- 03 Jun 15
The Greatest City On Earth. That may be an ambitious claim – but then there are good reasons to make it. A gorgeous maritime city with a rich history, the Rebel County also has some of the best food, drink and craic in the world. So says Red FM's Neil Prendeville. Now read on...
I love Cork. Without fear nor favour, I would say it’s the best place on the planet, and I really mean that. It took me years to realise how fabulous the place is, but the older and more mature I got – and the more sense I got! – the
more I realised it, especially having worked and travelled overseas. It’s the perfect size: a small city – or a big village – with very few traffic problems, a great city centre and beautiful suburbs. Where else would you want to be, like?!
I’ve recently been reading about the history of the city, and it’s fascinating. We had our own penal system, a judiciary unattached to the rest of the country, and even our own currency for a while. OK, it was a bit like Shari’a law, in that you could have your hand cut off for theft, or be scourged or flogged or hanged from the gallows green – I’m not suggesting that should come back! But it’s an amazing story of how Cork has evolved. We had the Danes, the Vikings, the British, and we survived it all.
Ronnie O’Herlihy, a local historian, has receently erected signs at every street of interest, which tell you the history of the city. French Church Street and Carey’s Lane are particularly worth noting, as there’s a real link to our Huguenot past. There’s a nod towards our regal days too: the British knocked together a good city. We have to give them credit for that at least!
The people of Cork are special. Throughout my years as a broadcaster, I’ve learned they’re great at talking – and great at criticising – but they’re also great at supporting and rallying around their own. If someone has a crisis, or falls on bad times, Corkonians are wonderfully generous of spirit and heart, and with their cash as well.
When I walk through town now, I hear languages from all over the world. That wasn’t really the case 10 or 20 years ago, or it would certainly have been the exception rather than the rule. It’s a wonderful thing, but Cork has its own traditions, and its own characters. That bit of banter that you can have with people – even trying to get from one end of Patrick’s Street to another without having to stop for a chat – is very special, and you hope that people always keep that alive.
Cork was always a great brewing and distilling city – not just for our famous stouts, Beamish and Murphy’s, but also beer, whiskey, gin, and so many artisan brewers for many hundreds of years. They were wiped off the face of the earth by multinationals, of course, but now we’re seeing a huge return to local brewers, as well as cafés, bakeries, artisan butchers and stuff like that. God bless the Leeside hipsters; they’ve saved many a business in Cork.
When it comes to food, I like to support the guys who are making their own sausages or black pudding: I get passionate about things like that. There’s even a national scone war, and two of the ten finalists are from Leeside: we’re expecting good news there! I usually shop locally; the local butchers for meat, and I visit the local fruit and veg. specialists too. There are lots of accessible Farmers’ Markets around; Douglas has a kick–ass one, and Mahon Point’s is seriously good as well. It’s not unlike hundreds of years ago, when people bring their own bacon and eggs and sell them directly to the public.
On Saturday, I might pop into Pat O’Connell – the Queen’s fishmonger – and pick up a piece of Brill that came straight from the sea in Castletownbere that morning. The English Market is a great place to be: it just seems to work. It’s worth remembering that there was a period in the 1980s when it was all-but dead; if we give credit to the City Council for little, they deserve it for reinvigorating it. It’s exploded now, with a variety of produce that’s simply mindblowing. I must admit that I’m not a tripe and drisheen man, but at least I’ve tried 'em!
There’s also a great café upstairs at the Market, The Farmgate. They use ingredients from downstairs, and it’s great for stews and things like that. In truth, though, everything is good in the city, because when one person raises their game, the place next door has to do the same. The Market Lane on Oliver Plunkett Street is doing fantastic food. Every time I’m there, it’s brilliant. Michael Fleming has been down in Tivoli doing fine–dining for years, and would always be worth a visit for a special occasion. I like my chipper food – we have plenty of that to enjoy in Cork. The Rising Tide in Ballinlough is my personal choice. There are great eateries in West Cork too, down in Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Glandore.
But if I’m headed to town to grab something to eat, on a weekday, then it has to be The Long Valley on Winthrop Street, for either spiced beef salad or corned beef salad on thick, hand–cut white bread. At Christmas time there’s an incredible vibe there, but I love it at any time of year: a pot of tea,a bowl of soup, and a big ol’ sandwich. That, to me, is the greatest treat of all.
If you're visiting, you have to call into Brian at the Hi–B on Oliver Plunkett Street, and take the time to visit a pub on Shandon Street; those are the places where you’ll meet the real characters of Cork. Dennehy’s on The Coal Quay, and The Castle Inn on North Main Street are great for that too, as is Le Chateau – it’s been there since the early 1700s, and Mick and Dan Reidy will look after you well. There are a lot of big pubs in the city – The Bodega, for instance, is super – and plenty of places doubling up as microbreweries, but if it’s an old traditional pub you’re after, those are spots that I love.
I got an electric bike recently, and I love to cycle down the old railway lines that have been pedestrianised. I head out to Monkstown and Carrigaline and Crosshaven, or along the Lee Valley towards Inniscarra. I adore walking out the Mardyke, across the Shaky Bridge, along Sunday’s Well and into the city. I get a real sense of the history, the people, the heritage; it’s really exciting. If you have a car, then the Lee Valley is gorgeous. Tracing the river all the way up to Gougane Barra is beautiful.
I try to spend time on the water – in the harbour, out towards Roche’s Point or even pottering between Cobh and Crosshaven – and seeing the magnitude and the beauty of the city and county from the water. That’s an amazing perspective
to get. You’re always right by the coast or the countryside. With a little bit of planning, you can be just about anywhere you might want within a half an hour.
My number one piece of advice when visiting the city would be to look up as you walk around; there’s a lot of beauty above your head, often in the form of old buildings. Of course, the fact that Cork is built into a V–shape means you’re never far from a beautiful sight.
And remember; there’s no need at all to cross the county bounds into Kerry. Just stay in West Cork instead!