By Alvise Renier
Cork is the capital of the South West, the perfect place to enjoy life to the fullest, just 2.5 hours by train from Dublin! The city centre is built on an island, embraced by the River Lee and spanned by many bridges. Cork has numerous pedestrian walkways flanked by smart boutiques and vast department stores, but also theatres, museums and some of the best art galleries in Ireland. At every corner you can find an amazing panoramic view!
Before guiding you around the places that is worth seeing in Cork, I’d like to tell you about the reason why I went there. I joined a group of forty crazy and unbeatable fencers on the way to defend their Intervarsities title. On March 4th and 5th, Dublin University Fencing Club travelled to the Mardyke Arena in Cork, to fight against nine other Irish colleges for the Intervarsity Championship. I must say I was only a supporter, but those fencers won an incredible victory, collecting their 10th consecutive title. They are not only ‘the oldest and most successful fencing club in Ireland’, but also a fantastic group of true friends! Long live DU Fencing!
Back to what to do and what to see in Cork. I must say that this post will be addressed especially to those who like walking outdoors and exploring. The best way to enjoy the city centre and its huge cultural heritage is following Cork Walks, four walking trails that link places and buildings of heritage interest throughout the city. Interpretative panels with local historic information will guide you around the River Lee, discovering the four main areas in which Cork is divided. Each trail takes approximately an hour and a half, but can be tailored to the interest and fitness level of the individual or group. You can get all the information and the maps at the following website:
I really recommend the South Parish Walk. This tour shows the development of the City from its watery beginnings to the industrial development and traverses some of the most historically significant parts of the south side of Cork. You will pass through St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, which surely is worth a visit, at least for its marvellous French Gothic spires. On Sunday you can attend the mass, even if you are not religious – the astonishing choir of the Cathedral is worth it!
You will also see Elizabeth Fort, a 17th century stronghold that is perched on a limestone outcrop overlooking the city, affording excellent views of the town below. The Fort had a prominent role during the siege of Cork, in 1690, when the troops of King William III assaulted the city because of its support for the rebel James II. The visit is completely free and at 1 pm you may join a free guided tour around the imperious walls of the Fort.
I also recommend you the University Walk. This tour will bring you from Cork’s medieval roots to the City’s prosperous academic and commercial hub. The excursion also emphasises the special bonds between ‘town and gown’, exploring associated institutional buildings and the centre of learning in the region, University College Cork (UCC). You will pass through the award winning Fitzgerald’s Park, the perfect place to relax, just watching the River Lee flowing slowly among the gardens. The Park also houses Cork Public Museum.
The UCC campus is definitely worth a visit, too. Beautiful gardens and futuristic buildings will welcome you, together with the old Gothic University Quadrangle. Do not forget to have a quick look inside the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, a cultural and educational institution that promotes the research, creation and exploration of visual arts. In other words, an amazing and surprising exhibition of contemporary art!
If you are looking forward to exploring the true life of Cork city centre, let’s take the City Centre Island Walk. This walk traces how the city centre island of Cork developed following the filling in of a number of river channels that ran between a series of little islands. At the heart of the city, the main thoroughfares, St Patrick’s Street, the Grand Parade and the South Mall, are perfect places to find a bit of craic! Shopping centres, old pubs, fancy and bizarre shops, exclusive restaurants, there is everything you can imagine! Before leaving the city, be sure to pay a visit to the English Market, worldwide famous for its fresh fish and butchers. In 2011, even Queen Elizabeth II visited it!
If you have more time than one day to spend in Cork, have a look to the City’s harbour, where Titanic docked for the last time. Enjoy your journey to the South West!