Cork…a rough guide….

cork_irelandIreland Luxury Tours recommend a visit to Cork on any tour of Ireland…..

Cork (from an Irish word meaning “marsh”) was a Viking settlement beside the site of St Finbar’s early seventh-century Irish monastery; it was burned by the Irish in 1378 and besieged, bombarded and then burned by John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough, in the seventeenth century.  This means that almost nothing is left of the medieval city, and even its mainly nineteenth – and twentieth-century architecture (with some Georgian relics) suffered serious destruction during the 1920 “Troubles”, when the Black-and -Tans (an auxiliary British police force) took hundreds of gallons of petrol from military stores to burn down the centre of the modern city, leaving St Patrick’s Street, the principal thoroughfare, a blackened shell.

The Court House, with its fine Corinthian portico by G. R. Pain, is most imposing; the dramatic siting of the classically-styled Custom House echoes that of Venice’s Dogana; and the famous pepperpot campanile of Shandon’s St Anne’s (with its great salmon weathervane) would not seem out of place in Tuscany.  But Cork never intended itself to be a symbol of architectural splendour; it was devoted to mercantilism, and its old warehouses, stone quaysides and succession of elegant bridges spanning the Lee, which divides round a central island site, show what a busy place it once was.  Indeed, many of its streets were navigable waterways, and even today there are capstans in Grand Parade recalling where merchant vessels were moored.  It is still a thriving, bustling town – the current population is about 135,000 – engaged in distilling, brewing and bacon-curing, with tanneries, woolen mills, motor works and even a shipyard.

It is a place of strong contrasts, grand establishments sitting side by side with modest little shops or houses, and for the larger part it is free of that modern blight, the chain store.  Montenotte, the city’s Belgravia, rises in stepped heights reminiscent, say, of Sorrento on a winter’s day.  Like much of Ireland, which gains from an interplay of cloud and brilliant light, there are dramatic  contrasts in many vistas in the city, especially where the twin channels of the Lee add their own reflective magic to the scene.  The view from Patrick’s Bridge looks across to the classically pedimented church of St Mary’s ( a Dominican foundation famed for its miracle-working fourteenth-century image of the Virgin and Child) ad beyond to the steep, house-covered hillsides that fade translucently into the background in a numinous image of earth and sky.

North of the river and up an easy incline stands St Anne’s.  You will notice that two sides of its campanile are made of red sandstone and two of white limestone, but it is the bells – there are eight – one has come to hear (and, indeed, it is possible to arrange to ring them yourself).