite all the awesome tourist draws in and around Cork, is where the rebel city’s real allure lies.
What I really enjoyed about the weather in Cork that day was that it really gave me the opportunity to duck in and out of so many great pubs, eateries and cafe’s where I stopped for a drink or a snack in each one.
It really is a hard life sometimes, isn’t it?
Avoiding the mass produced cookie cutter Starbucks or chain brands, I instead opted for the local, quaint cafe’s or traditional places, and I really did find some absolute corkers! (Excuse the pun!)
The food and drink were of course fantastic, but the best thing for me – as usual – was the interaction with locals. When small cafes and pubs got full, which they invariably did in the rain, locals and strangers just sat down next to me when there were no tables free and started conversations as if it was no big thing.
It was fantastic!
I met a local band stopping for lunch after rehearsals with a very pretty lead singer, an old couple who ate in the same cafe at lunch almost every day (and really recommended the tea and scones), a couple of other travellers and even a young woman and her baby who needed a seat and proceeded to tell me all about her little one, to name just a few. It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon and a perfect refreshment for a Scouser who has gotten way too jaded with travel in recent years.
Try talking to a stranger in London like that, you’ll get looked at like the damn Antichrist!
Everywhere I went locals chatted away to me like a long lost relative, but I got a taste of the famous rebel spirit too after seeing ‘burn the water bills’ posters everywhere and witnessing what could only be described as a borderline civil uprising when I mentioned it in passing in a local pub.
I wasn’t fully aware of all the ins and outs of the problem, but this local issue had got everyone so stirred up even the old guy in the corner woke up (I assumed he had probably passed away up until that point due to the fact he was so silent and still) and began a tirade of wonderfully poetic Gaelic expletives toward the government, the water company and probably everyone else he had ever had a passing acquaintance with! It got so bad he nearly spilled his pint, which caused a rupture of shocked exclamations from the locals even louder than the problems with the water!
Leaving the irate drunken Irish stereotype to his musings, I headed back to my hostel for the night, ready to resume my exploration in the morning. But instead of heading to bed, which wasn’t an option before 0200 in the morning anyway because of the live bands playing in the bar every night, I propped up the bar and joined in the craic with an absolutely roaring live band.
I didn’t get much sleep at all that night, but it was definitely worth it! At least the rain had stopped for the next day’s exploring and the sun was even starting to make it feel a little like it was technically summertime!
After wandering around most of the city yesterday and getting a fascinating glimpse inside many of the local bars and cafe’s today I wanted to actually see something cultural, something significant with a little history that I could learn about, and you can never beat a good old religious landmark for that!
A friendly surprise.
Cork is a wonderfully compact city, easy to walk around and explore on foot, but even I – in my manliest of refusals to look at a map – managed to get a little lost when looking for the famous St Finn Barres Cathedral.But on the upside that experience allowed me to get yet another taste of the famous Irish charm and helpfulness.
I stopped a passerby in the street to ask for directions, a man who was the quintessential stereotype of an aging academic, white hair, white beard, a quizzical expression and a tweed jacket! He not only showed me the direction to the Cathedral (I had apparently missed the bridge over the river that took me to it), he kindly walked part way with me and happily explained the history of the Cathedral and the Patron Saint of Cork to me as well, completely unbidden (but most welcome), I had managed to gain an impromptu tour guide!
I really enjoyed my time in Cork. It doesn’t have as much to do or see as other major cities, in fact some of the best things to do in Cork are actually on day trips to the surrounding areas to kiss the Blarney stone and visit the wildlife park (which are posts for another time). But that to me will be my overriding memory of Cork, not the rain, not the sights or the architecture, but the friendliness of the people. The conversations. The crack.
Cork was never big on my list of places to visit but I am so glad I did, and I’m sure I’ll be back soon.
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