Out and About in Cork – things to see
The day after visiting Blarney Castle, we decided to explore the delights of Cork town. In the previous day and a half we’d managed to see little bar sitting in some pubs and visiting the tourist information centre, so this seemed a good idea.
So armed with a trusty tourist map, we headed out and about.
The Red Abbey
We saw the words “The Red Abbey” on our trusted, tourist board provided map but it seemed rather enigmatic. No one spoke about it; nowhere was it mentioned. But it was on the map. Surely that must be worth a visit!
We headed off and quickly found it. Turns out the Red Abbey is the tower from a long ruined abbey, which sits neatly surrounded by houses. The one sign which told you about it was full of graffiti and unreadable. So that means I can tell you nothing about this place other than that there’s nowt to do when you get there. Next!
The Beamish and Crawford Brewery
Well that should actually say “former brewery”. It was closed by Heineken earlier in 2009 after they ended up owning nearby Murphy’s as well. And lo, hundreds of years of brewing history was closed down.
Not that we knew this at the time, and nor did we really visit but we were walking past and I liked the way they’d painted one of their gas cylinders in the style of a giant can.
And if you thought closing down the brewery was bad, Heineken also ceased distributing Beamish anywhere other than Ireland. For my money it’s the best of the three main stouts, but no drinking of it in the UK will I be doing…
Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral
I may not be a religious man, but I can’t deny that some of the best architecture in any city is in its cathedral. Cork actually has two, but for some reason we didn’t visit the other.
Saint Fin Barre’s is the Anglican cathedral in the city and rather nice it is too. After paying a small entrance charge, we were furnished with an informative leaflet and told to ask if we had any questions, and pointed to the candels if we wanted to light one. Other than that we were left to explore the subtle beauty of the church.
It was deceptively simple but grand at the same time and a most pleasant place to wander round. Yet few people seemed to be doing so during our visit – a sad loss to them.
The Elizabethan Fort
Like the Red Abbey this was listed on our map but with no visible indication what it was. The walls did loom around a housing estate, and were built against on many sides.
Learning from earlier, we didn’t expect much, however were slightly surprised to find it was actually a police station!
There was clear evidence that tourists are able to walk around the walls, however there was no one about and no signs, so fearing a firm hand on the shoulder, we quietly crept away and had a coffee instead.
University College Cork
Next on the list was University College Cork – the student district. At which point I suddenly felt rather old and touristy which was not helped by the fact that Catherine has a suspiciously similar coloured fleece to mine (by which I mean they’re both black.)
Whilst doing my best “visiting lecturer” routine, we wandered around this lovely looking university as lots of students milled around. We checked out a rather strange exhibition – something to do with stones with early celtic writing – before leaving for the part.
Down the road from the university is a lovely little park which, as well as having the obvious swings, slides and Park Ranger hut, also had a random selection of art, such as a giant mirror mosaic tree.
However the favourite item for me came in the form of the otter sculptures in the pond.
Cork City Gaol
A bit of a walk away was our next stop – the Cork City Gaol. This would prove to be a fantastic museum about the former city prison.
The gaol was opened in 1824 and in 1878 became an all-female prison. However in 1922 and 1923, the prison again became mixed as many of those fighting for Irish independence were incarcerated here. The gaol closed in 1923 after Ireland declared independence.
Although the gaol has a plethora of famous prisoners, mostly from the Irish Civil War period, the museum concentrates more on the average prisoners from the archives rather than the big names.
Through a mixture of waxworks and a rather retro audio guide delivered by rather battered looking Sony Walkmans (yes, the cassette ones!), the story is told most excellently and engagingly.
At the end of the tour, we were told there was also a short film to watch. Often hearing such things means to you can’t get out of the building fast enough, however this one was well worth seeing – starts with the haunting sound of prisoners singing in their Sunday worship, before moving on to a multiple projector piece with photographs and filmed re-enactments projected onto several different places on the wall. Again it mostly highlights the smaller names, whilst calmly mentioning some of the battles for Irish Independence which have followed the gaol through its history.
It was an excellent museum, telling the story of the prison and its occupants in a brilliant way and for my money, was the best visitor attraction we went to during our Ireland trip.
The English Market
We’d not had any lunch, so as we walked back to town (the gaol is a bit of a trek out of the city centre) we pondered where to go for lunch. The obvious place seemed to be the cafe at the English Market.
Although it’s mentioned as a “must see” almost everywhere, there’s limited information about the English Market, and when you get there you see it’s just a market hall with lots of stalls.
Now such a thing might impress people, but it has to be said that Catherine and myself grew up in the North West and there are lots of market halls in the area we grew up in. Decades later, I found that Ashton Market Hall is actually a tourist attraction and there are even big shopping guides to Ashton.
But okay, the English Market is a pretty good market – it’s a nice building and has lots of great looking stalls. And the cafe on the balcony is not only great for people watching, but the food was really nice too.
However one question did remain unanswered. Just why was it called “The English Market” anyway?
The Cork Vision Centre
Our final stop for the day was the Cork Vision Centre – a sort of art space in a former church.
As well as containing a huge model of Cork, it houses art exhibitions. During our visit it included paintings by a local artist, and the staff enthusiastically told us which were sold and which weren’t. Upstairs is a more permanent exhibition of photos of Cork life.
All very well and nice, however sometimes when it gets to late afternoon and you’ve had a busy day on the tourist trail, you just know it’s time for a pint.
But that, my friends, is another story….