Daily Archives: November 7, 2010

Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 9

Cork – City and County

County Cork is situated on the South West Coast of Ireland, it is the largest of all the Irish counties and in many ways the most varied. Rich farmlands and river valleys contrast with the wild sandstone hills of the west, and above all there is the magnificent coastline scooped and worn by the Atlantic into great bays and secret coves, rocky headlands and long soft golden sands.

North Cork runs along the lush green valley of the Blackwater River.  It stretches from Millstreet (Eurovision Song Contest 1993), through Mallow and Fermoy.

– Mallow is a market and sugar manufacturing town on the North side of the  Blackwater river. During the 18th and 19th centuries Mallow was an important spa town. Mallow is a significant coarse and game angling centre. In 1598 Mallow Castle was built by Sir Thomas Norreys it was later destroyed and burned by the Jacobites in 1689. The ruins can still be seen today at the South east end of the town. A number of prominent Irish people were born in Mallow including Canon Sheehan and Anthony Trollope both famous authors.
– Fermoy situated on the main Cork to Dublin road was built as a garrison town at the end of the 18th century by the Scottish-born John Anderson.     Close by is Hyde Castle, the ancestral home of Douglas Hyde the first president of Ireland.

Mid Cork stretches along two river valleys which run from west to east, this time the Lee and the Sullane. Dotted with many small towns and villages, interspaced with beautiful scenery. The main route from Cork to Kerry passes through these valleys.

East Cork stretches from the River Blackwater to Cork Harbour. It is an area of fertile farmland between the Galtee mountains in the North to the golden sands of Youghal and Garryvoe beaches in the South.

Youghal (sounds like Y’all) used to be a busy textile centre and one of Cork’s most popular seaside resorts.  The main street is spanned by an old clock tower. St. Mary’s Parish Church has recently been restored to good effect, along with the adjacent town wall. Here you will find the tomb of Margaret, Countess of Desmond, who died at the age of 147 from a fall from a cherry tree.  The film Moby Dick was shot on location here.  The name Youghal derives from the Irish “Yew Wood”. Yew was once extensive throughout Ireland

South Cork has miles and miles of coastline that varies from golden beaches, quite coves and rugged cliffs. Many towns with a long sea-faring tradition are to be found here.

Cork City, located at the mouth of the River Lee has just celebrated both its Millennium and its 150th anniversary as a University City. IT has been featured as one of the top 10 cities of the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s travel guide for 2010.  It is Ireland’s third city (after Dublin and Belfast) and has always been an important seaport.

Some of the main streets are built over channels where ships nuzzled their anchor-chains a century ago. Along the South Mall, you will see large gateways at street level, under steps leading to a higher main door. These were once boathouses, when merchants arrived at their warehouses by water.

The best way to see the city of Cork and sample the flavour of its life, is to walk.

As the hilly streets go up and down, so do the voices of the citizens. They have a characteristic sing-song cadence, beloved of national comedians, and Corkonians are regarded as the most talkative of all the Irish.  St. Finbarr is the patron saint. He founded a monastic school about 650 AD where St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral now stands, a splendid triple-spired example of French-gothic architecture.  Among its most striking features are the fine rose window, the mosaic pavements and the elaborate carving throughout.

Walk along the Western Road to Tudor-Gothic University College with its attractive riverside quadrangle, and visit the Honan Chapel there. It is modelled on Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, and has a superb interior including stained-glass windows by Sarah Purser and Harry Clarke.

Make your way up the North Main Street then over North Gate Bridge and climb up Shandon Church, the tower of which you will have noticed dominating the north side of the city from its lofty hill-top position.  Its peal of eight bells, cast in Gloucester in 1750, have become famous, and you may play them yourself, from “music” cards supplied for a small fee. Your rendering of Danny Boy or Ave Maria will drift gently down the hill and over the river, to be heard all over the city. Corkonians depend on Shandon clock for their time, and its fish weather-vane for their weather forecast.

Back on “the flat” of the city again visit The English Market, a covered market for fish, fruit, meat and vegetable, on the Coal Quay (pronounced Kay), the open-air market which is as much part of the folk-culture of Cork as is Shandon. The Crawford Gallery in Emmet Place houses an interesting sculpture collection, including some Rodin bronzes and a fine collection of paintings. In the Grand Parade you will find the Berwick Fountain, The National  Monument, at Grand Parade was erected to commemorate the Irish Patriots who died during the period 1798 – 1867.

– Blarney just 8km from Cork City is steeped in history and magical charm the village has a well preserved village square in Tudor style.  For many of the visitors to Blarney, their first priority is to kiss the famous Blarney Stone high up on the Castle battlements.  According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446.  The word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”.  Over 200,000 people visit Blarney Castle each year. The castle is situated in over a thousand acres of magnificent woodland, making it the ideal place to take walks to enjoy the clean fresh environment of Blarney.

The village is home to the world famous Blarney Woollen Mills. Established in 1824, the outlet has become one of the largest craft shops in Ireland and is renowned for its quality produce.

The Royal Gunpowder Mills in Ballincollig, from here gunpowder was supplied to much of the British Empire.

– Kinsale town nestles between the hills and the shoreline, a maze of narrow streets, never far from the water and little changed in many hundreds of years.  It is one of the most picturesque, popular and fashionable resorts in the area.  The harbour is guarded by two very fine star-shaped fortresses built in the 17th century: Charles Fort is well worth a visit  The Old Head of Kinsale has magnificent cliff scenery. It was off the coast here that the Lusitania was sunk in 1915 with a loss of over 1,500 lives.  Kinsale is the Gourmet Capital of Ireland and an ideal base for sea fishing.

