The people’s republic of craic

By Sinead Gillett

The long term strategic planning of Cork City Council, notably based on recommendations made in the landmark Land Use and Transportation Study (1978), have made Cork a much more economically vibrant and tourist friendly location. Major pedestrianisation and redesign have transformed the city centre into an impressive shopping district and social hub, home to an increasing selection of gourmet restaurants and a diverse and lively nightlife scene. Cosy pubs and cafes nestle between trendy bars and music venues along the well-kept side lanes that lead off Patrick street.

The city also boasts larger venues, most notably the wonderful Cork Opera House, that regularly host high profile concerts and theatrical productions. A number of tourist attractions, such as the English market, Shandon Tower and the UCC campus – one of the oldest in Ireland – with its renowned Glucksman gallery, also provide an incentive to visitors.
Further contributing to Cork’s elevation has been its designation in 2005 as the European Capital of Culture.

This title, awarded on an annual basis by the European Union, brings with it a remunerative opportunity to generate significant social, cultural and economic benefits. This opportunity was embraced by Corkonians, who used their year of cultural events and celebration to buff the city’s image and raise its international profile.

The buzz induced by the 2005 spotlight did not leave Cork with the European Capital of Culture title. Rather the city continued to develop its image, positioning itself as a lively and dynamic location, rich in spirit and cultural assets, including a wide range of arts and entertainment festivals. The largest of these are the upcoming Guinness Cork Jazz Festival and the Corona Cork Film Festival.

The city’s heightened visibility and appeal has been recognised by the authors of the Lonely Planet, who, in their recent publication Best of Travel 2010, have named Cork as one of the top ten cities in the world to visit this year.

Praising the city, the guide states: “Cork is at the top of its game right now: sophisticated, vibrant and diverse, while still retaining its friendliness, relaxed charm and quick-fire wit.”

The book’s editor remarks: “Cork has been in Dublin’s shadows for far too long, it has emerged as a fantastic destination in its own right with great restaurants, galleries, bars and shops as well as stunning scenery on its doorstep.”

Indeed, Cork city is a threshold to some of the most beautiful landscapes and seaside towns in Ireland. Bantry, Blarney, Kinsale, Schull, Crosshaven, Cobh and Fota, to name but a few, are all popular with both Irish and foreign visitors.
With recent improvements to road and rail, as well as the addition of a new terminal at Cork airport, the city is now even better positioned to facilitate tourist traffic to the greater Cork area.

With international lights shining on Cork, the city is blossoming. 2010 is the year to visit, or revisit as the case may be. And there is no better time to do this than the upcoming October bank holiday weekend (22 – 25), during which the annual Guinness Cork Jazz Festival takes place. The festival is one of the social highlights of the Cork calendar year, the city’s atmosphere and charm peaking as the jazz beat leaks out onto the streets.

A jewel in the crown of Cork city, the festival has grown from strength to strength over the years to become one of Ireland’s largest cultural events, as well as an internationally celebrated fixture on the jazz calendar. With music lovers flocking from all over the globe to mingle with the industry’s leading jazz musicians and attend the festival’s usual array of first-rate concerts and workshops, the city tends to fill up quickly. Early booking is advised.

If jazz is not your thing then perhaps film is. Another great time to visit Cork is during the Corona Cork Film Festival, taking place this year between the 7 and 15 November. Now in its 55th year, the festival has grown in size and reputation to become one of Ireland’s leading film events. With an eclectic programme of big budget movies, independent productions, world cinema, documentary and short arthouse film there is something on screen for everyone.

With two of its most popular festivals still to come this year, Cork city refuses to forfeit itself to seasonal blues. One measure of a city’s success as a tourist destination is its ability to attract visitors year round, rather than on a purely seasonal basis. Cork is proving itself on this ground, and on so many others too.

Ireland’s second (but by no means least) city has exploded onto the tourist scene with the vivaciousness and celebration of a champagne toast. For now at least there appears to be no corking it. To Cork!