After two nights in Dublin during last year’s les vacances de Noël, I headed over to Cork, the second-largest city in Ireland which was located about two to three hours south of Dublin. I took the train over there, arriving there a bit past noon. My Couchsurfing host for the night picked me up from the train station and from there we headed over to her flat located about ten to fifteen minutes away, situated in the city center as well.
We arrived at her flat, small but cozy. I was quite hungry, and so my host prepared us a light lunch and we ate and talked, getting to know each other. She was originally from Belgium (on the French side), but had spent some time living and working in London and then in Ireland, so she spoke English. For most of the time, actually, we spoke in English, although we did try our hand at French, since she was happy to help me improve my French.
After lunch, we spent some more time just talking and hanging out around her flat. Her French friend also came over later in the afternoon, since like me was visiting Cork a bit but was leaving that same day for Dublin. Eventually, we decided to head out into town to explore a bit, so we went out into the city center, which was only ten to fifteen minutes away. Lots of people were out and about, doing their last-minute Christmas shopping at the many shops in the square. There was also the National Monument in the central plaza, which commemorates the history of the Irish rebellions by having its famous leaders carved on it.
My host brought me to an English market, which sold organic and local foods, and later we headed over to Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the iconic landmark of the city. Although it was constructed back in the 7th century, the cathedral became a thing of competition in the 1860’s for architects to construct the largest cathedral in the city. That said, Saint Fin Barre’s experienced some remodeling, and today is intricately designed in both exterior and interior aspects.
After Saint Fin Barre’s, we took the French friend over to the train station, so that she could catch her train to Dublin there. My host and I headed back to the city center afterwards, this time visiting the University College Cork (“UCC” for short). The campus was quiet and void of people, considering that the staff and students were gone for the holidays. We explored the grounds and also came across a hall of Ogam stones, which date back to the 6th and 9th centuries and show the early Medieval alphabet used to write the early Irish language. All of the stones lined up in the row, with the dark evening backdrop behind them, gave off an enigmatic presence (which is quite true, to say the least!). Kind of like the Rosetta Stone, in a way!
We left the UCC, heading back into the city center for some drinks at a jazz bar that my host goes to from time to time. Talked for a little bit, listening to the music before heading out again to get dinner. We went to an Irish pub, where I got a vegetarian Wellington, which was just as hearty as the meat version itself.
Afterwards, we headed over to her friend’s flat, located about a block or two away from her own flat, as it was a “girls’ movie night” that night for my host and her girl friends. We watched Enchanted, which I hadn’t seen in years, but second time around was enjoyable. After the film ended, we lingered around for another half-hour to an hour before heading home around 23h00. I turned in shortly afterwards, although had a hard time sleeping properly, because the inflatable mattress kept deflating over the night and the fact that it was absolutely freezing in the house; I don’t think there was heating in the flat, so even wearing my jacket underneath the sheets didn’t really help!
I was only in Cork for one night, and would be leaving the next day in the early afternoon for my next destination. However, I wanted to squeeze in a half-day trip to Blarney Castle, located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Cork. I had heard it was a must-see while in the Cork area, so I knew that I had to see it before I left Ireland.
That said, I headed out early in the morning, catching an 8h00 bus over to Blarney. Got off the bus, headed over to the site, and paid a 13-euro admission fee for the castle, which was a bit pricey, in my opinion, but was pretty good for what the place had to offer.
Dating back to the 13th century, Blarney Castle was refurbished in 1446 by Lord Cormac McCarthy and over the centuries had changed many hands between different feudal families. Today, it’s a tourist site, containing not only the castle itself, but also its estate filled with caves, gardens, and other natural landmarks that unite architecture with nature.
I spent a bit over two hours exploring the castle grounds, not only checking out the interesting rock formations (e.g. Witch’s Cave, the Wishing Steps), but also entering the caves and castle dungeons with ceilings so low that at certain points I had to crawl through them on my hands and knees (mind you, I’m not even that tall, so for me to have to crawl inside, you know that it’s a tight squeeze!). Nevertheless, it was like being a kid again, being in a jungle gym although this time, it’s an historical, reverent one!
I also climbed up to the top of Blarney Castle, since at the summit there is the famous Blarney Stone, and if you kiss it whilst underneath it, legend has it you’ll have good luck. Which was exactly what I did, and I have to say that it worked out pretty well, considering that I’m back in France for a second year!
Even though I couldn’t get around to everything in Blarney Castle, I had to return to Cork before noon in order to have time to get to the city’s airport to catch my flight over to my next destination. That said, I took the bus, arrived back around noon where I had lunch again with the host in her flat before saying goodbye to her (and thanking her for the stay) and catching the bus over to the airport, where my flight was due to leave around 14h30.
Overall, it ended up being a pleasant stay, even if just for one night. Although it’s the second-largest city in Ireland, it still was quite compact and had a local feel to it. More “authentically Irish,” if you could call it that. My host was friendly and made sure to make me feel at ease, whether out in the bar or in her flat. Second Couchsurfing host, and I’d say that it was an enjoyable experience!
Cork was the last destination in Ireland for les vacances, since I would be moving on to Scotland then. I’m aware that there’s so many other great places to visit in the green country…and it’s very true when I say that Ireland’s green everywhere! Seriously, the countryside is like no other, even compared with the one in Normandy. I’d like to explore the west of Ireland someday, as the Cliffs of Moher is definitely on my bucket list of places to visit. We’ll have to see!
Any case, more to come soon! Next up: Glasgow, Scotland!