County Cork (Irish: Contae Chorcaí), in Southwest Ireland is the largest county in the Republic of Ireland and also the location of the country's second largest city. This means that its inhabitants have a reasonable sense of their status. It also has a very long coastline and many items of interest for the visitor.
- North Cork is a renowned destination for anglers, with several long rivers - notably the Blackwater, providing plentiful fish in a beautiful setting. This part of the county is the least touristed.
- East Cork is known for the quality of its agricultural produce, the cookery school at Ballymaloe near Cloyne (the Enlightenment philosopher Bishop Berkeley lived in Cloyne) and the pretty seaside village of Ballycotton.
- West Cork is more touristed, and it's easy to understand why - the southernmost coast of Ireland stretches for over 100 km from Cork Harbour through verdant farmland, to three peninsulas jutting out into the Atlantic. It may not quite have some of the drama of Kerry or Donegal, but the little villages and coves and rocky islands are surely some of the prettiest places in Ireland, or anywhere else. When the weather is bad it can be spectacular, or you can retire to the local pub for a Murphy's or a Guinness. When the weather is good, there are few better places to be. This is one of the most scenic parts of the country with a reputation as a quirky and relaxing area. West Cork extends along the coast through a variety of small towns and villages to the wild and rugged Beara peninsula, finally terminating in a barely inhabited island reached by a cable-car. There are many opportunites for pursuing of watersports, hill-walking and general relaxation. It is an area of small towns, a long and varied coastline, with drowned river valleys, long peninsulas, and offshore islands and an area renowned for its mild climate and exotic and luxuriant vegetation. As you travel west from Cork City the landscape gradually becomes more dramatic. It has become a popular area for holiday and retirement homes and amongst people seeking to live alternative lifestyles but this has been a slow development and the resulting houses are scattered and very individual.
Towns and villagesEdit
- 1 Cork (Corcaigh, "marsh") – southern transport hub and commercial, administrative and cultural centre for the county and the South of Ireland
- Douglas is a suburb of Cork
- 2 Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone are themselves prime examples of "Blarney".
- 3 Bantry is a good base for the county's three main peninsulas.
- 4 Baltimore has sailing and scuba diving, and ferries to Sherkin and Cape Clear.
- 5 Castletownberehaven
- 6 Castletownshend
- 7 Clonakilty is the birthplace of Michael Collins.
- Rosscarbery is a village west of Clonakilty.
- 8 Cobh is the port for Cork, departure point for hundreds of thousands of emigrants.
- 9 Crosshaven — village with sailing opportunities, plenty of hiking trails, and spectacular views over Cork harbour
- 10 Glengarriff (Gleann Garbh, "Rough glen") – relaxed and scenic, on Bantry bay
- 11 Kinsale (Cionn tSáile, "Tide Head") – historic town associated with sailing and good food
- 12 Macroom (Maigh Chromtha) – main town of the mid-Cork/Lee valley region, gateway to Cork's gaeltacht.
- 13 Mallow has the racetrack and is the main town in north Cork.
- 14 Schull - a vibrant tourist and fishing village famous for Calves Week, its annual keelboat regatta; and the Fastnet International Schools Regatta, held annually in dinghies
- 15 Skibbereen (An Sciobairín) – gateway to Castletownsend, Baltimore, Schull and the Mizen
- 16 Youghal is a small port, once home to Sir Walter Raleigh.
- 1 Three peninsulas form the southwest tip of Cork: Mizen Head to the south, Sheep's Head in the middle and Beara to the north. Bantry is at the base of the middle peninsula and has roads to all three.
- 2 Carbery's Hundred Isles are an archipelago in Roaringwater Bay. They actually number about 50, if you discount mere rocks, and several are inhabited. Those with a ferry service are Sherkin Island and Cape Clear from Baltimore, Heir Island from Cunnamore near Skibbereen, and Long Island from Schull.
- 3 Fastnet: now you really are getting away from it all. It's a wave-lashed islet with a lighthouse, 13 km beyond the Cork mainland, the most southerly point in Ireland. Boat trips visit in summer from Baltimore and Schull.
