Cork City: Top 9 Attractions

Cork City © Shutterstock

Get to know Cork city through modern masterpieces, a bustling covered market and the blessed brews of a Franciscan pub. Just don’t time yourself by the church tower – its clock is known as the four-faced liar!

1 The English Market

The envy of foodies throughout Ireland, the English Market has been around since 1788. Far from being English (it’s named for its Protestant origins), this is the place to pick up traditional specialities like drisheen and pigs’ trotters, although the 55 or so stalls also stock bread, fish, cheese and fruit and veg. The market has survived fire, civil war and an attempted name change, but it took a failed bid to replace it with a car park in the 1980s for the people of Cork to realise that their culinary capital was worth saving! Today hailed as the "best covered market in the UK and Ireland" by chef Rick Stein, the English Market is thriving. Drop into the Farmgate Café for delicious dishes made from the market’s wares.

2 Cork City Gaol

A mixture of grand Gothic and classical architecture, Cork City Gaol looks more like a castle than a penitentiary. But don't be fooled – these elegant walls have enclosed some of the most battle-hardened veterans of armed struggle. And not very well, either, if you consider one frosty night in 1923 when no less than 42 prisoners tied clothes and sheets together and snuck over the walls in batches of 14, fleeing silently into the night on stockinged feet. This was chiefly a women’s prison, where many republican women were held during the War of Independence. Take a tour through the gloomy cells and corridors to be transported back to those tough and turbulent times.

3 Crawford Municipal Art Gallery

In Cork's stunning old Customs House, the relaxed Crawford Municipal Art Gallery is art made easy. At the heart of the permanent collection here is a series of Graeco-Roman casts, modelled from sculptures held in the Vatican. Since their acquisition in 1816, a collection of Irish art has blossomed around these busts, including paintings, sculpture and installations. In a nod to Ireland's rich literary tradition, the Crawford is also home to a number of portraits of beloved Irish writers, from Samuel Beckett to WB Yeats and Elizabeth Bowen. A tour of this welcoming gallery is perfectly bookended by a coffee and bite to eat in the friendly, airy café. 

4 Elizabeth Fort

Built almost 400 years ago, this bruiser regularly caught the eye of attacking forces, right up until the Irish Civil War of the 1920s. In fact, after the original structure took shape in 1601, locals were so worried by the potential for invasion that they destroyed it. Bad idea: when order was restored, the people of Cork were made to rebuild it again at their own expense. The fort was replaced in 1624 and Oliver Cromwell is said to have added improvements while besieging the city, resulting in roughly what we see today. Take a stroll along the ramparts – many claim this offers the best view over Cork city.

5 Franciscan Well Brewery

The weight of Cork's lengthy history adds a certain richness to this city, not least of all to its strong tradition of brewing, reinvigorated today at the Franciscan Well. The brewery is named after the site itself, where a medieval Franciscan monastery once stood – complete with a healing well. While the beer brewed onsite today may not technically have curative powers, it’s still pretty good! Patrons can choose from a range of specialist lager, ale, stout and wheat beers, as well as various tipples from micro-breweries all round the world. Relax with a pint in the beer garden, where tunes from local musicians often fill the rafters. Cheers!

6 UCC campus (including Lewis Glucksman Gallery)

There's nothing quite like a stroll through University College Cork, along the leafy banks of the River Lee. The trees adorning this verdant campus lend it a stately air; in the President's Garden, there even stands one that was brought back from the trenches of the First World War as a sapling that had sprouted in the pocket of a fallen soldier. Indoors, the award-winning Lewis Glucksman Gallery hosts regular exhibitions and continues the university's proud tradition of nurturing the visual arts. In fact, the entire campus is dotted with numerous works of sculpture, photography, print and paint. See how many you can spot as you ramble through the grounds... 

7 St Fin Barre’s Cathedral

Although the cathedral that stands today is a French Neo-Gothic masterpiece, this site has been used for Christian worship since Cork's patron saint Fin Barre established a monastery here the 7th century. After numerous changes, renovations and re-builds, the current cathedral was completed in the 19th century, for the princely sum of more than £100,000 – obliterating the paltry original budget of £15,000. When you see the beautiful stained glass, ornate organ and preserved 12th century carved stone heads, you'll appreciate why. Keep a sharp eye on the angel on the cathedral's east side – local legend holds that he will blow his bugle to herald the Apocalypse!

8 St Anne’s Church and Shandon Bells

Just how much the people of Cork love St Anne's Church becomes clear once you learn that the red sandstone and white limestone of the church's tower are said to have inspired the red and white of Cork’s sporting colours. Although a church has existed here since medieval times, the one that stands tall above the city today was built in 1722. Don’t trust the clock on the tower, though – locals call it the ‘four-faced liar’, because the different faces each tell different times. Almost uniquely, visitors can ring the church bells, but the system is automated nowadays, so you don’t have to swing on a rope.

9 Cork Butter Museum

In case you didn't know by now: food is a BIG deal in Cork. We're not just talking the fresh delights of the English Market, either. Cork also honours its more historic tasty traditions, in particular, its past at the centre of Europe's butter trade. The Cork Butter Museum speaks to Ireland's dairy pedigree: the lush local grazing and temperate climate have long made butter, milk and cheese central to the island's fortune and this museum brings the visitor on a wholesome tour down memory lane. From the pretty labels of local creameries to an exhibition on the traditional craft of domestic butter-making, this is a delightful reminder that hearty, homely, high-quality produce will never go out of style in Cork.

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