On The Road Travel Essays

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We are a small nation. Our strength as a nation will depend on our moral and ethical force. In these we can become a shinning light in the world.
-Michael Collins, Cork's most famous son.

The word Cork, or Corcaigh in Gaelic, means marsh. The center of the city was originally all marshlands or waterways — channels of the river Lee — which are now mostly filled in. This occurred in the 19th Century, before which Cork had something of the appearance of a Dutch town, with boats moored just outside its homes. A great deal has changed since those days, and Cork has grown to be the second largest city in the Irish Republic. Now at the forefront of Ireland's renaissance as a leader in the fields of computing and information technology.

The essence of Cork is that it is absolutely not a small version of Dublin. It is very much a city with its own identity, Cork is 100% Irish. This is, after all, the capital of the Rebel County. Since the 19th Century, when Cork was a base for the National Fenian movement, the city has had a reputation for political rebelliousness. Today the mood is reflected in the city's attitude towards the arts and by its bohemian spirit. Cork's greatest pleasure is its atmosphere, based on some lovely and lively pubs, the elegant streets of Grand Parade and South Mall, and its entertaining and shopping opportunities. Although the city's origins are pre-medieval, Cork displays a graceful Georgian aspect. Old bridges and quays lend it a picturesque riverine quality, celebrated in traditional Corkonian songs.

Enjoy a stroll down the elegant "Panna", as the locals call Patrick Street. Be sure to visit St. Finbarre, a lovely 19th Century neo-Gothic Cathedral. Dedicated to the founder and patron saint of the city, the Cathedral is a beautiful example of the Gothic Revival style. The Crawford Art Gallery, Everyman Theatre, Triskel Arts Center and Cork Opera House are the center of the town's artistic life. The grandiose National Monument, dedicated to the Irish patriots who died between 1798-1867, is worth a visit as well. Stop at the English Market, a covered fruit and vegetable market established in 1610, where you will be sure to enjoy viewing the colorful stalls and soaking up the atmosphere.


When it rains it pours  Popular months for visiting Ireland are July and August, though whatever the season it's rarely crowded. Ireland's climate is influenced by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and is in the path of prevailing southwesterly winds coming from the Atlantic Ocean. This allows for mild conditions over the whole country, and means that Ireland is never exposed to extremes of bad weather. Throughout the course of the year it generally gets no colder than 34ºF or no warmer than 68ºF. The coldest months are January and February, while July and August are the warmest. June and September can be pleasant, but never count on the weather as Ireland's lush beauty is the product of a wet climate! The southwest tends to be slightly warmer than the rest of the country, thanks to the Gulf Stream. A typical year in Cork:

March  Temperature 37F to 48F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 4.5
Monthly Rainfall 3.4"

April  Temperature 39F to 52F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 5.5
Monthly Rainfall 2.7"

May  Temperature 43F to 57F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 6
Monthly Rainfall 2.7"

June  Temperature 48F to 63F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 7.5
Monthly Rainfall 2.5"

July  Temperature 52F to 64F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 7.5
Monthly Rainfall 2.7"

Synchronize your watches  The whole of Ireland is in the same time zone as Great Britain, i.e. 5 hours ahead of E.S.T. If it's 2:00pm in New York City, it's 7pm in Cork. In both the North and the South, clocks go forward one hour in the summer time.

Money, money, money  The Irish unit of currency is the Euro. As throughout Europe, there is no better way than to use your ATM card to withdraw money in the local currency whenever you need it. ATMs are located in most banks and accept major credit cards, particularly Visa and MasterCard, as well as Plus and Cirrus debit cards. If you do need to change dollars (cash or traveler's checks) into Euros, try to do so at a bank. You can expect a higher rate of exchange for traveler's checks, and you should always keep your passport handy. Bureaux de Change tend to give a slightly worse deal. Some shops, especially tourist ones, will accept American currency or traveler's checks as payment but be advised that you will almost certainly be getting a worse rate than you would from a bank. The same goes for hotels that are willing to change your money for you, and even if they oblige, it's usually cash only, not traveler's checks. Bank opening hours are 10am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 3:00pm Monday through Friday; some larger banks do stay open during lunchtime. The closest American Express office to Cork is located in Killarney on East Avenue Road; business hours are 9am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.

The joy of servitude  Tipping in Ireland is a matter of personal discretion, as in most hotels and restaurants a service charge of 10-15% is added to the bill. A small tip is appreciated for good service, and a very good tip would be around 15%. Tipping is not usual in pubs, except when you are served at your table. Cabs should be tipped 10%.

Not another 5 minute walk  Your feet, naturally, will be your prime means of transportation thoughout the City of Cork. The city's finest sights are generally fairly concentrated in a small enough area, making walking between them not only a possibility, but a pleasure. If you would like to extend your sightseeing to some of the outlying towns try the local buses. The Republic of Ireland's national bus company, Bus Éireann, operates a country-wide network of buses serving all cities and most towns. If you are using the bus more than two or three times a day, it is worth getting a pass. For an alternative, consider exploring the countryside on a bicycle for an afternoon. The quiet roads of Ireland help to make touring by bicycle a real joy. Numerous local shops rent bikes to tourists at reasonable prices and are open six days a week. You can often rent a bike in one town and drop it off in another.

Mr. Postman, please bring me...  Main Post Offices in Ireland are usually open from 9am to 5:30pm during the week and from 9am to around 1pm on Saturdays, although times do vary. Some smaller offices close for lunch on weekdays and do not open on Saturdays. Standard letter and postcard stamps can also be bought from certain newsstands as well. The Republic of Ireland does not have a first and second-class system, but sending a postcard is a little less expensive than a letter. Although it is improving all the time, the postal service in the Republic is still quite slow - allow at least six days when sending a letter to the United States. Sending a postcard from Ireland to the United States will cost about 60 cents.

