Cork Introduction Walking Tour, Cork

Cork Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cork

One of the largest and most populous cities in Ireland, Cork was originally a monastic settlement, reputedly founded by Saint Finbarr in the 6th century AD. It grew more urbanized between 915 and 922 with the arrival of Norsemen (Vikings) who set up a trading port alongside the ecclesiastical settlement, providing otherwise unobtainable trade goods for the monastery, and perhaps also military aid. Eventually, the Viking longphort (shore fortress) evolved into an important trading center in the global Scandinavian commercial network.

The city was granted its charter in 1185. For much of the Middle Ages it had remained an outpost of Old English culture, fully walled, in the midst of a predominantly hostile Gaelic countryside. In 1491 Cork played a role in the English Wars of the Roses, supporting the York side, for which it was subsequently dubbed "the rebel city". Corkonians also sometimes refer to their hometown as "the real capital", a reference to its opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty in the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). The proper name Cork, however, stems from the Irish corcaigh or corcach, which means "marsh".

Since the 19th century, Cork had been a strongly Irish nationalist city. During the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), the center of Cork was burnt down by the British Black and Tans, in an event known as the "Burning of Cork", which saw fierce fighting between Irish guerrillas and UK forces.

Nonetheless, the city has retained much of its architectural heritage intact, and today features a number of notable buildings originating from the Medieval to Modern periods. Among them there are two cathedrals – St. Mary's and Saint Fin Barre's – of which the latter is definitely the most famous.

St. Patrick's Street, the pedestrian-friendly, main shopping thoroughfare of the city, is also known for its historic architecture. At its northern end is a landmark statue of Father Mathew. Another imposing sight, the General Post Office, renowned for its limestone façade, is found on Oliver Plunkett Street, not far off.

Cork has many traditions in food, too. The English Market, tracing its origins back to 1610, offers locally-produced foods, including fresh fish, meats, fruit and vegetables, eggs and artisan cheeses and breads in rich supply.

Other notable places of interest include a 17th-century Elizabeth Fort, the grounds of University College Cork, through which the River Lee flows, the Women's Gaol (aka Cork City Gaol, a former prison, now a heritage center) and more.

The cultural diversity of Cork attracts thousands of visitors each year. To find out more about the city's top tourist attractions, take this self-guided introductory walk.
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Cork Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Cork Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Ireland » Cork (See other walking tours in Cork)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Father Mathew Statue
  • St. Patrick's Street
  • St. Peter and Paul's Church
  • English Market
  • Oliver Plunkett Street
  • Elizabeth Fort
  • St. Fin Barre's Cathedral
  • University College Cork
  • Fitzgerald Park
  • Cork City Gaol
Father Mathew Statue

1) Father Mathew Statue

The Father Mathew Statue is located on a pedestal in St. Patrick's Street. It was unveiled on October 10, 1864. The statue was designed by sculptor John Hogan who sadly died before he could begin the work. It was then completed by John Foley and W. Atkins, who designed the pedestal.

The statue depicts Theobald Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance. He was a Capuchin priest who served most of his life in Cork. He died in 1856, after which the people of the city insisted upon a memorial in his honor. The pedestal reads "A Tribute From a Grateful People."

The statue sits in a median near a busy intersection. It is surrounded by shops, businesses and the heavily trafficked Lower Glanmire Road. A proposal was brought forth in 2000 to move the statue, but the people of Cork protested the move which allowed it to remain in the same spot it has occupied for more than 150 years.
St. Patrick's Street

2) St. Patrick's Street

St Patrick's Street is the main shopping street in Cork. Most locals refer to the street at "Pana." It is home to shopping stores like Marks & Spencer, Penneys and Brown Thomas. It is also the location of the Father Mathew Statue, which was added in 1864.

The street runs in a curve over the River Lee from St. Patrick's Bridge to Daunt Square. It has had this path since the 18th century when it was formed. The street experienced massive damage in the Burning of Cork in 1920. Spots like the Munster Arcade and Grant's department store were destroyed.

Redevelopment of the street in 2004 added plazas to make St. Patrick's Street more pedestrian friendly. Opera Lane was added in 2010 and new facades for the shops were added in 2016. St. Patrick's Street has since received two awards for being Ireland's best shopping street.

Walking along the street, tourists will see businesses that range from local boutiques to international chains. They can stop for a fast food burger before shopping for great deals on vinyl records, hunting for souvenirs and looking at high-end clothing and accessories.
St. Peter and Paul's Church

3) St. Peter and Paul's Church

A hidden gem that cozily resides on St. Patrick's street in Cork and dates to mid-18th century – an era when it was prohibited for Catholic churches to be built on the main road. Nevertheless, this brilliantly designed church will manage to grab your attention, standing as a brilliant specimen of Neo-Gothic architecture.

