FEELING festive yet?! Christmas is almost upon us and sometimes, in the hectic lead up, we need to take some time out to get into that festive spirit. The people of Cork are doing just that. Here are a selection of attractions that the city has to offer.
‘Glow’, Cork’s Christmas Celebration, is underway and the cheer of Christmas can’t but rub off on you while wandering through the spectacle under the twinkling Christmas lights.
Bishop Lucey Park, on Grand Parade in the heart of the city, has been transformed into Tír na Nollag, a must visit for the kids (and the adult kids among us!).
Designed to be a magical ‘faery’ village, the gates are opened from 4-8pm, Friday to Sunday, until December 22 and entry is, you’ll be glad to know, free!
Magical faery inhabitants have been given the important task of bringing the spirit of Christmas to Tír na Nollag and they will delight kids with their tales of toy making and life as a faery.
Very importantly letters to Santa can be posted, with super speed, to the North Pole, having first been sprinkled with magical faery dust to help make wishes come true.
While strolling through the village, the lights twinkle on the trees and original traditional Irish music plays over the speakers.
It takes about 20 minutes to stroll through the park, stopping to leave your wish on the Wishing Tree, post your letter to Santa and peer in the windows of the faery village hall.
A ferris wheel and vintage carousel sit on Grand Parade. The 30 metre ferris wheel offers a great view of the city from above. Have your camera at the ready and don’t worry if you miss the perfect shot first time round, you’ll get another go around.
Whether it spins as you go around is up to you, you can choose to turn the wheel and make your carriage twirl or you can just take in the view of Cork from above. A trip on the ferris wheel costs €3 per person.
Cork’s reputation as the food capital of Ireland is well deserved.
It’s a great spot to be in when feeling peckish. In the run up to Christmas the Glow Festive Food Market takes over Grand Parade from Friday to Sunday, with outdoor markets providing varied hot titbits.
The markets are open from 10am to 8pm. Deciding what takes your fancy will be as taxing as it gets – fish and chunky chips, a gourmet sausage hotdog, a wok n’ roll or a pizza baked in the Pompeii pizza oven?
Or if you’re just looking for a quick pick me up, treat yourself to a crepe. There are plenty of picnic tables dotted around so you should be able to perch somewhere.
And don’t worry if it’s raining, the English Market (Ireland’s most famous covered food market) is just across the street and has any amount of tantalising treats on offer.
It also houses the Farmgate Café upstairs where all meat and fish on the mouth-watering menu come from the stalls below.
To extend the Christmas vibe onto Patrick Street, the ‘Glow’ Festival is exhibiting a 3D animated light show combining the themes of Christmas and the Great Gatsby.
The show runs for 7 to 10 minutes every half hour, from 5-8pm, until December 23, illuminating the façade of Brown Thomas on Patrick Street.
It is the first of its kind in Cork and promises to be magical.
A Christmas or New Year celebration is not complete in Cork homes without a serving of spiced beef. Spiced beef is a cured and salted joint of rump or silverside beef and you’ll find it for sale in the English market.
Tom Durcan’s stall stocks award winning spiced beef and he has quite the reputation for producing this tasty seasonal treat, which he starts preparing in October each year.
You’ll find this delicacy on the menus of most cafes and restaurants around Cork this time of year too. The Electric, located just a few strides from the Festive Food Market, has a Local Market Board featuring the delicious spiced beef.
The Natural Foods Bakery, on Paul Street, puts its own spin on spiced beef, serving it with pickles in Spelt bread, well worth a taste!
And it’s to be found again in the Liberty Grill on Washington Street in the form of a potato cake with spiced winter relish.
There’s no escaping this Cork Christmas traditional meat, and nor should you!
And from one Christmas tradition to another let’s not forget about the Christmas pantomime. The Everyman, on MacCurtain Street, presents Jack and the Beanstalk while the Cork Opera House stages Aladdin.
Meanwhile, the Triskel Christchurch Cinema, Tobin Street, is showing It’s a Wonderful Life and The Muppets Christmas Carol from Monday, December 16 to Monday, December 23.
Sights to enjoy
There’s plenty to enjoy in the city environs aside from the Christmas festivities.
St. Finbarre’s Cathedral is just a hop, skip and a jump from the Grand Parade and is well worth a visit.
Leaf through the book showcasing some of the photographs taken of the construction in the 1860s, marvel at the many stained glass windows with their vividly portrayed biblical stories and if you’re in luck listen to the magnificent sound of the largest organ on the island of Ireland.
Open Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 5.30pm, admission is €5 for adults and €3 for students and children.
St. Anne’s Church, Shandon Steeple, Cork’s premier 300 year old landmark offers panoramic views of the city and allows you to ring the bells for the entire city to hear.
Admission is €5 for adults and free for children under 5.
UCC is about a 15 minute walk from the city and Christmas is a good time to visit this picturesque campus – the students are finished exams and lectures are over until the next semester, making the grounds a calmer place than other times of the year!
The campus is also home to the Lewis Glucksman gallery, interesting both from the point of view of architecture and due to the presence of always appealing exhibitions.
And a little further out Blackrock Castle, once a fort on the river Lee, now exists as a research observatory and science centre whilst also offering tours of the castle and dungeons. The tours take place twice daily, at 1.30-3.30 pm.
Nights on the town
For nights out Cork is a lively spot and boasts many cosy and traditional pubs worthy of your time.
The Franciscan Well, located on the North Mall, is famous for its home-brewed beer. The Oval, on South Main Street, is intimate, with a welcoming fire and an always amazing playlist.
Sin É and the Corner House stand side by side on Coburg Street and both are legendary in terms of their traditional music, with Sting even popping in to Sin É to be entertained by the famous Irish session while in Cork over the summer.
If you’re after a less cosy, indie vibe, Soho on Grand Parade, the Crane Lane on Crane Lane or the Electric on South Mall are more modern and the Long Island is the place to head if it’s a cocktail you fancy.
Getting back to the famous Irish session, there’s much to recommend it as a way to spend a night.
A ‘trad’ session is probably best described as a gathering of amateur musicians in a local pub who play traditional Irish music, which doesn’t quite capture the experience of a trad session. It’s exhilarating, soulful, mesmerising.
One person brings a button accordion, someone else the bodhrán, another the banjo or maybe a fiddle and hopefully each has a good collection of tunes in their repertoire.
You’ll hear discussion over what key to go with, see a quick nod of the head and then jigs, reels and a good song or two for good measure will abound. Don’t just take my word for it, experience a lively trad session for yourself.
Check out theleesessions.com for a list of the dates and times of the next organised session in the city.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the city of Cork (and yes, I did sing that to the tune of the classic Christmas hit by Johnny Mathis, sorry!) and everything the city has to offer this festive season will warm the heart of even the most scrooge-like among us!
Enjoy it. Nollaig shona daoibh!
Where to stay:
Cork’s Clarion Hotel Cork is a 4 Star award-winning city centre hotel overlooking the River Lee.
Guests will find themselves just a 5 minute stroll from the city’s shopping and entertainment hot spots. Choose form one of 198 beautiful bedrooms, many with floor-to-ceiling windows. Rooms include 32” TV, minibar, free wi-fi access and a 24-hour room service menu.
Or for more formal dining try the hotel’s Oysters Restaurant – Cork city’s first and only dedicated seafood restaurant using local suppliers from the English Market and West Cork.
Kudos Bar also serves authentic Asian cuisine, and a selection of European dishes, with the newly refurbished Atrium Lounge an ideal place to relax afterwards.
See www. clarionhotelcorkcity.com for more details and special offers.
How to get there:
There are daily flights to Cork from Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, and Newcastle.