Cork is a short drive down the coast from our last stop in Waterford and not really far from Dublin. Being in the center of the southern coast of Ireland, Cork was an ideal base from which to explore southern Ireland for the next several days of our Irish road trip.
Cork City was granted a charter in 1185. Its location made for a great trading center, with a protected port well inland to facilitate the transport of goods. Cork has grown to be the second largest city in the Irish Republic, after Dublin. Still, the latest census put it at just over 220,000, which is smaller than more than 90 cities in the US. Accordingly, it doesn’t feel like a big town.
Frankly, Cork doesn’t offer travelers much opportunity for tourism. I touch below on the few experiences we had in town. But, its location did serve as a great place to stay as we spent a few days driving all over the south of Ireland.
Maryborough Hotel and Spa
Since we knew most of our time would be spent outside of Cork, we chose a nice hotel on the periphery of town. The Maryborough Hotel and Spa is a converted country house with some additional facilities added on. The lovely grounds and garden provide a great backdrop for weddings, other outdoor functions, or just a restful weekend getaway. All the guests seemed to be happy and at ease during their stay.
The hospitality included a complimentary bottle of prosecco. The buffet breakfast was similar to many I had in Ireland, with one exception: it featured a large honeycomb. I’m not sure why I was impressed by it, but I thought it was really cool to be sampling such obviously unprocessed products. Truly farm to table.
The Thermal Suite
Another draw for us was the large workout facility and spa located in the building. The workout facility was larger than most found at a hotel, so we had ample choice for how to utilize the machines and weights.
The Thermal Suite was also very welcoming. Reminiscent of our stay in the Dolomites, it had a large whirlpool with strong jets for relaxation. Even more so, the sauna and steam rooms finally delivered the thermal experiences we had envisioned we would enjoy on our recent cruise. They even had fancy showers with lots of jets and a light show for your entertainment. After a workout or a long day of driving, it was a pleasure to wind down in these facilities and recharge for the next adventure.
Our first out-of-town excursion took us to Blarney Castle, a place I had visited 35 years ago. It seemed to me that much had changed since then. Once a simple castle ruin and nearby house, the attraction has exploded into a large garden with dining facilities, a large parking lot full of tourist busses, and a large crowd.
Legend has it (apparently), that a person can acquire the gift of gab by kissing The Blarney Stone, which has been part of the castle since 1446. Due to its location, the aspirant has to hang upside down over a metal grate to perform the kissing maneuver. Given those physical constraints, the 40-minute outdoor line, the 8 flights of stairs, and the impending storm, Diana chose to pass on the opportunity. I partook on my last visit. Clearly, the effect may be a bit exaggerated, which may have also informed Diana’s decision.
Cork City Gaol
The only place in town I was interested in visiting was the old City Gaol. In operation for nearly 100 hundred years (1824-1923), the prison was considered a model for penal reform. Its design is reminiscent of similar prisons of the period, including the one we visited in Melbourne. After 1923, the “gaol” served as a radio broadcast facility. There is a decent exhibit on that aspect on the third floor.
For me, the more interesting displays had to do with daily life, punishment, and discussions on the sorts of crimes one might commit to warrant a stay in the “gaol”. “Obscene Language” could earn a visit. A particularly diabolical “rehabilitation” device was The Treadwheel, a never-ending staircase where inmates would scale between 6,600 and 17,000 vertical feet daily. Ooh, that sounds like fun.
Trad Music And… Japanese Curry
Building on my grand traditional music experiences in Dublin, I was eager to seek out more in Cork. One of my fond memories of my last visit was of a fun afternoon knocking a couple back while taking in some fine fiddling somewhere in the area.
After making some inquiries, I learned of a great setup at a local bar O’sho. They had an arrangement with a Japanese-to-go joint, Miyazaki, which was around the corner. So, I got some gyoza and curry and grabbed a stout and a front-row seat for the performance. At times, even though the bar was fairly full, I was the only one paying the band any attention. It was like having a private dinner and show session. Life is good.
We met a fellow nomad for dinner on our first night in Cork. Our friend Joe has been cycling around the British Isles for months with his pal, Joey, an English Cream Dachsund. We chose a place in town to make it easier for Joe to get to on his bike. Our meal at Bella Napoli was quite enjoyable. I really scored with the Short Ribs and Diana was happy with her tagliatelle bolognese.
It had been a while since I had sampled some non-European food, so I took the chance one night and sat down for some Indian/Nepali food at ThaliNepal. I’ve had a soft spot for momos ever since our visit to Kathmandu and I was happy to have some along with chicken korma. Diana enjoyed her chicken dish, as well.
Another evening, we drove a fair distance to the coastal town of Kinsale, a charming little village that reminded me of Carmel, CA. I had marked a restaurant named Fishy Fishy there as a place to visit, but no notation as to why. It turned out to be a great choice. Diana and I had both fallen in love with hake in Dublin, so we jumped on the daily special featuring it. Very good. We figured out while we were there that the spot had been featured on the Netflix show “Somebody Feed Phil“. Phil did not steer us wrong. We highly recommend this place. Bon Appetit!
Where is your favorite spa?