The Magnificence of Cork City through the Ancient and Modern Times

Cork City

Updated On: November 07, 2023 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Are you always chasing the travel bug? We know how satisfying it’s for you to travel the world and watch what it has in store. You always feel overwhelmed with all the places you want to visit. The world is too big and your time isn’t just as big. But, that doesn’t every de-ignite the flame of the desire of exploring the universe. Well, since you are always interested in learning about a new culture, we will make things easier for you. We might recommend Ireland for you. However, the country is quite big, so you will need to get the best out of your Irish experience. Ever heard about Cork? It is actually one of Ireland’s largest counties. It is full of interesting places to visit and a timeline of a fascinating to unfold. If you already got caught up, here’s all you need to know about the county.

 A Brief History of the County of Cork

Ireland has been around since the very ancient times. However, some of its cities are actually older than others. Cork is one of the most ancient cities in Ireland. In fact, it is even older than many European cities outside the borders of Cork. The city sits on the southern coast of Ireland.

It dates back to the sixth century and is deemed to be the second largest city in Ireland. Dublin is actually the largest country ever in Ireland.  River Lee passes by the borders of Cork Island, forming numerous water passages. The marshy valley on estuarine islands where Cork first developed. Progressively, the city development extended to the steep hills and all the day to the north and south.

Saint Finbarr was the one who founded the city in the seventh century. He established a monastery that still exists until today. In the modern times, the monastery is now what people refer to as St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. Thanks to the monastery, it was the reason the settlements around formed and led to the development of the city.

The Development of Cork throughout the Centuries

Starting from the ninth century, Cork began facing raids from foreign settlers, including the Vikings. It took them around two centuries to become traders instead and they settled in Cork. The Vikings mindset had changed starting from the eleventh century. Evidence from archaeological excavations showed that the late eleventh century was the time where the first settlements developed.  It is the Hiberno-Norse period; those people were the result of intermarriage of the Irish and the Vikings.

The Spread of Foreign Settlements

The settlements had developed a lot during the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the late twelfth century, a new race entered Ireland, they were the Anglo-Normans. The latter captured the Hiberno-Norse; they managed to turn the city into a prominent trading centre. During that times, there were stone walls that already fortified the city. Protection was at its highest; even from the water gates. Some enemies attempted to enter the city through the water, using boats. However, there were two castles that defended the city against the enemies of water. Those castles were the Queen’s Castle and the King’s Castle.

During that time, the entrance of the city was through either the North or the South Gate Bridges. There was also a central bridge that connects the two sides. That bridge passed over a channel of water where there were harbours at its edges.

The city remained an important trading centre in Ireland for the following centuries. Besides, it developed to become a significant port in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The Age of Wealthy Merchants

The fifteenth century was the arrival of new inhabitants in Cork. They were the Dominicans and Franciscans; they lived side by side with the Anglo-Normans. Over and beyond, that century was also the beginning of the abundance of the affluent merchants around the county. The origins of most of those wealthy families were in the countryside. However, they were not able to have sufficient food or the needed support. Thus, they travelled to Cork where the importation of many goods made them as rich as they were.

They occupied most of the public and prevalent offices around the city. There was an abundance of the merchants at that time. However, they were not all in the same class; what differed them from one another were their wealth and impact. The wealthier got to have the upper hand in most of the decisions, including the administration of the county. Those families included the Goulds, the Tirrys, the Skiddys, the Galweys, and the Roches; along with a lot more.

In the late fifteenth century, the affluence of the city started to demolish. That was when the nobility of Gaelic Ireland filled higher positions and had a great impact. Things remained as so until the beginning of the sixteenth century. More than a few blustery incidents were taking place in Ireland by that time. Even the walls witnessed a lot of damage until they were no longer there.

Flourishing for Once Again

Since the fifteenth century, things in Cork were not at their best, not even close. The situation lasted until the eighteenth when things started to take a successful detour. The city began thriving even though the amazing walls were no longer around due to the Williamite siege. But, the thing is; the walls were not required anymore. They had not even received a restoration, instead; people left them to fall into scruffiness. On the other hand, the water channels that used to surround the city vanished. That fact made way for new streets to appear. Even the most famous street, St. Patrick’s Street, was once a river, but, just like the rest of the river channels, disappeared.

Long story short, it was the era of the greatest physical development of the city. Besides the St. Patrick Street, there were many other streets that were established. Those include Henry Street, Sheare’s Street, Cornmarket Street, Grattan Street, the Grand Parade, and a lot more. There were also a lot of bridges constructions that connect the city with the surrounding suburbs.

If you ever happen to visit that city, you will find yourself crossing too many bridges that you may lose count. That may sound weird since most of the rivers and water channels were drained. However, River Lee remained until the modern times; that’s why many bridges pass across the other side above it.

Who was Saint Finbarr?

Saint Finbarr was the one who established the popular monastery of Cork. After his fascinating establishment, the city started to come to life by the arrival of the foreign settlements. People usually refer to him as Barra for a shorter and easier name.