Please wait while we try to connect you  As usual the golden rule is never to call home from your hotel. It will cost a fortune. The telephone system in Ireland is run exclusively by Telecom Eireann and provides a modern and effective service. For those intending to spend more than $6 on calls, it can be cheaper to use phonecards since they offer reasonable discounts. Phonecards are available from newsstands, post offices and supermarkets. Bargain rate calls within the Republic are from 6pm to 8am weekdays and all day on weekends. To call other countries: dial 00, followed by the country code (1 for the US), the area code, then the number. Credit cards are accepted as payment for calls to the country from where they were issued. For emergencies dial 999.

The access code to put you through to an AT&T operator from Ireland is 1800 89 0011, and for MCI the number is 1800 55 1001.

Home, sweet home  The address of the American Embassy in Ireland is:
42 Elgin Road
Dublin 4

tel. 353 1 668 8777


Perhaps nothing in all of Ireland can compare to Cork's coastline villages; a gemlike string of postcard-perfect, hospitable spots stretching from the gracious Kinsale with its fine architecture and dining choices to lively Clonakilty, and the little fishing resorts of Skibbereen, Leap, Schull, Baltimore and Bantry. A ride along the Mizen, Sheep's Head or Beara Peninsula is well worth the trip. Dotted with sparsely-populated fishing villages surrounded by bleak moorland, the stark beauty of the Peninsulas creates some spectacular scenery. The area was once a refuge for smugglers, with the Irish getting the better deal in their exchange of fish for contraband French brandy. An excursion to the small island of Garinish is highly recommended. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, Annan Bryce took advantage of the climate in 1910 when he commissioned an exotic garden on the island. The renowned gardens have a Mediterranean appearance, and are landscaped with rich subtropical flora. Be sure to visit Mizen Head, the most southwesterly tip of Ireland, known for its steep cliffs, and often battered by storms. Walk down the cliff path with its 99 steps, across the famous suspension bridge out to the Irish Lights signal station with its spectacular views of the South and West Coasts. Be sure to note the Fastnet Rock, referred to as the Tear Drop because it was the last piece of Ireland emigrants of the Great Famine saw before reaching America.

The Great Famine hit Cork hard and thousands of farmers emigrated to America from Cork Harbor, during the 19th and 20th Centuries. The Skibbereen Heritage Center, in West Cork, displays a compelling Great Famine Commemoration Exhibition. Skibbereen was one of the worst affected areas in the whole of Ireland and the painful era is again brought to life in a series of exhibits, dramatizations and interactive stations.

No tour of the south west would be complete without a visit to Blarney Castle, one of Ireland's oldest and most historic castles, being an ancient stronghold of the MacCarthys. The famous Blarney Stone is located high among the battlements of the fine 15th Century tower house. To reach the stone, visitors must climb up 120 tower steps, lie down, lean backwards ... and pucker-up for lifelong loquacity.

County Cork has a strong archaeological and historical heritage. There is evidence of early Mesolithic settlements around Cork Harbor. Their prehistoric use is somewhat obscure, but it is generally assumed they had a ritualistic purpose. There are more than 80 such ruins to be found in County Cork; the most impressive is Drombeg Stone Circle which dates back to about 150 BC. At the winter solstice, the rays of the setting sun fall on the exact center of the flat alter stone.


What to Eat in Ireland  Ireland's rich pastureland, unpolluted rivers and extensive coastline provide tender lamb, beef and pork, an array of fish, seafood and fresh fruit and vegetables. From hearty rural fare that utilizes local ingredients, Irish cuisine has evolved into the gourmet cuisine created by internationally trained chefs. Often you will find the best of both worlds, with Irish stew or ham and cabbage on the same menu as more exotic dishes. Traditional favorites like fresh Galway salmon, or tender lamb cutlets from Kerry are sure to please. Finish the meal with a warm mug of Irish coffee.

Born to Shop  Hundreds of gift and craft shops scattered thoughout Cork make it easy to find Irish specialties to suit all budgets. The best buys include linen, tweeds and crystal from factory shops which invariably offer an extensive choice of good quality products. Irish food and drink make tasty reminders of your trip. Local crafts make unique souvenirs, from handmade jewelry and ceramics to traditional musical instruments.


Gaelic Week (Seachtain Ghaelech) (mid-March) A week celebrating Irish language, culture, food and drink. Exhibiting a considerable number of local goods, such as the hand-milled cheeses of West Cork and the beautifully knitted items characteristic of the area. Clonakilty, West Cork.

Cork Film Festival (first week in October) Throughout the week international features, documentaries, and short movies are screened at venues all over the city. Hatfield House, Tobin Street, Cork. tel. 021 271 711.

Cork Jazz Festival (late October) This event has been hailed as "The Biggest Jazz Party in the World", where thousands descend on Cork every year. The list of international artists who have graced the festival over the years include Ella Fitzgerald and Stephane Grappelli. 20 South Mall, Cork tel. 021 270 463.

West Cork Drama Festival (early March) Running parallel to the Gaelic Week festival in the charming section of West Cork, the festival draws amateur drama groups from all over Ireland to stage productions that are surprisingly good, and always entertaining. Rossmore, Clonakilty tel. 021 38 681.

Saint Patrick's Parade (March 17th) Throngs of performers, participants and over 70 floats travel from Cork's Patrick Street to the river in this annual parade. The audience is anticipated at well over 20,000. South Mall 021 27 3251.


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