St. Peter and Paul's Church was designed by Edward Welby Pugin whose father, Augustus Pugin, was responsible for reviving the Gothic style in architecture. Uncharacteristic to Gothic architecture, however, this church lacks a spire, due to insufficient funds and for fear that the structure would fail to support its weight.

Though the church impresses on the outside, the true beauty of the design and structure is found on the inside. With pillars of red marble and strong wood framework, the interiors are surely worth admiring. A few special mentions go to the high-raised altar designed by Ashlin, the intricately carved Russian oak pulpit and the stained glass windows that give the church an artistic feel and make the entire experience worth remembering.

Why You Should Visit:
The attention to detail in the architecture is exquisite.
Lots to see and lots of photo opportunities.

Free to visit or leave a donation.
English Market

4) English Market (must see)

The English Market in Cork is a renowned municipal food market located in the heart of the city. The market's mid-19th century architecture is highly admired, and it is also known for its locally produced artisan food.

Over time, the English Market has become a popular tourist attraction, and its reputation has grown beyond Ireland's borders. Renowned chef Rick Stein has described it as the "best covered market in the UK and Ireland." The market's name originated in the 19th century when it was necessary to distinguish it from the nearby Irish Market on St. Peter's Market.

The market's history dates back to 1788 when it was established as a meat shambles known as "new markets." The present-day market is usually entered through the tripartite facade on Princes Street or a bayed entrance from the Grand Parade. The market's interior is highly distinctive, with its central gabled bay, central archways, and stained glass lunette windows.

The English Market offers a wide variety of fresh produce from around the world, but it is best known for its fresh fish and butchers, which supply many of the city's top restaurants. It is also the source of some of Cork's most famous local delicacies, including drisheen, spiced beef, and buttered eggs.

The market has even played host to some famous guests, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles during their respective state visits to Ireland in 2011 and 2018. Both royals were served by fishmonger Pat O'Connell. The English Market has also been featured in popular culture, with its distinctive architecture appearing in the film The Young Offenders and its subsequent TV series in 2016 and 2017.

Why You Should Visit:
Clean and charming old-fashioned market with a wide choice of top quality Irish food. Ideal for local self-catering, but also for some quick sampling.
Oliver Plunkett Street

5) Oliver Plunkett Street

Oliver Plunkett Street is an 18th century street that is a main shopping area of the city. It was originally called George's Street after King George I who was reigning king of Great Britain and Ireland at the time.

British troops destroyed much of George's Street during the Burning of Cork. Two years later, after the establishment of the Irish Free State, the name was changed to honor Oliver Plunkett. Plunkett was the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland.

Many locals still referred to the street as George's Street for several decades after the name change. The area was also referred to as "Late George's Street," even the city directory. This is despite the fact that the city's General Post Office is located on Oliver Plunkett.

The street is a prime shopping area and a popular place for nightlife. It is an excellent place for a relaxed walk as the area of the street between Parnell Place and Grand Parade is pedestrianized every day from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Oliver Plunkett Street won the Great Street Award from the London Academy of Urbanism in 2016.
Elizabeth Fort

6) Elizabeth Fort

Elizabeth Fort is a 17th-century fort near the center of Cork. It was built in 1601 by Sir George Carew. The fort was named after Queen Elizabeth I. The fort was demolished in 1603 but later rebuilt. Most of the existing fort was built between 1624 and 1626.

The fort was originally built on high-ground outside the city. When the city grew, it encompassed the fort. After that time it was used as military barracks, a prison and a police station. It now functions as a tourist site.

As a tourist site, Elizabeth Fort is open to the public. It is also a venue for festivals and public events. Some of the events held at Elizabeth Fort include the Cork Midsummer Festival, Cork Heritage Open Day, the Cork St. Patrick's Festival, Culture Night and Heritage Week.

Elizabeth Fort is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM and Sunday from noon to 5 PM. There is no charge to tour the fort.
St. Fin Barre's Cathedral

7) St. Fin Barre's Cathedral (must see)

St. Fin Barre's Cathedral is Church of Ireland cathedral with roots that date to the 7th century AD. The first building on the site was a monastery founded by the Fibarr of Cork. It was destroyed in the 12th century during the Norman invasion of Ireland. Two more churches were built on the site, but they were each demolished and replaced by new, larger structures.

The existing cathedral was built between 1863 and 1879. It was designed by architect William Burges in the Gothic Revival architectural style. Along with the building itself, Burges also designed the sculptures, stained glass, mosaics and the bulk of the interior furniture. Most of the external sculptures were designed by Thomas Nicholls.

