Cork, the second largest municipality in the Republic of Ireland by its population (125 inhabitants and 000 in the county) is dynamic, commercial, and student. In 300, it was the European capital of culture. In addition to the renowned international jazz festival in October, this town in the south of Ireland comes alive all year round with musical, theater and dance performances, scheduled notably at the Opera House. Beyond the pedestrianized historic center, it is very pleasant to stroll in the university district or on the heights of the city, but also in the surroundings of Cork, of a beautiful diversity.
Irish walking tour in the heart of Cork
Cork comes from Irish Gaelic and means "swamp". If the city is not directly installed by the sea, water is omnipresent. The center is in fact enclosed by the two arms of the Lee river, the level of which depends on the tides.
The main street, Saint Patrick Street, forms a curve which follows the course of the old canal. Nearby, the customs, built in 1724 to control goods transported by ship, were transformed in the 19th century into a museum: the Crawford Art Gallery. In addition to themed temporary exhibitions, it features classical and neoclassical sculptures, as well as paintings from the 18th century to the present day, including that of Irish artist Jack B. Yeats, brother of poet William Butler Yeats.
On the ground floor, a pretty café-restaurant with a terrace allows you to take a break, before continuing to explore the center, which is largely pedestrianized. Randomly down an alley, behind a majestic gate, we discover a very small cemetery where the Huguenots, French people who had fled religious persecution, rest. The alley is also named French Church Street.
The streets are lined with buildings from the Georgian or Victorian era, dating back to the 19th century and early 20th century. However, the English Market, or English Market, open every day except Sunday, originally dates from 1788. Under a beautiful wooden frame, which resembles an overturned boat hull, many stalls of very diverse products , local or exotic: hard to resist!
These delicacies can be tasted on site, at the edge of a stall or at the Farmgate Café upstairs. Unless you take the food for a picnic on the other side of the avenue Grand Parade, in the small public garden, Bishop Lucey Park.
Arranged in 1985 for the 800th anniversary of the founding of the town, it reveals the remains of a 13th century wall, erected by the Anglo-Normans. They are the ones who created the city, where there was a monastery established in the 7th century by Saint Fin Barre, first bishop of Cork and patron of the city.
La Cathedral pays homage to him by adopting his surname. Consecrated in 1870 and designed by the architect William Burges in a rather pompous neo-Gothic style, it stands in the place of a church demolished in 1864 because it was considered too small. During this work, a ball weighing about 11 kg was found and it is now suspended to the right of the choir. It is a cannon of Fort Elizabeth, nearby, which pulled it during the siege of Cork in 1690. The fortified star-shaped tower, built in the 17th century, can be visited, revealing a panoramic view at the top. Now a museum and historical space, the building was previously a military barracks and a prison.
The Heights of Cork
But the most important prison in the city is Cork City Gaol, in operation from 1824 to 1923. Its so-called "romantic" style is inspired by the Middle Ages. The imposing, original and austere architecture evokes a fortified castle, with towers, ramparts and loopholes surrounded by lawns and pine trees.
Visitors immerse themselves in the harsh conditions of prisoners, men, women and children, locked up for sometimes unfair reasons: Republicans fighting for the independence of Ireland or the poor arrested for theft of food, books or 'a coat…
Frozen cells, uncomfortable bench tops, infamous cereal porridge, a daily walk of only fifteen minutes ... some prisoners were going mad. Others tried to escape, but the retaliation was terrible. After its closure, the prison hosted a radio station: a wing is dedicated to this story, with an exhibition of old sets, transistors, microphones and recording studio.
Going down to the river, walkers cross the pleasant Fitzgerald's Park, Cork's largest green space, which hides the Cork Public Museum, retracing 7 years of cultural, social and political history of the city.
The vast park is dominated by the elegant gray buildings covered in ivy of University College Cork (UCC), university created in 1845, during the reign of Victoria. George Boole (1815-1864) famous scientist inventor of modern logic called Boole algebra, was its first maths teacher. Renowned for science and medicine, it now has nearly 20 students.
It is also home to about twentyOgham Stones, flat rocks engraved with enigmatic inscriptions: they would be tombstones or markers to delimit a territory. The corridor where they are aligned leads to the library, which evokes the world of Harry Potter, with its shelves and its dark wood frame, its stained glass windows and old fireplaces ...
On campus, near the main entrance, The Glucksman Gallery surprises with its very modern structure, made of wood, limestone and glass. Devoted to contemporary art, it has been programming, since 2004, temporary exhibitions, conferences, concerts, screenings, etc. On the ground floor, the “Bobo” café is very pleasant, with its large bay windows and its terrace overlooking the greenery.
Not far from there, the Honan chapel, from 1916, has magnificent mosaics on the floor, the central alley representing a river where fish swim. Another aquatic specimen is highlighted at Saint Anne church, at the top of the 30 m bell tower which overlooks the Shandon district : the 4 m long golden weather vane is both a Christian symbol and a reference to the salmon that go up the River Lee flowing at the foot of the hill.
It is possible to climb to the top of this square tower from 1722, or Shandon Tower and Bells, whose panorama allows you to take in the whole city. On the lower floor, you can ring the eight bells yourself and play, following the scores made available, Frère Jacques, Hey Jude, Amazing Grace, etc. The melodies then resound throughout the neighborhood.
From the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, this sector specialized in butter. A museum is also dedicated to him: the Butter Museum tells the story of the largest market in the world of salted butter (which can be stored better), the Irish product which was exported with the most success, and this to several continents ... After the visit, the stroll continues in the streets sometimes paved and sloping Shandon, over the old buildings with facades often painted in bright colors.
Kinsale, exquisite estuary
Colorful houses also dot the center of Kinsale, charming village wedged in the convolutions of the steep coast, 28 km south of Cork. The ideal shelter for a fishing and trading port (mainly wine and salt), an important English base and, today, a marina.
In the heart of the city rise the massive tower of St Multose Church, one of the oldest churches in the country, dating back to the end of the 12th century, and the Desmond Castle, castle built at the beginning of the 16th century which then housed customs, a prison and an explosives warehouse. It is now a museum on wine trading.
The town is known for its good restaurants, such as Fishy Fishy (seafood) or The Bulman (gastropub), to the point of organizing the Kinsale Gourmet Festival, every October, but also for the coastal route Wild Atlantic Way, of which it is the point of departure (or arrival according to the direction followed!).
By starting to walk along the green coast by the Scilly Walk, a big half-hour walk leads to Fort Charles which guards the entrance to the estuary. Erected at the end of the 17th century in the form of a star, inspired by the constructions of Vauban, it has five bastions, including two casemates on the sea side. Only the remains of gray stone buildings surrounded by lawns remain. Opposite, 6 km from the city center, is another fortress, James Fort, dating back to the very beginning of the 17th century.
Further south, about ten kilometers from Kinsale, a restored signal tower offers a superb panorama of the Old Head Peninsula and its cliffs. It hosts a museum which commemorates the torpedoing of the British transatlantic liner Lusitania by a German submarine in May 1915.
Cobh, the last stop of the Titanic
23 km south-east of Cork, Cobh was marked by an even more resounding sinking, that of the Titanic. The famous liner made its last stop in this city which is the second largest natural port in the world, behind Sydney. The building that served as the ticket office now houses the space Titanic Experience. It relates this final set-up through a guided tour in English of around 30 minutes (in French by reservation).
Another museum is interested in the Titanic: the Cobh Heritage Center, housed in the old Victorian station, adjacent to the modern railway station. It describes more generally the history of the city, whose name has changed over the centuries: first The Cove (the cove), then Queenstown from 1850, in honor of the first visit to Ireland of the Queen Victoria, and finally Cobh, since 1921.
It was one of the main Irish ports for emigration: between 2,5 and 3 million people passed through it between 1815 and 1970, including 1,5 million from 1845 to 1851 at the time of the great famine. Direction the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South America ...
Under the glass roof are shown maps, models, trunks, photos, videos and interactive installations. The mannequins make the reconstructions more realistic: the overcrowding on board, the "coffin boats" which were urgently chartered in the face of the influx of migrants, but which did not meet safety standards ... The crossings were made in appalling conditions and it is strange to come out of the museum upon stumbling upon a huge cruise ship docked on the nearby quay, much higher than the elegant buildings in the city center.
Only the Saint Colman cathedral, whose work began in 1868, seems to be able to compete with these giants of the seas: dominating Cobh from a hill, it is disproportionate compared to the surrounding buildings!
Find all the tips, addresses and practical information in Routard Ireland.
Consult our Ireland online guide
Ireland Tourist Board website
Cork Tourist Office website
Kinsale tourist office website
How to get there ?
- By plane : daily flight Paris-CDG-Cork with Air France. The outward flight takes off from Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle at 14:55 pm with an arrival in Cork at 15:50 pm The return flight leaves Cork at 16:30 pm with a landing at Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle at 19 pm 20. The connections will be made by Embraer 170 with 76 seats and the prices start at 60 € TTC one-way ticket (excluding service charges).