Finbarr was born in a city near Bandon called Templemartin. His original name was Lochan, but he became known as Finbarr when he arrived in Ireland. He, along with other monks, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. Also, he used to teach a lot of monks and students during his stay in Cork.

In 606, he founded the monastery that exists above the River Lee. That area now is what people refer to as Gill Abbey. What sits in that area right now is a building that the Church of Ireland owns. It named the building Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral. Actually, Fin Barre was one form of the name Finbarr. That man was one of the prominent saints in Ireland. People until now celebrate his memorial on a feast day that takes place on September 25.

The Ultimate Tourist Attractions in Cork

Not only does the city have a fascinating history to tell, but it also possesses several mesmerising places. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a visitor or not, it always feels good being at one of those enthralling sites. So, we did the homework for you and gathered all the possible places you can visit in Cork. Check them out.

Ballycotton Cliff Walk

Since the list is a bit long, we are going to start off with Ballycotton Cliff Walk. Ballycotton is actually a fishing village where you can escape from reality for a while. It has several beaches and more than a few seafood restaurants. Most importantly, it has a pretty Cliff Walk that extends for about five miles.

That Cliff Walk starts from the village of Ballycotton and all the way to Ballyandreen beach. The village may not exist right within the borders of Cork. However, it is only 40 minutes of driving away. You can always be able to go there.

Blackrock Castle Observatory

All around the world, castles are always a great destination. It usually tells a lot about the history of the city in which it exists. This time, we are referring to the Blackrock Castle Observatory. It sits on the shores of the River Lee at that point where the Cork Harbor exists.

The castle has been around since 1828; the observatory part features numerous interesting services. Those services include a cinema, a planetarium, and collaborative exhibits as well. The exhibits of the observatory are open for visits. It shows a wide range of interesting displays about nature, science, and space. Besides, a lot of important events are usually held in the castle.

Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone

Have you ever heard about the Blarney Stone? It is a world-wide known monument that lives in Ireland and one of its prominent attractions. Actually, the Blarney Stone resides inside Blarney Castle and there is a lot of stories and superstitions around it. The builder of the Blarney Castle was Cormac MacCarthy; he was an Irish Chieftain about six centuries ago. Besides, he highly succeeded in attracting tourists from everywhere to visit that castle.

The castle looks magnificent from the outside; besides, it holds amazing things to behold inside. People are able to climb the fortification inside the castle and discover all that is inside the enormous stone building. There are also shops inside the castle where you can buy various stuff from.


Cobh is a popular port in Ireland that you will never regret visiting. It is one of the many historic places of the country. Besides, it used to be called the Queenstown in ancient times. Remember the famous Titanic ship? Its last call was actually at Cobh port right before its fated maiden voyage.

This may actually be one of the most famous stories associated with the port. Despite the doomed fate of Titanic, Cobh is still the favourite dock for the world’s cruise liners. Besides the port, there are other attractions to explore. Those include the Cobh Museum, the Queenstown Story Heritage Centre, and the Titanic Experience.

Cork Butter Museum

People in Cork care about food a lot. Well, this might be the case in many places around the world, but, here, it is actually a big deal. The Cork Butter Museum reveals all of the delightful Irish food; dairy in particular. Visitors actually go on tours of the museum, watching how Ireland had been the centre of butter trade in Europe.

Thanks to the moderate climate, the Irish were able to produce the best-made butter, cheese, and milk. There is also an exhibition on how the domestic butter-making was traditionally crafted.

Cork City Gaol

Cork City Gaol is actually a jail that looks like a typical castle. It is a representation of a bizarre classical architecture. Originally, it was a women’s prison, but that was during the War of Independence. Later, it became no longer acquainted with putting only women behind the bars, but criminals of both genders.

As a visitor, you are allowed to explore the castle-like prison and take a tour around. You will find yourself reliving the blustery times that Ireland had survived in the past. It may feel a bit creepy at first, but you will definitely enjoy such an experience.

Crawford Municipal Art Gallery

Who does not fall in love with art from the first sight? It doesn’t matter whether you’re an art lover, you surely get interested in seeing a masterpiece every so often. Crawford Municipal Art Gallery is not a place to miss while in Ireland. The gallery is home to many Irish masterpieces, including portraits of Irish writers, paintings, sculpture, and more.

You will come across portraits of exceptional artists like Elizabeth Bowen and Samuel Beckett, alongside more. This place has been around for centuries and it helped the Irish art to bloom around. Inside the art gallery, there is also a well-known coffee shop called airy Café. You can grab a warm cup of coffee while enjoying the splendour of the Irish art.

Elizabeth Fort

Elizabeth Fort is one of the historic sites in Ireland. It was built in 1601; however, the residents, but that time, were afraid of any potential invasion. They thought that taking down the fort would keep them safer from any possible invasions. However, in 1624, people decided to build back up on their own expenses.

Oliver Cromwell was the one who added the final enhancements, resulting in the splendour we perceive today. Oh, and that castle, it offers a marvellous view over Cork city. Whoever had been there would definitely support this claim abruptly.

