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  • Shelley Dark

#12 the city of Cork

Get ready. This post's a marathon.

I told you about my mate Tom on the aeroplane. The next Corkonian I met was the taxi-driver - I asked him if he'd always been a taxi driver.

Well, he began, When I was a boy, me father was after buying a pub..... which turned into a story about his fighting ability - he and his brother were in a fight in the bar once against seven men. At the end of the fight, four of the attackers were down, and two didn't want to fight any more. -:) But he's never been the first man to throw a punch. Never.

I'm staying at the historic Hotel Imperial in the city centre - it was opened in 1816 as a meeting place for the town's merchant princes. Cork is full of Georgian architecture!

There's a ban on using a hose until at least the end of September - it's hard to believe when everything looks so green! The weather has been brilliant for the three days I've been here, no rain, a happy mix of blue and grey skies, and gorgeous fresh temperatures. I hope there's heaps of rain, after I leave next Monday!

Cork city is on what was originally a low-lying marsh - you can see in the 1545 map that there's one fortified rectangular piece of land in the middle, with swamps and water channels around it. Ships used to come right up to this area to load and unload.

Map courtesy of google maps - that's my hotel in pink letters

It's gradually been drained, with more and more land reclaimed until now it's one island with the River Dee dividing around it. It's always been a shipping based city and a depot for the rich farming produce from the hinterland.

I came to Cork to research my book. I've been doing that every day. Although on Sunday night I met a friend of an Insta-friend. This is Barry Murphy who was born in Cork and is now holidaying here for an extended period. It was great craic (did yuh hear that now?) and I even learned to say slianté! (means cheers, and pronounced shlontay) My itinerary has been a little more finely honed thanks to Barry's suggestions!

Barry left for a dinner date at 7pm and I had dinner at the hotel. I hadn't eaten all day (still keeping to one meal) so I had two entrées as usual. By dinner time, food tastes so good. This was superb!

Smoked cod and crab fish cakes with Jerusalem artichoke and truffle purée with lemon gel and sea asparagus

Lemon sole with tempura batter, red pepper and tomato stew, basil mayo, lemon and olive oil emulsion. I wish chefs wouldn't use the word 'emulsion' in their menus. It sounds like some sort of medicine to me.

On Monday it took half an hour by train to go to the historic port of Cobh (pronounced Cove) which was a strategic British naval base during the Napoleonic wars. Much of the scenery was water, but now and then I glimpsed one of these picture postcard villages!

a poignant telegram from a passenger on the Lusitania, courtesy of Cobh Museum

Cobh is known for being the point of departure for many thousands of starving Irish people during the dreadful famine in the mid-nineteenth century. It was the Titanic's last port of call, and the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine near here with the loss of 1198 lives. I spent some time in the Heritage Centre and the Museum.

It's a very pretty little town, with this nicely proportioned band shell on the foreshore.

Couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this photo at the train station! I don't know the photographer, but I think it was last winter.

They call this row of houses the deck of cards.

Loved this building overlooking the town, called the Crescent.

There's a massive cathedral overlooking the harbour.

Its spire is 100 metres high! High ceiling too!

I'm in love with the chimney pots!

As I was walking back to the hotel from the train station, I was thinking about what makes Cork different. I love the Georgian architecture, the rows of joined houses, the tiny lanes. The centre of town is bright, colourful, busy, thriving. People seem happy and there's lots of laughter.

There's a certain grittiness as well. Back from the river, there are older utilitarian buildings in dark brick, tall dark factory chimneys from long ago punctuating the skyline, like something out of a Dickens novel. Grey light absorbs the colour out of the brightly-painted houses.

Creepers grow over abandoned buildings.

I absolutely adore this city. I love the contrasts. It's truly exciting to explore, like going a couple of centuries back in time.

This is St Patricks Catholic church - building began in 1832.

It's an imposing building calculated to remind man of his insignificance in the face of god. The reply? In front of the church, the homely touch of a pink geranium in a barrel. Perfect.

