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Cork: Size Doesn’t Matter

Oct 1, 2009
2009 / October 2009

It may be only a tenth the size of Dublin, but Ireland’s second-largest city offers such a wealth of arts, education, history, recreation and commerce that proponents score Cork City with a “perfect 10.” Situated on an “island” embraced by two channels of the River Lee, the city which originated on marshland (hence its Irish name, Coraigh, from corcach, meaning swamp) has transformed itself into a major metropolitan center.

An important trading hub since the Middle Ages, Cork sent hides, wool and cloth around the globe and famously became the world’s largest exporter of butter. When the potato famine struck, its port saw the departure of thousands of immigrants overseas, and during the civil wars fierce battles between British and Irish left this “rebel town” burned and pillaged. Late in the 20th century, when the shipbuilding industry and local Ford and Dunlop plants closed down, Cork turned to other opportunities. With the emergence of technology it has successfully attracted major international corporations.

Amazon, Apple, Avery Dennison, Centocor, CitCo, EMC, McAfee, MVware and Siemens are among multinationals attracted by the educated, English-speaking workforce of close to half a million in the greater city area. Additional lures include business parks providing utilities infrastructure, telecommunications and building site options and the city’s welcoming, convivial atmosphere.

Pharmaceuticals Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer manufacture in the region; much of the world’s Viagra originates in Cork. Murphy’s Irish Stout (now owned by Heineken) and Beamish and Crawford are bottled here, and the country’s two main national newspapers — the Irish Examiner and the Cork Independent publish in Cork.

Called “one of the most attractive business environments in the world,” the region’s investment incentives include unrestrictive product market regulation, a low 12.5 percent corporation tax and tax credits of up to 20 percent for qualifying research and development projects. The Cork City Enterprise Board aids start-ups, offering new business grants and expert advice to local entrepreneurs.

Several institutions of higher learning contribute a steady and reliable source of workers. Besides engineering and arts courses at University College Cork, the Cork Institute of Technology, Cork Music School and the Crawford College of Art and Design, other schools offer medicine, nautical studies, commerce and vocational preparation and training. Also located in town is Tyndall National Institute, a worldclass research facility specializing in photonics, electronics, nanotechnologies and their applications.

An elected lord mayor handles ceremonial proceedings while a city manager appointed to a five-year term oversees town planning. Recent projects include regulating traffic to preserve the vibrancy of the historic downtown area and initiating development of the former auto and tire factory “docklands” into a major financial services center. In the planning stages are a digital media district in the city center and an outlying knowledge zone to facilitate knowledgebased businesses.


The charming historic center of the city boasts brightly painted shops and stores, many featuring typical Corkonian Georgian bow windows. Meandering St. Patrick’s Street, the major thoroughfare originally built on arches over a river channel, was recently remodeled into a pedestrian-friendly lane mingling pharmacies, jewelry shops, bookstores, boutiques and the high-end Brown Thomas and Marks & Spencer department stores. Pick up some tripe, pigs’ feet, buttered eggs and other traditional foods at the refurbished 1786 Old English Market (Grand Parade, Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–6 p.m.). Coal Quay Market (Cornmarket Street) on the site of the city’s original open-air marketplace is a junk hunter’s paradise.

Dominating the skyline, the 17-story Elysian, a luxury apartment garden complex, is Ireland’s tallest building. Sightseers can visit surviving gates and remnant sections of the medieval city wall and view St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, named for the city’s 6th-century founder. Shandon Church Tower with its four-sided clock, salmon weathervane and acclaimed bells is a symbol of the city, and its 120-foot climb provides a cityscape overview.

Named the 2005 European Capital of Culture, Cork is rich in concerts, museums and a full array of cultural activities playing in venues such as the glass box Cork Opera House (Emmet Place, tel 21 427 0022 ), the Everyman Palace (15 MacCurtain St., tel 21 450 1673) and Cork Arts Theaters (Camden Court, Carrolls Quay, tel 21 450 5624).

In a converted 18th-century customs house, the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery (Emmet Place, tel 21 490 7855) exhibits works by Jack B. Yeats, William Leech, James Barry and other notable Irish artists. The rotunda of the original Butter Exchange has been transformed into the Firkin Crane Cultural Centre (John Redmond Street, tel 21 450 7487), which hosts international dance troupes and the annual Guinness Jazz Festival each October, a month before the Cork Film Festival .

The Cork Butter Museum (John Redmond Street, tel 21 430 0600 ) celebrates the era of the city’s prominent export, and the Cork Public Museum (Fitzgerald Park, tel 21 427 0679), in a handsome Georgian mansion, traces city history. Restored cells with graphic sound effects portray the suffering of great patriots at the castle-like Cork City Gaol (Sunday’s Well Road, tel 21 430 5022).

Sports fans can take in a game of rugby, Gaelic football, hurling or association football. The more athletic can choose from horse-riding, hiking, rowing, cycling, sailing and teeing off at dozens of nearby golf courses — or bend over backward to kiss the famous stone for eloquence atop Blarney Castle (tel 21 438 5252), just six miles away.

The ample population of more than 30,000 students generates lively pubs, offbeat cafés and nightspots. Weekends after concerts, the Opera House’s Half Moon Bar (Lavitt’s Quay, tel 21 427 0022) converts to a club with varied entertainment. In a converted warehouse, Bodega Bar (46–49 Cornmarket St., tel 21 427 2878 ) is referred to as “the most beautiful bar in Ireland.” Friendly An Bodhran (42 Oliver Punkett St., tel 21 437 1392) and two convivial old standby pubs, Counihans (Pembroke Street, tel 21 427 7850) and Costigans (Washington Street West, tel 21 455 655), often erupt in spontaneous traditional music sessions. All are good places to round out a stay in a close-to-perfect city.

Info To Go

Cork City’s ultramodern road and rail infrastructure features extensive local and suburban bus service and hourly trains to Dublin.

Flights from 60 European airports arrive at Cork Airport (ORK), which handles 3.3 million passengers a year. A new terminal completed in 2006 incorporates the hotels and offices of Cork Airport Business Park. Visit www.cometocork.com.


Cork Clarion Hotel

Anchoring the new docklands development, in the business district overlooking the River Lee, this boutique-chic contemporary hotel boasts several “best hotel” awards. Lapps Quay, tel 21 422 4900, $$$
Hayfield Manor

Set in a garden, the stately manor house combines 5-star accommodations with old-world charm, including a drawing room and carved mahogany double staircase. Perrott Avenue, College Road, tel 21 484 5900, $$$$
Imperial Hotel

Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott lodged at this 19th-century landmark, updated with marble floors, Waterford crystal chandeliers and Aveda spa toiletries. 14 Pembroke St., South Mall, tel 21 427 4040, $$



Tucked beside a waterfall on a patio in this Victorian warehouse conversion, Greenes can only be reached on foot and features French chef Frederic Desmoreaux. 48 Mac-Curtain St., tel 21 455 2279, $$$$
Jacobs on the Mall

Located in a renovated Victorianstyle Turkish bath, this stylish financial district restaurant showcases Chef Mercy Fenton’s eclectic cuisine. 30A South Mall, tel 21 425 1530, $$$

Hidden away on a tiny side street, Jacques features sister chefs whose imaginative menu has relied on home-grown and local produce for 25 years. Phoenix Street, tel 21 427 7387, $$$


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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