County Cork had a population of 542,000 in the 2016 census. Up to 400,000 are considered to be in the Greater Cork area - within about 20 miles (30 km) of the centre. The more distant parts of the county are sparsely populated. The harbour has a long maritime history and the area is part residential, part industrial. The farmland of the county is very productive and is a mixture of dairy towards the North, arable towards the East and sheep towards the West, with considerable overlap. Fishing is important all along the coast. Manufacturing tends to be centered in and around the city, while artists, artisans and small businesses can be found throughout the city and county.
There is definitely no shortage of chatting in County Cork. Try to concentrate and you will pick up most of English spoken word here.
There are a number of Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas throughout West Cork including Baile Mhúirne (Ballyvourney), Béal Átha 'n Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary), Cúil Aodha (Coolea), Cill na Martra (Kilnamartra) and Oileán Chléire (Clear Island). The Cork Gaeltacht, or Múscraí as it is known locally, has a population of 3,530 people, which is 4% of the total Gaeltacht population.
Cork Airport (ORK IATA) is 6 km south of Cork city center. It has flights from UK and Europe but is too small for direct long-haul aircraft. If you're flying in and renting a car, which you'll need to explore the southwest, then Dublin (DUB IATA) or Shannon (SNN IATA) might also work well.
Trains run hourly from Dublin Heuston, taking 2 hr 40 min to Cork via Kildare, Portlaoise, Ballybrophy, Thurles, Limerick Junction and Mallow. There are also rail connections from Limerick city, Waterford and Tralee.
There are no through-buses to Ireland from UK or the continent: change in London for the ferry ports. Buses run hourly from Dublin Airport (3 hr 30 min) and Busáras (3 hr) to Cork.
A bus runs hourly from Galway via Ennis, Shannon Airport, Limerick and Mallow to Cork, with a faster bus every 2-3 hours.
Buses run from Rosslare ferry harbour via Wexford, Waterford, Dungarvan and Youghal to Cork.
Bus Eireann run dozens of services from Cork City bus station to all of the towns in the county and throughout Ireland. Direct services between the major towns and cities in Ireland will run several times daily and can be a very cost effective way of travelling around Ireland.
The only railways in the county are around Cork city: the mainline from Dublin Heuston via Mallow, and commuter lines to Midleton and Cobh.
Metered taxis are available almost everywhere and non-metered hackney cabs also (try to find out the price of a journey beforehand). In general, taxis are not cheap in Ireland and can quickly become an expensive luxury while visiting Ireland.
Bicycling is very pleasant on the quieter roads and there is a nascent network of bicycle lanes in the city.
By car hireEdit
Car hire is available from several agencies in the city and at the airport: see Cork for a list of these.
- In Cork city, St Finbar's cathedral is an obvious architectural highpoint. A walk through the campus of University College Cork is well worth while. The Glucksman gallery, Crawford gallery and Triskel arts centre are the most important Artistic venues in the city. The English market is probably the best food market in either Ireland or Britain. Other obvious attractions are Cork city gaol, St Anne's church in Shandon and the Cork public museum. The city centre is very amenable to walking - there are over 30 bridges across the two channels of the river, and while few of the buildings from prior to the nineteenth century survive, the street layout is interesting and the Architecture can be also.
- A visit to Blarney Castle would allow you to bend over backwards and kiss the stone of eloquence. This might give you a good chance of being able to better maintain conversations with the inhabitants of the county.
- Midleton distillery [formerly dead link] is where most of the world-famous brands of Irish whiskey are produced - Jameson, Powers and Paddy, as well as others. The historic buildings house a museum. And a tasting centre.
- Bantry house and gardens on the shores of Bantry bay is a glorious example of Georgian architecture in a stunning location.
- Fota wildlife park and Arboretum in the upper harbour is a forested micro-climate where many endangered species from around the world are bred and protected. It is notable for its success in breeding cheetahs.
- The town of Kinsale boasts two seventeenth-century star forts on either side of the harbour. James' fort is overgrown and mysterious, while Charles' fort is probably the finest example of a military fortress in Ireland.
- Night skies: a lost cause near the city, but the rural places are free of light pollution. On a clear night, get away from the street lights and give your eyes 20 min to adjust, and the Milky Way and other objects will swim into view as never before.
- Road Bowling is the Irish team sport of hurling a small cannonball down a public road. Wherever it stops, the next shot is taken from there, until one team crosses the finish line. It's played especially in County Cork and in County Armagh so you may well find a game along a back lane, however in 2020 all games are suspended.
