County Cork offers tourists a little bit of everything, maybe even a little slice of heaven, with some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland and even the world. I encourage every tourist to include this beautiful county on their Irish trip itinerary.
I must confess that my family all hail from this corner of Ireland, but I promise that does not make me one little bit biased, as I boast about the glories of County Cork.
County Cork is Ireland’s largest county and is one of the six counties of the ancient Province of Munster. It is located in the southwest and home to the most southerly tip of the island.
Cork City is Ireland’s third city after Dublin and Belfast. It developed as a seaport after settlement by the Vikings in the first half of the 10th century. Cork City Hall is an impressive structure, with daytime reflections in the river Lee, and striking illumination at night.
Cork was originally a monastic settlement founded by St. Finbarr in the 6th century. To this day many Corkmen are named after their favorite saint.
The city’s name in Irish is Corcaigh which literally means marsh. The city is built on islands between two channels of the river Lee. When walking in Cork you find yourself constantly crossing bridges or climbing hills.
The bells of Shandon are loved by all Corkonians. The tower has four clocks, one on each facade. It is fondly referred to as the “four faced liar”, since all four clocks seldom tell the exact same time.
University College Cork opened its doors to 181 students in 1849. It is believed that Cork’s beloved St. Finbarr built a school close to the current location of the university. The motto of the college is “Where Finbarr Taught, Let Munster Learn”.
The town of Youghal lies east of Cork city and is a beautiful coastal town. An old walled seaport, it was once home to Sir Walter Raleigh. The first potato was planted in Ireland in the grounds of Myrtle Grove, a 15th century Tudor home where Raleigh stayed. It is the site where reportedly a panicked servant doused Sir Walter in water after observing smoke rising from the tobacco smoking gentleman. The house is privately owned, but the gardens are opened to the public occasionally during the year.
Ballymaloe House is located in Shanagarry in East Cork and was established as a restaurant, cooking school, and country house hotel by the Allen family. It is the home of Ireland’s most loved cook and food expert, Darina Allen.
Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s most famous treasures and lies just north of Cork city. Built nearly 600 years ago by Cormac MacCarthy a great Irish chieftan, a visit to this famous site is top of the list for many tourists.
The main attraction is without doubt the famous “Blarney Stone”. Legend has it, just one kiss bestows the gift of the gab. Kissing this stone of eloquence requires agility. The stone is towards the bottom of the outside wall of the upper castle ramparts and requires quite a maneuver for lips to meet the well polished surface.
The northern portion of Cork county boasts some of the most fertile farmland in all of Ireland and even the world. Verdant green pastures feed herds of Ireland’s dairy cows. The Ballyhoura Country website and the Duhallow Trail provide fantastic information on all that North Cork has to offer.
The town of Mallow is located on the banks of the Blackwater river. A ‘new’ castle dates from 1689. It overlooks the ruins of the ‘old’ castle. A herd of white deer roams the castle grounds. The animals are descended from the original deer bestowed upon the castle by Queen Elizabeth I.
Macroom town lies in the foothills of the mountains which separate counties Cork and Kerry. Macroom Castle was the boyhood home of William Penn of Pennsylvania fame. It stands on the western side of the town of Macroom, with windows facing the magnificent panorama of rugged mountain slopes.
The Derrynasaggart mountains lie between Cork and Kerry and are famously referred to in the traditional Irish song Whiskey In The Jar.
“As I was goin’ over the Cork and Kerry mountains.
I met with Captain Farrell and his money he was counting.
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier.
I said: “Stand or deliver or the devil he may take ya”.
Musha ring dum-a do dum-a da,
Whack for my daddy-o,
Whack for my daddy-o,
There’s whiskey in the jar.”
Next we move west of Cork city to the seaport of Cobh (pronounced Cove), the departure point for 2.5 million of the 6 million Irish emigrants who sought a better future in North America between 1848 and 1950. On 11 April 1912 the HMS Titanic boarded its last passengers in Cobh before departing on its ill-fated maiden voyage. Cobh Heritage Center is located just off the dock and beautifully tells the story of emigration, the Titanic and the Lusitania, a ship which sank off the Cork coast in 1915.