- On a boat : from the end of March to the end of October, night trip (14 p.m.) between Roscoff and Cork, with two round trips per week on the ferries of the company Britanny Ferries.
Where to sleep ?
- Isaacs Hotel : 48 MacCurtain Street, Cork. Double room: from 69 €. In the Victorian quarter, very close to the heart of the city, the elegant tobacco factory, made of stone and brick, has been refurbished into forty rooms and eleven apartments (up to six people). The setting is contemporary, friendly and cozy. At the end of the courtyard, a waterfall slides over the red rock: an astonishing backdrop to which overlooks the beautiful room and the terrace of Greenes, the excellent hotel restaurant.
- Fernroyd House B&B: 4 O'Donovan Rossa Road, Cork. Double room: from 79 €. At the water's edge, right next to the university and its pleasant park, this guest house is run by Tony and Avril, a warm couple who have made their motto their own: "enter like a stranger, leave like a friend ”. Among the nine comfortable rooms, some overlook the pretty back garden, which gives them even more charm.
Where to eat ?
- Rachel's : 28 Washington Street, Cork. Daily noon and evening. At noon, main courses € 8,50-18,50 € 32. Hanging on a wall of the large modern and refined brasserie, a huge fork: a reminder that the cuisine of Rachel Allen, top media chef whose books are on sale at the entrance, draws the best ingredients as close as possible to the terroir. And at the end of the fork, what is it? Great value for money, especially at lunchtime with classics perfectly executed and presented in pretty dishes: fish cake, soup and salad of the day, smoked salmon sandwich, fish & chips, burger, etc. As a bonus, the intimate piano-cocktail bar in the back room.
- Market Lane: 5-6 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork. Daily noon and evening. Main courses € 8-27,50. The trendy table, with kitchen open to the room with dim lights, offers copious and neat dishes, with combinations that can be original. Seafood and fish share the menu with vegetarian dishes (the revisited moussaka, for example) or meats, such as beef cheek simmered in beer. Speaking of foam, Elbow Lane, the nearby bar and restaurant, is owned by the same team and brews its own beer, also served by Market Lane.
- Jacques restaurant : 23 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork. Phone. : +353 21 42 77 387. From Tuesday to Saturday, noon and evening. Main courses € 11-27. Menu € 26 in the evening during the week. This culinary institution, opened in 1980, works with local producers and prepares tasty recipes with Mediterranean, Asian or Oriental touches. The adjoining rooms are decorated in a modern and sober style, the one on the Oliver Plunkett Street side specializing in tapas in the evening.
Where to have coffee or tea?
- Cork Coffee Roasters : 2 French Church Street, Cork. Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m.-17 p.m., Sat 8 a.m.-18 p.m., Sun 9 a.m.-17 p.m. Both a café and a roaster, the house has two addresses, this one being the most recent. The other is nearby, on the opposite bank of the River Lee, at 2 Bridge Street. In both, good black kids are groomed by cool, tattooed staff. To drink with a cake, carrot cake or brownie for example. It is also possible to order an organic tea or fruit juice. And buy the whole or ground grains to take home.
- Nash 19 : 19 Princes Street, Cork. Mon-Sat 7:30 a.m. to 16:30 p.m. (Sat from 8:30 a.m.). In the contemporary-looking café-restaurant-tea room-delicatessen, you can choose from the windows what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch and snack: salads, cold meats, pastries, scones… It's hard to resist!
Where to have a drink?
- Arthur Mayne : 7 Pembroke Street, Cork. Phone. : +353 21 42 79 449. Daily 10 am-1am or even 30:2 am on weekends. The wine bar-pub-restaurant, installed since 30 in a building from 2011, has many surprises in store. On the main street side, one has the impression of entering an old-fashioned apothecary: the shelves are filled with antique bottles and medicines, because it was a pharmacy from the 1720th century. At the back, overlooking the pleasant covered cul-de-sac lined with tables, the dark room has old cameras in the windows.
- Cask Bar 48 MacCurtain Street, Cork. Mon-Thu 16 p.m.-23 p.m., Fri-Sun 30 p.m.-12 a.m. (00 p.m. Sun). Elected among the best Irish cocktail bars, the cozy and retro establishment takes on the air of a cabinet of curiosities, in its two rooms as on its menu, which has something to intrigue: it includes house creations that are out of the ordinary, clever blends based on gin, rhubarb, geranium and bitter with dandelion roots or even Jameson whiskey (the distillery is located near Cork), beetroot and orange bitter… To taste with tapas to share.