CORK HARBOUR: WHERE THE CITY COMES ALIVE
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/