It had been just over five years since I last paid a visit to the Emerald Isle’s second largest city — Cork. The former industrial hub on the Lough Mahon still doesn’t get much due from overseas travelers and dreamers of a trip to Ireland. We know Dublin and those cinematic Irish landscapes from the Cliffs of Moher to the Giant’s Causeway.
I enjoyed myself immensely during my first visit and I cemented that affection during another 24 hours in Cork by focusing on craft beer, a proper visit to the English Market, and a morning run around town before hopping back on the train to western Ireland.
Craft Beer Cork
My affinity for craft beer had just been starting to blossom during my first visit to Cork. Still, even then, craft beer had not been as commonplace as it is now nor was there the myriad of ways to find good Irish craft beer. This time, all I had to do was a quick search on Google Maps to find Rising Sons Brewery, The Friary craft beer pub, and Franciscan Well to fill up on my taste for hops.
You can tell Rising Sons is clearly the new kid on the block with its size and modern aesthetic. This place feels intrinsically like a North American sports bar. Hell, they even have an army of televisions and flags of American sports teams to hammer the point home. Of course, the magic lays in the beer and I was plenty happy sitting at the beer with my Rising Sons Handsum IPA.
The smell of the pizza was tempting, but I wanted to hold off my appetite a bit longer and try a bit more craft beer elsewhere. Some more hasty research pointed me toward Franciscan Well. I was well on my way, having crossed the River Lee over the pedestrian bridge, and making my way to the bar when I stumbled upon The Friary with signs promising an array of craft beer inside. Realizing I really was in no hurry, I head inside the cozy pub for a Sabotage IPA from Kildare, Ireland’s own Trouble Brewing.
One pair of friends sat nestled in the corner with a couple pints and board games. An Irish and American couple next to me enjoyed their drinks over conversation while I enjoyed the lovely bitterness of a well-made IPA. Luckily Franciscan Well was just a few more minutes walk down the street, so my growling appetite was to be satiated soon enough.
I had no reason for imagining Franciscan Well to be a similarly cozy pub, but reality revealed a brewery quite possibly as large as the more modern Rising Sons while maintaining the closeness and ambiance of a traditional Cork pub. A jazz band was well-underway as I walked in and meandered around in search of pizza. A courtyard of sorts sits in the back with a counter where you can order your pie. I felt a surge of confidence in the food to come after eavesdropping and hearing Italian conversation among the staff. Indeed, the chorizo pizza set my tastebuds ablaze, washed down by a Chieftan IPA from Franciscan Well.
A Morning Jaunt and The English Market
I woke up at Hotel Isaacs feeling oddly spritely for having drunk three large glasses of IPA craft beer the night before and I went for a run with the idea in mind to end at The Farmgate Café in the English market. Spotting a bit of green on Google Maps west of Cork, I went west toward Fitzgerald’s Park. Cork is a vastly different looking city than Dublin and it doesn’t take much of an eye to notice that, but it becomes especially apparent west of the city center where strings of family homes begin to sprout up.
Cork’s city center, too, manages to stick out clearly in my mind with its wide sidewalks and narrow sidestreets. Pedestrians rule here and it was a pleasure wandering about again, remembering my first time on these streets back when my assumption was that sidewalks are narrow and cars are supposed to be given the majority of space.
I was always struck again by just how different Cork looks from Dublin. Dublin, having formerly been the second city of the British Empire, looks quite a bit like an English city — as much as such a statement might make Irish friends cringe. They have similar Georgian architecture (the longest stretch in the world, in fact) and pubs dotting every nook and cranny of the city.
Cork feels a bit more modern in stretches of the city center and familial once you get out of the core with its single-family housing in place of apartment buildings. This is why I always recommend to travelers heading to Ireland that they make a stop in Cork. Cork is very much its own place and locals (as I recall hearing during my first visit on several occasions) will tell you it’s better than Dublin.
“Oh, I don’t get the fuss over Dublin,” a bartender told me. “It’s overrated. People should come to Cork.”
From Hostel to Business Traveler
A young woman with blonde hair and a bubbly spirit checked me out of Hotel Isaacs. The usual conversation ensued, confirming that my stay was as expected. Some hotel staff in her position go a step further and ask, “Where are you off to next?” She did, so I shared that I was on my way to Killarney for a conference. Real or staged, she displayed the expected amount of enthusiasm someone in the hotel industry is supposed to offer in these small talk conversations.
“Wow! And is this your first time in Ireland?”
This prompted me to share that I had visited Cork during my first European trip five years prior, staying down the street at Bru Bar & Hostel. It was the rare instance in that trip in which my fellow travelers and I had the room to ourselves, so nights were spent drunkenly giggling at how the toilet sounded like the engine of a lawn mower everytime it flushed.
We pinched pennies on that trip, as young hostel travelers do, but we were drawn into what appeared at the time to be the most extravagant hotel we had ever seen. It was Hotel Isaacs. The flags, the entrance blended with an outdoor eating courtyard, and the full course menu for the neighboring restaurant Greenes — we were in a daze. Prices for the full course dinner seemed reasonable to us at the time, so we decided that we would eat at Greenes and it would be our “fancy meal” of the trip.
The young woman seemed amused by my anecdote of hostel traveler stupefied by her hotel turned business traveler.
She laughed, “You’re all grown up then.”