A lovely mosaic above a door to the Metropole Hotel.

On Tuesday I spent the morning at the Cork Archives, handling old documents and books for hours. My wonderful and interested helper was Steve, who refused a photograph because he said he was having a bad hair day!

This is the famous Shandon sweets shop. Yep, I did.

Cork was and is famous for its butter. Butter, beef and beer. This is the butter exchange.

It once held milk.

This once held butter. Don't you love the repair? This bowl was valued.

I wandered the area just north of the city. I went in to the Heineken factory office, St Anne's church with the Shandon Bells, the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne, the Butter Exchange, Richmond Hill. I saw Skiddy's Almshouse and Richmond Hill.

I met Maria, a cyclist from Brazil. An architect with very little English. I have less Portuguese. Except 'Hola!' She asked me directions to the churches on the other side of the hill. She ended up walking her bike with me for a few blocks. Somehow we communicated. Her mother has just fallen in her home in Brazil and cut her head. Maria wants to pray for her.

Maria didn't ask me to do my Mad Meg impersonation. I did it anyway.

We called out to the boys laying new slate on this roof.

I said goodbye to Maria (you are my friend, she said!) and I walked down to the Crawford Art Gallery before I went back to the hotel.

They were having an exhibition about the nude, but my favourite painting was this one. It's called The Goose Girl, by Edith Anna Œnone Somerville. The heartbreak of a child holding a goose doomed be the family dinner.

I was partial to this sculpture of a madonna by Seamus Murphy as well.

Oh by the way, I loved this shop called Olori, owned by Lisa and her sister. She was such a honey - we chatted for a long time. She ended up writing down restaurants for me, her brand of mascara (great mascara!), the lot!

I ate at 6pm at Les Gourmandises, just steps from the hotel - prawns in filo pastry served with mango crème fraiche, and asparagus.

I had an early start today with a good forty minute walk to the County Library so that I could be back by 11am for a group historical tour of the CBD with Bart. If there's one sort of tour I hate, it's where you stand for long periods in one place while you listen. Not Bart. We walked briskly the whole time with only brief stops. The most perfect tour I've ever been on. And one of the most interesting and informative. And fun.

It was Bart who made me understand about the swamps and the reclaiming.

We visited the English Market - a very high-quality food market.

Wonderful Cork cheeses.

This fishmonger told the Queen that the monkfish reminded him of his mother-in-law.


These eggs have butter rubbed on them when they're warm. It changes the flavour!

And the sausage roll. My husband John would have been in heaven!

This is the interior of a restaurant called Jacob's in what was an old Turkish bath house.

We passed florists.

Many lovely old buildings and the gallery. Bart had a story for all of them. Many have a lean because of the subsidence of the marsh. And of course there is no such thing as a basement in central Cork! More often, there are steps up to the first level, to keep it above water. It's a sad day when high tide meets a flood from upriver, specially if it rains as well.

Bart bought some cheese for us to taste - wonderful!

Bridge and cathedral in the distance.

Bridge and cathedral with us in front.

I haven't told you one quarter of what Bart told us. Like the money counting house, the Huguenot cemetery, the Masonic Lodge which is the only one in the world to admit a woman. The architecture, the history, even the best shops.

But there's one thing left to tell you about him. We passed a bookshop of on our walk, called Uneeda Bookshop. Bart said that it's very good for finding hard-to-find books. I said that I really would like to buy an out of print book called In the Shadows. I've been trying online or months without success. I'll come back to this shop later.

Then I went off to the Cork City Library for the rest of the day.

Half way through the afternoon, someone sat down beside me. Plonked something on the table. It was Bart. With my book. I’m sure it’s the only copy in the whole of Ireland. What a guy! Isn't that something?

This was my meal for the day. Crab sandwich at Jacques. I cannot begin to tell you how delicious.

Here are your flowers for today. It's late buddies and I must go to bed. So should you if you've made it this far!

Tomorrow I pick up a car. Wish me luck.

Until my next post, I wait you,

shelley dark, writer 

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