– Cobh (pronounced Cove) became the country’s main emigration port following the Great Famine of 1846 – 1848.  The port was once associated with the great liners including the ill fated Titanic, today the attraction is Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens plus the Wildlife Park that draw the crowds.

St. Colman’s Cathedral, a 19th century Gothic revival is home to the largest Carillon (49-bells), in Ireland and the UK. The Cathedral Spire overlooks the brightly painted town of Cobh and the inner islands of the harbour, Spike Island and Haulbowline Island site of the oldest yacht club in the world, the Royal Cork Yacht Club which was founded in 1720.

– Bandon just 20 minutes from Cork on the Bandon River lies the flourishing town of Bandon, a gateway to the scenic beauties of West Cork.  Today the town offers a wide range of sporting activities including golf, salmon fishing, angling, horse-riding, bowling and cycling. The Bandon Weir project nearby is a beautiful white water weir and wildlife sanctuary, with scenic views, leaping salmon, and a wild duck feeding area.  The West Cork Heritage Centre, located at Christchurch, Bandon, runs special exhibitions on themes relating to history, archaeology, nature, crafts and other subjects. Christchurch itself is of interest. Step back in time and see the craft of the wheelright and harness maker, or visit the country kitchen and dairy. Discover about ancient Ring Forts and Crannogs. It was built in 1610 on the site of a Danish fort, and is among the earliest churches erected in Ireland for Protestant worship.

– Dunmanway lies 60km West of Cork City on the N71, and is the gateway to the more rugged west. It rests amid tranquil hills, well stocked lakes and beautiful woodlands.  In 1747 there were 87 flax and 51 woollen wheels in Dunmanway. A Master Weaver was elected on 1st May each year. A tradition of cattle fairs and horse fairs continues today with the Agricultural Show in July and the famous Bailebuidhe Horse Fair show and races in early August.

– Courtmacsherry village and bay is a charming fishing and seaside resort on the Adrigeen Estuary, 11 miles South of Bandon and 9 miles East of Clonakilty. Many local artists and crafts people live here, who sell their work both locally and internationally. Tim Severin, adventurer, historian and writer of ‘The Brendan Voyage’, ‘The Sinbad Voyage and ‘Crusaders’ lives here. Courtmacsherry was formerly the summer home of The Earl of Shannon who planted many exotic trees, shrubs and woods around the village. The coastal walks are a birdwatcher’s paradise. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded between Courtmacsherry and Rosscarbery, including a colony of herons in Clonakilty Bay.

– Clonakilty has been designated as West Cork’s Heritage Town by Bord Failte, and a visit to the town soon shows why. The Post Office is housed in an old Presbyterian church and the Town Council and Library are housed in a converted Corn Mill with the river flowing beneath. Narrow streets and lanes open into elegant squares. It is a town of tall spires, towers and historic buildings – the brewery building, the mills and the quayside warehouses, telling of the town’s busy trading and industrial past.

Clonakilty Museum situated in the Old Methodist National School at the Western Road. Displays include the Corporation Minute Book of 1675, industrial history, a specially re-created classroom, the West Cork railway, local brewing, GAA history, local lace and crochet. Clonakilty Museum is open May to September. Off-season November to April – Sundays only.

BEACHES. Ichydoney Strand (inis an Duine), formally a sandy island, is now a stretch of panoramic unspoiled beaches divided by a promontory, offering excellent swimming facilities. Other nearby beaches include Duneen, Sandscove, Red Strand, Long Strand, Owenahincha, and many more. Leisure craft and wind-surfing equipment are available for hire locally.

The Michael Collins Memorial at Sam’s Cross, 5.5 km from Clonakilty, stands in memory to a great patriot, soldier and statesman of the 1916-22 period, born in nearby Woodfield in 1890. The memorial is the work of the late Cork sculptor Seamus Murphy, and was unveiled by Tom Barry, another maverick hero of those troubled times.

– Lisnagun Ringfort (and Animal Park) at Darrara, very near Clonakilty is a reconstructed Early Christian Ringfort or defended farm dwelling, on the original site, following intensive archaeological discovery and excavation. You can see the circular ringfort behind its raised earthwork defences, its clay and wattle circular house cooking areas, outhouses, souterrains (underground passages for safety and food storage), and replicas of household utensils, weapons, and farm implements. The Ringfort community was self-sufficient in meat, cereals and vegetables, cloths and implements. In early Christian times there were some 30,000 similar dwellings in Ireland. Here you get a keen sense of in late Iron-age times.

At Lisnagun Animal Park visitors can see a wide range of farm animals and birds as well as some wildlife, in pleasant surroundings. A path winds its way around the park, over bridges, around waterfalls, under shady trees, and along the banks of streams, beyond every corner, there’s something new and exciting to be seen. All creatures, great and small, have their own special areas or houses. The pigs live in a cottage, the fowl in a log cabin, the pheasants in an alpine lodge, the deer in a paddock sheltered by trees. The park also has a “Noah’s Ark” picnic area.
Lisnagus is open daily and in the summertime there are guided tours every hour, on the hour.

You could spend months in this county and still not see everything.  The idea is to read and plan a journey.  Next time I will continue westward and into Kerry.