As far as regional transport hubs go, you probably wouldn’t include the town of Cobh on your list. But just a few miles to the south of Cork, its harbour was extremely important. And on 11th April 1912 it paid host to a notorious visitor : The Titanic.
On yet another gloomy day, battered by more heavy rain, Cobh is doing its best to look like the pretty Victorian resort it once was. It has all the trappings of a traditional seaside town – a crescent shaped front lined with shops and restaurants, flanked by hotels, B&Bs and ornamental gardens.
The weather today at least means there’s a smidgen of parking available in the town centre itself – visitors usually face a steep walk down from the towering St Colman’s Cathedral. Starting in 1868, it took 47 years to build – and today dominates Cobh from just about every angle.
I’d wanted to visit Kinsale for some time. I’m not entirely sure why, but on a map your eyes are drawn to the extremitie, and it’s one of Ireland’s most southerly settlements. Although – like everywhere else today – its looking a little battered, yet still putting on a brave and welcoming face, of not with a sense of faded glory.
It’s easy to imagine the streets packed with visitors in sunnier times, but this morning those that are here are seeking shelter in various cafes and gift shops. Just like any place by the sea, it looks better when the sun shines.
The road back to Cork is a mixture of efficient dual carriageways and painfully winding “R” roads. One has manually operated roadworks on it – meaning a queue for about 20 minutes, and then there’s the tell tale sign of a tony car, driven by a tiny, elderly driver at tiny speeds. Although to be fair, some of the tight bends and narrow carriageways around here need to be taken slowly.
After all of that rural, coastal charm, Cork City suddenly seems overwhelming, not least as I try to find some parking. Of all the notable places to visit, The English Market, a reference to the Protestant rulers of Cork when it was built in 1788.
Restored and reopened in the 1980s, the market is thriving again with a mix of locals and visitors stocking up on the produce.
As the second city, Cork has inevitable appeared as a much smaller version of Dublin. Which is exactly what gives it its charm. As far as leisure goes, prices here are significantly cheaper than in the capital. But there’s no less of a welcome, and a vibrancy that makes it just as lively.