Fota Island Arboretum is located in Cork harbor on the Cobh Road from Cork city.
Kinsale is one of Ireland’s most picturesque and historic towns. Beautiful, colorful buildings line narrow, winding streets. Traditional pubs, excellent restaurants, shops and galleries abound in this medieval town.
” …take one spectacular location,
season liberally with Norman, Spanish and English influence,
add one major battle and let it simmer for 400 years.
The result – Ireland’s fine food capital.”
- Peter Barry
Charles Fort was one of the largest military installations in Ireland and dates back to the late 17th century.
The Old Head golf course in Kinsale is located on a peninsula projecting out into the Atalantic waters, providing a spectacular backdrop for a unique golfing experience.
The large market towns of Bandon and Clonakilty are the gateways to West Cork, which is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Ireland. Here we will visit some of the highlights the home of my ancestors has to offer.
Drombeg Stone Circle is situated close to the town of Glandore. This ancient megalithic monument consists of 17 pillar stones. It resembles a mini Stonehenge.
Glandore is one of the quaintest villages in all of County Cork. It’s waterfront setting makes it a very popular destination for yachting and boating enthusiasts.
Skibbereen and the area surrounding the town was amongst the hardest hit in all of Ireland at the time of the Great Hunger (1845 to 1850). The Skibbereen Heritage Center explores the impact of this devastating event on Irish history. It is well worth a visit.
The Abbestrewry graveyard on the banks of the Ilen river is the site of a mass burial pit where 10,000 unnamed victims of hunger and disease were buried at the time of Ireland’s worst disaster.
The Mizen peninsula is an area of rugged beauty. West Cork is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and unspoiled beaches. Barley Cove is one of my favorite haunts from childhood days.
Mizen Head is the most southerly point of mainland Ireland. The signal station is open to the public. Stunning scenery surrounds this outpost, and lucky visitors can often spot seals, dolphins and even humpback whales.
The Fastnet Rock lies southwest of Mizen Head and is called the teardrop of Ireland. It was the last sight of Ireland for emigrants as their ships headed westward towards America. The lighthouse was completed in 1853 and it’s beacon first beamed out across the Atlantic waters on January 1, 1854.
The town of Bantry overlooks the breathtaking vista of Bantry Bay. It is a perfect hub for exploring all that West Cork has to offer.
Bantry House & Gardens is one of the finest historic homes in Ireland with commanding views of the magnificent bay. It opens for tours in April each year.
Home to the Earls of Bantry, tourists today can choose to stay in this beautiful home and live like noblemen of bygone days.
Gougane Barra lies northeast of Bantry in an idyllic forested valley with gurgling mountain streams, and impressive waterfalls. St. Finbarr’s Oratory is nestled in the woods on the banks of a picturesque lake.
The Ring of Beara drive winds around the most westerly peninsula in County Cork, and leads into County Kerry. Starting in the picturesque town of Glengarriff, it is less famous than its neighboring Ring of Kerry. The scenery is just as spectacular, but significantly less crowded.
I love this sign found at the far tip of the Beara peninsula.
Dursey Island may only be home to sheep, but it can be visited by brave tourists willing to cross the Atlantic waters on a cable car swinging above the sea.
The Healy Pass leads from County Cork into County Kerry. It is a spectacular, magical drive through a very rocky, Irish wilderness.
Famous sons and daughters of County Cork include Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1835 – 1930) a prominent American community organizer and champion of workers’ rights.
Michael Collins (1890 – 1922) was a leader of Ireland’s uprising against British rule and a founding father of the modern Ireland we know today.
And so we come to the end of our quick trip through County Cork. There are many beautiful towns and places I did not even mention, because Cork has so much to offer. A tourist could spend many weeks in County Cork alone and never run out of new and exciting places to see and experience.
I promise we will return to County Cork many times, over the next months and years. I never visit Ireland without taking a trip home to Cork.
Wishing you all happy travels in County Cork, the home of my ancestors. Here are some helpful links for planning a trip:
Cork Historic Tours
Here are the links for the other counties we have visited so far on our tour of Ireland, county-by-county:
9. County Down
Slan agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom