When the heavens opened and poured down the entire annual rainfall of most small countries in 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, I have absolutely nothing against Cork, it just wasn’t on my radar with so many other places I want to see first. But when I found myself flying into the city anyway as a convenient hub to get further down to the coast of South Ireland, I couldn’t resist exploring this compact but eclectic city.
The problem is, 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. 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, and I have to say 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.
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 places, I instead opted for the local, quaint cafe’s or traditional places, and I really did find some absolute wonderful ones. The food and drink were of course fantastic, but the best think for me was the interaction with locals.
People just sat down next to me when there were no tables free and started conversations! It was fantastic! I met a local band stopping for lunch after rehearsals, plenty of other travellers, a young woman and her baby who needed a seat, to name just a few. It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy afternoon.
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. This local issue has 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!
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 crack 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!
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 (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.
Did you enjoy this article? Have you ever been to Cork or would you like to go? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.