Dublin may have cornered the market in Irish city breaks, but head south to Cork and you'll find an equally spectacular city that prides itself on its cultural heritage and rebellious nature
An old man steadies your shaky legs as you hang upside down. Your palms begin to sweat as you grasp the railings, reach forward and brush your lips against the cold rock. At last... you’ve kissed the Blarney Stone!
Legend has it that a visit to Blarney Castle and a brief liaison with limestone can leave you with new-found eloquence. Although walking through the bewitching grounds of Cork’s most famous attraction, you may be a little lost for words.
Known as the Rebel County, Cork is Ireland’s largest. Compared to the sprawling metropolis of Dublin however, Cork city still owns a sense of the rural. A five-minute drive can take you to rolling green fields and herds of obstinate cows - the charm of which cannot be denied.
Cork is a traditional place where modernity has failed to erase its rustic charisma. Patrick Street is the main thoroughfare, which received a touch of stainless-steel-modernism during Cork’s time as the European Capitol of Culture in 2005. The road is now a mecca for high street shopping, with more department stores than you can shake a shillelagh at.
Juxtaposed with Patrick Street’s clean lines and minimalist up-lighting, you can stumble down one of the many cobbles side streets. It is there that Cork’s real treasures are revealed. Boutique shoe shops, handmade jewellery stores and delicious cafes wait to be discovered. One favourite eatery is Market Lane. This restaurant never disappoints with its Irish inspired dishes and fresh ingredients from the famous English market.
After dinner attention may drift towards a little tipple, but don’t mention the 'G' word in Cork. There they drink Murphy’s Irish Stout and, believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
Just off Patrick Street you can duck down a narrow laneway and let the busy high street melt into the background. Suddenly you find yourself walking with giants, following small sparks of brilliant white. An impossibly small doorway appears before you. You realise that the beeping of horns have been replaced with the clinking of glasses; you have arrived at The Mutton Lane Inn. The huge, other-worldly mural and fairy lights that lead to this Cork institution serve to enhance the enchantment within. Candle lit and cosy, the bar is the perfect place to sample you first glass of the (other) black stuff.
If you fancy taking a stroll across the other side of the Riiver Lee, or perhaps weren’t quick enough to bag a stool in The Mutton Lane Inn, The Franciscan Well is another rewarding choice. Based on the North Mall, it’s an award winning microbrewery with a large beer garden. Sitting in the sunshine with a pint of Blarney Blonde, listening to live music, is what it’s all about.
For more scholarly pursuits The Glucksman Gallery is located in the lower grounds of the beautiful University College Cork. Completed in 2004, the gallery has already proved itself a winner among the architectural community with three awards under its edgy belt. The tree-house construction is a joy from outside and in with thought-provoking exhibitions and an impressive permanent collection of Irish art.
If you tire of the art and architecture, maybe you could find yourself in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. There you’ll find an army of angry rebels, dressed in red and ready for action. Wielding sticks above their helmeted heads they charge up the field defending their county. Don’t be afraid though, as you’re in a premier sporting ground, and the battle before you is non other than a game of Cork’s favourite sport, hurling. It’s fast paced and dangerous and although it may be unfamiliar, you’ll find it difficult to quell your enthusiasm in the passionate atmosphere.
To enjoy all that Cork has to offer you’ll need somewhere to rest your weary head. The city is busting at the seams with B&Bs, Western Road is where you’ll find the best of the bunch; a world of doyleys to be discovered. For something a little more upmarket head to Isaacs Hotel, MacCurtain Street. It’s very central, and Greenes restaurant below is wonderful. If on the other hand you fancy saving some pennies, Bru Hostel is just down the street. It’s modern, it’s clean and there’s a fun bar downstairs. What more could you want?
Cork is small in stature compared to Dublin, but gigantic in character. You’ll be sad to leave, but be sure you grab some of its finest treasures to take with you on your way through departures - Clonakilty pudding and Ballymaloe relish. Your friends will be overjoyed with your tasty Cork classics. Who knows how they’ll feel about your unshakable gift of the gab?
Blarney Castle, Blarney, Co. Cork Tel: 00 353 21 4385252 http://www.blarneycastle.ie/
Market Lane, 5/6 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork Tel: 021 427 4710 http://www.marketlane.ie/index.php
Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork, Cork Tel: +353 21 4901844http://www.glucksman.org/index.html