We only stayed in Cork for one full day and most of that time we spent in Blarney visiting the castle but we had a couple of nights walking around and enjoying the town. Cork was quite a bit larger than the towns we had been visiting along the west. Second only to Dublin and Belfast, less than half the size of Dublin but 15 times the size of Killarney. Lots of bars and restaurants. A bit more gritty with more drunks guys about up to possible mischief.
Cork is an old city, originally settled in the 6th century, urbanized around 915 as a Viking trade port, and officially chartered in 1185. Historically it was an Old English city surrounded entirely by unfriendly Gaelic lands. But by the time the war of Independence rolled around the city was solidly Irish nationalist and remains so today.
MacCurtain Street Area
We booked a B&B on the north side of River Lee a short walk from downtown but the area along MacCurtain Street had a neighborhood of its own. We found lots of restaurants and bars and the architecture here was quite interesting.
Walking around downtown.
The downtown of Cork sits on an island between two branches of the River Lee. In medieval times this area comprised the whole of Cork and was a walled city. This area is flat and generally exists as a grid of 3-4 story buildings with St. Patrick’s street winding through the middle of it. St. Patrick’s street is sort of the promenade with more upscale and serious looking buildings like banks and department stores where the rest of downtown is packed with pubs and shops. A lively and festive vibe with nightlife filling up the streets especially down Oliver Plunkett street but plenty of action throughout the smaller lanes and alleys.
The Blarney Castle
I mean, it is what it is. How can you go to Cork without checking out the Blarney Stone? I know, I know, it’s a tourist slog and the whole story is not very believable, but we actually had a great time at the Blarney Castle and I don’t mind to recommend it. Our good experience might come partially from the fact that no one was really there. With covid scaring the tourists off, we literally just climbed up the castle and straight to the Blarney Stone without waiting at all. Ominously on the walk in there were markers describing how many hours you were from the Barney Stone. I’m not sure it’s worth hours of waiting. But if it’s this easy, why the hell not?
The castle itself is a fairly well preserved 90ft tower castle sitting on expansive grounds. The ceiling and floors are all gone for the most part but all the stone remains including steep spiral staircases to the top along with many stone chambers and passages. The staircases are very narrow and vertical, a bit more of an effort than I expected, and I was happy not to be crammed in there nose to ass with some overweight tourist scraping up the passage for an hour.
Once at the top you’re walking the edge of the top wall with both a drop through the center and a drop on the outside and between you and the exterior wall are gaps large enough to drop a body through, I assume to chuck rocks and hot oil down on invaders. It’s not a great place if you’re afraid of heights. They’ve installed bars to keep you from dying but it still feels a bit unsafe. The Blarney Stone is a capstone at the bottom of one of these outside wall bits sitting at the bottomside of one of these open holes. After someone died by falling through the bars, the way you have to do it now is to lay on your back, grip these metal bars, then while some dude holds onto you, backbend down into the 90ft drop and kiss the damn thing backwards and upside down. And it’s not right there. You have to really lean fully back at a 90 degree angle dangling down over the drop. Once you’re done it’s back down the spiral stairs on the other side. My knees were worn out.
The grounds were extensive and interesting on their own. Lots of playful constructions and labyrinthian paths. Full theme gardens with sculptures. A poison garden (I’m doubting that was original). A “Jurassic fern garden”. A SE Asian jungle garden. Lots of stuff we didn’t have time to see. Much of the history there seemed exaggerated but it was certainly fun to explore.
Auburn House Guesthouse
We booked our second B&B in Cork, the Auburn House Guesthouse run by a very lovely woman who also made me these yummy breakfasts. I was a bit overwhelmed by the previous two full Irishes I had just eaten so I went with the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon the first morning but the second was back to the full Irish.