BY CHARLIE STONG
Just a few short years ago my wife and I had only ever set foot in the Emerald Isle once between us – that was for a short-lived stag do in Dingle many moons ago.
Between us we have travelled across Europe, the Americas and the Far East, but the island of Ireland remained a mystery.
Until that was, a year or so ago. In that time we’ve visited Dublin, the capital city of the Republic, and Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland.
For our daughter Nellie, on the other hand, having experienced both those trips, Ireland is now becoming almost like a second home.
Indeed you could say she has the gift of the gab – but more of that later.
For new year 2019/20 we decided to return to this beautiful island.
Having experienced the two bigger cities, we headed for Ireland’s third largest, Cork, in the south-west of the island, for a few days of relaxation.
To be precise, we stayed a few minutes’ walk from the lovely village of Douglas, to the south of Cork city.
From here you really do have the best of both worlds.
You’re only a short drive or bus ride away from Cork city which, as the Republic’s second city after Dublin, has everything you need from a modern city and more.
On the other hand you’re an equally short distance from the countryside, and attractions such as Blarney Castle and Gardens to the north-west of the city, and the beautiful village of Cobh – pronounced Cove – to the south-east, which is best known for being the final port of call for RMS Titanic before she headed off into the Atlantic for her doomed maiden voyage in April 1912.
After an hour-long flight from Luton to Cork, we jumped in a taxi and were quickly at our destination. Cork city is perfectly situated for a mini break.
Barely half an hour after stepping off the Ryanair flight we were cosying down into our beautiful home for the next three days – The Coach House, Douglas.
We were welcomed by our ever so friendly host Emily, who really couldn’t do enough for us. Emily and her family live in the adjoining property and rent out the beautiful two-bedroomed annex – which was more than big enough for the three of us.
With our Tesco delivery set for 9am the following morning we could easily have camped out in the Coach House for the next three days, such is its charming appeal.
But we decided to head out to see what this part of Ireland had to offer – and we were not disappointed.
We were without a car so after the short walk into Douglas decided to invest in three Leap cards – the Republic’s version of our Oyster card, but they’re even better as you can use them in more than one city.
Like Oyster, they make public transport simpler and cheaper, and are well worth the €€5 investment (in fact the man at the ticket office kindly told us adults can share a card, meaning it was even cheaper).
On day one we explored the city of Cork itself, taking in the fantastic covered English Market – the name a nod to its original Protestant corporation owners who had created it in 1788.
The market sells fabulous meat, fruit and vegetables, hams, cheeses and any condiment you care to think of, and after an afternoon’s stroll round the city, taking in the imposing St Fin Barre’s Cathedral (it was sadly closed at the time) and enjoying a hearty pub lunch, we returned to the English Market to buy some snacks for that evening – New Year’s Eve.
Waking up at 8am on New Year’s Day without a hangover was something which got us feeling rather smug next morning, and as we made our way into the deserted city for day two, it became apparent that most of the locals had probably had a rather good night – there was nobody in sight apart from the odd bus driver.
We headed out of town on the half-hour bus ride to Blarney and the famous Blarney Castle.
It is sad, that if you walk up the spiral staircase of the castle, right to the very top, lay down on a cold slab of stone and stick your neck outside of the castle walls, exposing yourself to the elements, then kiss the ‘Blarney stone’ while two burley men hold on to your life, you will have the gift of the gab.
Hayley and Nellie went up, I decided I could do without it. But what a spectacular place.
You really could spend a whole day here, spellbound by the tales of the witch of Blarney, marvelling at the castle and enjoying a picnic in the vast grounds.
Before we left we had time for a pint and a bite to eat in the local pub.
An interesting point to all visitors to this part of the world – the local tipple tends to either be Murphy’s, which is a slightly creamier stout than Guinness, or our favourite, Beamish – which is creamier still.
While Guinness is still readily available, Murphy’s and Beamish are the local stouts, and are both still brewed in Cork – albeit these days under the umbrella of Heineken.
On our third and final day we took a trip on the train from Cork city’s Kent railway station, to Cobh.
After a 45-minute or so journey across Cork’s harbour (one of many in the world which claim, after Sydney, to be the world’s second largest), we arrived.
With its multi-coloured buildings and array of tea rooms, it’s quite easy to see why this place remains one of Ireland’s main seaside attractions.
But what it remains most famous for, is as the final docking point of the Titanic, before the ship struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic.
The Titanic Experience takes place in the very ticket office where Irish emigrants queued up to buy their tickets not only for the Titanic, but for many other ships bound for the USA and so-called better lives a hundred years or so ago.
We were taken outside on to the balcony of the ticket office, where the second and third-class passengers stood, looking down below on the third-class passengers scrambling around on the shore, as all waited to walk along heartbreak pier, so called as it was the last place so many family members ever saw each other, before they boarded ship.
Humbled by our experience, we boarded the train and headed back into the centre of Cork, before collecting our bags and heading back, via taxi, to the airport, and home, once again completely charmed by this wonderful country.