Known as the Rebel County, Cork is Ireland's largest county, and one of its most popular tourist destinations. The city of Cork is lively and welcoming, while the many small towns and villages in the west of the county offer a wonderful insight into the heart of traditional Irish life. Foto Wildlife Park, the historic town of Cobh, the Blarney Stone, beautiful seaside locations such as Inchadoney Island and picturesque West Cork are among the attractions.
Fota Wildlife Park
Fota Wildlife Park, located a short drive from Cork City, is one of Ireland's favourite day's out, and offers something for all the family. Some of the animals roam freely around the park, while others are placed in enclosures specifically designed to reflect their natural environment rather than a zoo. Animals that can be seen at the 75-acre wildlife park include giraffe, red pandas, bison, cheetahs, ostriches, zebras, meerkats, Indian rhinos, kangaroos, a whole range of monkeys and more than 50 species of bird. The park opened in 1983, shortly after Dublin Zoo reached maximum capacity.
Foto House, Arboretum and Gardens, located next to the wildlife park, is also an important visitor attraction. Tours of the house and kitchen garden are available, and there are tree trails for individuals of all ages.
The tourist seaport town of Cobh, located in Cork Harbour, is just a few miles from Fota Island. It is Ireland’s only dedicated cruise terminal, and it’s maritime and emigration legacy include links with TMS Titanic – being the final port of call on her ill-fated maiden voyage. Approximately one third of the 6 million Irish people who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950, as well as many who were deported to Australia, left via Cobh harbour. Remnants of the town’s significant shipbuilding industry can be seen at the Verolme Shipyard.
St Colman’s Cathedral, one of Ireland’s tallest buildings, sands on a high point in the town. Facing the town are Haulbowlin Island, which is home to the Irish Naval Service headquarters, and the historic Spike Island, the site of a former monastery, prison and fort. Other attractions include Titanic Experience, Queenstown Story Heritage Centre and Cobh Museum.
Blarney and the Blarney Stone
The town of Blarney, located just north of Cork City, is famous for its wollen mills, and a stone, which when kissed, is believed to give you the 'gift of the gab' for which Irish people in general, and Cork people in particular, are well known.
Historic Blarney Castle has beautiful gardens. Though in partial ruins, there are some accessible rooms and battlements, in addition to the historical stone. The Scottish baronial-style Blarney House, built in 1874, is also located on the grounds. The extensive gardens include a poison garden containing a number of poisonous plant species.
The old wollen mills, former water powered mills in the centre of the town, now house an extensive gift shop selling traditional Irish crafts and gifts.
The city of Cork claims to be one of Ireland's friendliest cities, and is well known for its lively night life, traditional pubs, and quality eating establishments. The main heart of the city, built on marshland between the North and South sections of the River Lee, and centred around St Patrick’s Street, is small and can be easily explored on foot.
The English Market, a covered food market operating since 1788, is one of Cork’s major visitor attractions. Small traders sell quality local and exotic food products.
Religious buildings of note include the 19th century Gothic St Finbarr’s cathedral and Shandon Church, which is famous for its bells. Elizabeth Fort offers decent views over the city. Lewis Gluckman Gallery on the grounds of University College Cork, Cork City Gaol, Fitzgearld's Park and the accompanying Cork History Museum, and The Lough Park Public Wildlife Refuge are also worth a visit. Tourist information can be obtained at Cork Vision Centre which displays a large scale model of the city and hosts exhibitions and events.
There are lots of other ways to spend a weekend in Cork City, including markets, traditional music events, and festivals. Gealic Games matches can be watched at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the home of Cork hurling and football.
West Cork is famous for its green countryside, beautiful rolling hills, quaint towns and villages and a long, varied and often rugged coastline. The area is popular for hill walking, watersports and general touring. Some even move here to retire and escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
Notable beauty spots include Beara peninsula and Cape Clear. Sailing is available from Crosshaven, and many of the other seaside towns. Crosshaven offers lots of clean beaches and beautiful cliffside walks along the mouth of Cork Harbour. Tourists are well catered for in Skibbereen, Bandon and Clonakilty, the major towns in the region. Other points of interest include Bantry, Dunmanway and Glengarriff.
A new type of tourism has built up around West Cork's most secluded and pristine beaches. Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, for example, is one of Ireland's most luxurious spa destinations. It is located on the remote Inchydoney Island, a small island connected to the mainland by two causeways, famous for its two beautiful beaches. Clonakilty is the nearest town.
The pretty town of Kinsale, a half hour drive from Cork city, is famous for its seafood restaurants and lively pubs and for its annual food festival. Watersports and golf are just some of the activities popular here and Charles Fort, James Fort and Desmond Castle are among the sites of historical interest. The nearby Old Head of Kinsale is of important historical interest and makes for a pleasant drive.
The locals consider Cork to be the real capital of Ireland. They are immensely proud of their friendly, lively city, and the beautiful and varied county which surrounds it. If you are visiting Ireland, dare to venture beyond the bars and bright lights or Dublin, and put Cork City and County top of your itinerary. You won't regret it!