You could base an itinerary on any of several activities, including:
- Fishing - Inland river-angling and Oceanic shark-fishing would cover this. There are several places to do both.
- Horseriding - Many horseriding facilities are available throughout the county.
- Golfing - A good variety of courses are available, topped by the magnificent (if pricey) Old Head of Kinsale course.
- Diving - Mostly offshore, but there is Lake diving at Lough Ine near Skibbereen.
- Surfing - It can get rough. Popular spots include Garretstown near Kinsale, Castlefreke near Clonakilty and Barleycove on the Mizen peninsula.
- Sailing - Visit Crosshaven, home to Royal Cork Yacht Club. Holidays and lessons with SailCork at East Ferry in Cobh.
- The Wild Atlantic Way is the coastal driving route from Cork away up to Donegal. You're unlikely to want to do it all in one trip, it's best to explore one region at a time. It starts at Old Kinsale Head and heads west via Timoleague, Clonakilty, Galley Head, Glandore, Toe Head Bay, Skibbereen, Baltimore, Inishbeg, Cunnamore, Heir and Sherkin Islands, Ballydehob, Schull, Toormore and Barley Cove to Mizen Head. It then heads north via Sheep's Head to Whiddy Island, Bantry, Glengarriff, Castletownbere and Bere Island then Dursey Island. After Derryvegal you cross into County Kerry towards Kenmare. There isn't a fixed route, it's up to you whether you follow all the convolutions of the coast and hop to the islands, or shortcut on the main highway further inland.
- A Taste of West Cork is a food festival held in several villages in September. The next is 3-12 Sept 2021.
- Try to learn a few words of Irish every now and again. (Dia dhuit a chara - Hello friend).
- Visit Crosshaven every two years for the bi-annual Cork Week sailing regatta at the world's oldest yacht club or come to East Ferry in Cobh for lessons in sailing or powerboating with SailCork
- In ports such as Cobh learn sailing, power-boating and navigation.
Cork city has several multi-screen 'Multiplex' cinemas in the centre and suburbs which show popular films. There are similar cinemas in Clonakilty, Midleton and Mallow. For more alternative and international movies, try the Kino Arthouse cinema on Washington St in Cork, or occasionally, the Triskel Arts Centre on Tobin St, Cork.
There are several Theatres in Cork city, providing a wide variety of stage-based entertainment. The Cork Opera House on Emmet Place is the largest, and among the others are the Everyman Palace on MacCurtain St, the intimate Granary Theatre on Mardyke Parade and the Triskel Arts Centre on Tobin St.
The county has a great reputation for food. Beef, lamb, bacon, poultry and dairy produce are to a high standard, and the sea abounds with fish and shellfish. These products are served up in both traditional and innovative ways throughout the county, and are complemented by dozens of ethnic restaurants cooking food from all over the world. The biggest selection is in Cork itself.
See individual towns, plus there are hotel restaurants dotted all over. One standout is:
Irish pubs are an important part of Irish life and Cork has lots of them. There is at least one in every little village, and sometimes they don't even need a village, they're just there. Cork city has a selection worthy of the second city, and they tend to be more intimate and friendly than those you might find in bigger cities. Do try Murphy's and Beamish at least once each.
There are usually a couple of dozen clubs running in the city at weekends, perhaps a dozen during the week. Ask around or check out the flyers in pubs to see if there is something you like on - there probably will be.
Most of the towns in the county have a club or two at weekends. These tend to try to please as many people as possible and serve the purpose of providing late night alcohol, rather than cutting-edge music. But you never know.
- In Clonakilty, raise a glass in Donovan's Hotel to the memory of Tojo. He was probably the only wartime USAF crew member to die of an excess of alcohol while being feted by local townsfolk after an emergency landing. The crew had thought they were over Norway. Tojo was a monkey - it's not recorded whether he was navigating.
- Distilleries and breweries: best known is the Jameson distillery at Midleton near Cork. But look for them in other towns - some are micro- or even nano-distilleries. They may offer tours, but it's worth trying their produce anyway.
- Cork city has the widest selection.
- See Lismore for Ballyvolane House, 38 km northeast of Cork.
For emergency assistance (Gardai [Police], Ambulance or Fire-brigade), phone 112 or 999.