The English Market

Here is one of the most prevalent sites in Ireland; the English Market. This market is remarkably old; it has been around since 1788. Foodies around the world never miss the chance of passing by when they are in Ireland. In fact, some foodies actually travel specifically to behold the beauty of the English Market.

Interestingly, the market isn’t even English at all, but sources claim that it’s named after the origins of the protestant. It is so popular that this is site is the best place to find traditional specialities. You can find the best quality in cheese, veggies, fish, fruit, bread, and so. Whenever you’re in Ireland, you’ll rarely come across someone who doesn’t know that market or haven’t visited it. Thank goodness it had survived the fire that took place ages ago. Here is a little hint for you; visit the Farmgate Café while around; it serves a plentiful of pleasant dishes.

Fitzgerald Park and Cork Public Museum

Fitzgerald Park is an oasis of serenity that sits on the outskirts of the county. The name, Fitzgerald, came from the former Lord Mayor, Edward Fitzgerald; he was the one who planned Cork’s International Exhibition. This park is one of the county’s oldest tourist attractions. It embraces a museum, known as Cork Public Museum, and many more entertaining means.

Fota Wildlife Park

Are you an animal lover? If the answer is yes, we have got an amazing surprise for you. Ireland possesses one of the world’s prominent wildlife park. It is Fota Wildlife Park; a very vast area that reaches about 70 acres where numerous wild animals live around. Those animals are given the liberty of roaming around in a natural environment instead of watching from behind the bars.

The interesting part is that you can to interact with them very closely. And by close, we mean that some animals may even invite themselves to your place. But, make sure you never feed them.

Franciscan Well Brewery

Brewing was a very strong tradition in Cork. Thanks to the existence of the Franciscan Well, this tradition, brewing, has revived. Needless to say, the name of the site originates from the activities held in the site.

However, the name of the well originated from a medieval Franciscan monastery. They say that the well has healing properties. That is actually part of the Irish nation’s belief; the Irish blessings. Such beliefs are no longer around. People pay a visit to this place for the great-tasted beer; however, today’s type has no healing powers.


The town of relaxation and slackening away; Kinsale. It is only thirty minutes away from the city. That town is popular for yachting and fishing. It was formerly a medieval fishing port. This town represents a historic site; it was one of Ireland’s picturesque resorts. Over and beyond, the visitors will be glad knowing that there are cafes everywhere around the town.

The better news is there are cafes and restaurants that serve different styles, cuisines, and types of food. No matter what your taste is or what you prefer in foods and drinks, you will always find it there. Besides the fancy restaurants and food, it is a goal destination too. However, the golf part has always been around in recent years and not for so long.

There are always other activities that will keep you entertained at Kinsale. Those activities include visiting the wine museum, taking heritage town walks, and celebrating the annual gourmet festival.

St. Anne’s Church and Shandon Bells

The church of Saint Anne has been around since 1722; it has been very popular ever since its establishment. There are certain sporting colours of Cork that everyone knows about; they are white and red. Those colours are inspired by people’s love of Saint Anne’s Church. The church actually embraces in its tower a white limestone and a red sandstone. That was actually how people got their inspiration from regarding the two colours.

The tower of the church has a clock that people refer to as the four-faced liar. Well, the story behind that naming goes back to the fact that each clock face tells a time. Surprisingly, they are all different; there ain’t a single face that is like the other.

Saint Patrick’s Street

Saint Patrick was one of the prominent saints in Ireland. He was among the first before who arrived in Ireland along the arrival of Christianity. Besides, he’d made an appearance many of the popular tales of the Irish mythology, including the Children of Lir. Thus, it was expecting that naming a street after him would definitely take place. Saint Patrick’s street is one of the main shopping hubs in Cork. This street is located so close to the English Market. The distance between both sites is walkable. Along the street, you will come across many eccentric architectural styles while strolling. The governorate had always kept everything in check in that street, for it is a huge touristic attraction.

UCC campus (including Lewis Glucksman Gallery)

Finally, the list of the places comes to an end at this point. While this is sad news, they still seem sufficient to keep your journey busy and joyful. UCC actually stands for University College Cork. The campus sits on the River Lee where you can actually roam along the leafy banks.

What also makes the view startling are the trees that embellish the campus. You will find yourself entertained since there are all forms of art on the campus. There are a plentiful of artworks, including paintings, photography, sculpture, and more. Boredom has no room on board of this campus.

County Cork: A Must Visit

The city of Cork has so much to offer people from its fascinating history and culture to its long list of great attractions to check out. It is full of Irish beauty, the perfect place to stop off during an Irish road trip. Best way to experience the county is to spend a few days there to really soak up all that is has to offer. You will not be disappointed with a visit to County Cork in Ireland.

Have you ever been to Cork? Any great stories to share about your travels? We would love to know 🙂

Also, don’t forget to check out other places and attractions around Ireland north and south: County Kerry| County Monaghan| County Laois| Dublin City| County Armagh| County Kildare| Connemara|

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