CORK HAR­BOUR: WHERE THE CITY COMES ALIVE

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - ON THE ROAD -

You could say that Cork har­bour is about to see its most ex­cit­ing times since the Span­ish chased Sir Fran­cis Drake’s pi­rate fleet in from the ocean and up the Lee in 1589.

In a post-Brexit world, Cork will be our clos­est port to main­land Europe and EU mar­kets. And the just-an­nounced plan to spend €220m on a mo­tor­way linking the city and the ferry port at Rin­gask­iddy un­der­lines the grow­ing im­por­tance of our epic nat­u­ral har­bour.

On a more hu­man scale, the peo­ple liv­ing around Cork har­bour are be­gin­ning to re­con­nect with the water in many ways. The old town of Cobh, in hi­ber­na­tion since the end of the golden age of At­lantic lin­ers, now wel­comes the 21st-cen­tury suc­ces­sors to Ti­tanic and Lusi­ta­nia, the scores of cruise lin­ers that dock there ev­ery year.

Cobh is com­ing back to life, with many of its gor­geous Vic­to­rian ter­races get­ting their first lick of paint in a cen­tury. But whether it can be­come a stylish sea­side satel­lite to the city, like Brighton is to Lon­don, it re­mains to be seen.

There’s now a reg­u­lar daily boat tour linking Cobh and the city and for €16 you can travel in ei­ther di­rec­tion, 90 min­utes or so speed­ing past Spike Is­land and other sights in a pur­pose-built, 76-seater boat. It’s a fab­u­lous trip — but it’s a sum­meronly ser­vice and plans to link Cobh and the city with a year-round water bus re­main spec­u­la­tive.

You’ll hear the lo­cals grum­ble: “In any other coun­try in Europe, like!” and ask why our epic nat­u­ral har­bour hasn’t re­ally been ap­pre­ci­ated since Queen Vic­to­ria was on the throne.

And it has al­ways been the out­siders, Vik­ing raiders, El­iz­a­bethan sea-wolves, Huguenot refugees, Quaker mer­chants and Vic­to­rian em­pire-builders, who have seen the po­ten­tial of Cork. In many ways they built the place, it’s an At­lantic port-city on an Irish shore.

Cork is also a place that peo­ple from the rest of Ire­land don’t tend to visit in any num­bers. It al­ways baf­fled me when I lived in Dublin and peo­ple would say: “Oh, Cork? I was there for a Michael Jack­son con­cert in the early 90s. Haven’t been back since.”

The city and its har­bour are chang­ing fast. There’s a new face to Lee­side now, a grow­ing sense of self­as­sur­ance that is not — un­like in the past — the chippy, in­se­cure blus­ter of a ne­glected se­cond-city.

If you come to Cork — and you should — don’t just do the Shan­don Bells and the English Mar­ket. Find a way to get out on the river, to go down the har­bour. Visit Spike Is­land, go kayak­ing along the quays, row­ing at the ma­rina or cruis­ing up from Cobh.

The river is where you will feel the true pulse of our city. The har­bour is our history and (once again) our des­tiny. The water is where Cork comes alive.

Cobh-to-Cork sum­mer cruis­ing: www.oceanescape­sire­land.com/ Week­end cur­rach row­ing trips: www.naomhoga­chor­cai.com/

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