Burges, worried that the cathedral wouldn't be finished in his lifetime, created a Book of Furniture and a Book of Designs so that the cathedral could be completed to his exact specifications. These books have been used during reconstruction efforts to ensure it remains true to the original vision. This has included the re-carving of some sculptures that have eroded over time.

The interior of St. Fin Barre's Cathedral is just as impressive as the exterior. It has mosaic pavements, a high marble nave and large columns. The pulpit is cylindrical and is perched on four sculpted legs. The brass lectern shows the heads of Moses and King David.

There are 74 stained glass windows designed by Burges. They were crafted by H.W. Lonsdale and William Gualbert Saunders. They each show themes from the Bible except for the nave windows, which have signs of the zodiac. The pipe organ was built in 1870 by William Hill & Sons. It has more than 4,500 pipes.

Visitors can visit St. Fin Barre's Cathedral Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 1 PM and from 2 PM to 5:30 PM. Along with touring the cathedral, a cathedral gift shop offers souvenirs like coffee mugs, books and miniature replicas of the building.

Climb up the steep, dark staircase to be rewarded with a simply stunning view of Cork.
University College Cork

8) University College Cork (must see)

University College Cork is a constituent of the national university of Ireland. It was founded in 1845 as Queen's College. The name was changed to University College Cork in 1908.

The quadrangle and most early campus buildings were designed by Sir Thomas Deane and Benjamin Woodward. They were designed in the Tudor Gothic architectural style. More buildings have been continually added after the 1860s as the school has steadily grown. Thought the campus is comprised of 42 acres, it is only a 10-minute walk from the center of Cork.

The university is notable for being the college where the first two women in Ireland graduated in medicine. This happened in 1898, far earlier than many other schools allowed women to study medicine.

The university is one of the country's top research institutes. University College Cork was named Irish University of the Year five times. It was also named the top performing university by the European Commission.

The Glucksman Gallery on campus features a modernist architecture and is listed among the '1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die'...
Fitzgerald Park

9) Fitzgerald Park (must see)

If you enjoy taking long strolls where you are surrounded by nature and get to encounter the works of prominent artists, then Fitzgerald Park is for you.

Just about 20 minutes by walk from the City Centre, the Fitzgerald Park offers its visitors a pleasant change from the city. Home to the Cork Public Museum, the park is a perfect destination for a sunny day or a bank holiday where children can run around, play and you can bask in its scenic beauty. Situated on the banks of the River Lee, the Fitzgerald Park offers a perfect retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Unwind with its picturesque beauty and relax by taking a long walk along the river. The Fitzgerald Park has long been a popular destination among both locals and visitors, who love to spend their time away from the busy city life.

The park was named after Edward Fitzgerald, who served as the Lord Mayor of Cork between 1901 and 1903. Spread over 18 acres of land, you get to see a beautifully planned park and also catch a glimpse of the works of some of the finest artists like Seamus Murphy, Edward Delaney, Marshal Hutson, Joseph Higgins, James Horan, and Oisin Kelly.

Why You Should Visit:
A very friendly place to have a picnic, read a book, attend performances and much more.

Check locally for events and free gigs happening on the lawn.
Cork City Gaol

10) Cork City Gaol (must see)

The Cork City Gaol is a museum houses inside a former prison. The building was completed in 1818 from a design by William Robertson in the Georgian Gothic architectural style. Sculptor John Hogan worked as draughtsman for the gaol. Hogan later achieved acclaim for his artwork and is now known as one of Ireland's greatest sculptors.

The gaol opened as a prison for both men and women who committed crimes within the city of Cork. It became a prison only for women in 1878 and re-opened as a co-ed prison in 1922. The gaol closed the following year.

Crimes committed by those remanded at the gaol were often petty crimes that would be overlooked today. Using obscene language or drinking alcohol were possible crimes that would lead to time in the gaol. In 1919, Constance Markievicz, the first woman in British Parliament, was imprisoned for a rousing speech.

The gaol building was used as a radio station from 1927 through the 1950s. It was also used as storage for government offices. The remainder of the building and grounds fell into ruin from disuse and lack of upkeep.

The Cork City Gaol reopened in 1993 when it was transformed into a museum. It offers exhibits that detail the history of the gaol including a radio museum.

Walking Tours in Cork, Ireland

Create Your Own Walk in Cork

Create Your Own Walk in Cork

Creating your own self-guided walk in Cork is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Cork Heritage Pub Trail

Cork Heritage Pub Trail

A truly fun way to explore Cork is by visiting the local heritage pubs, a cherished part of the city's cultural and social fabric. Situated in the heart of Cork, these establishments are not just places to grab a drink but living time capsules that take you back to a bygone era in a warm and welcoming setting. Let's take a look at some of Cork's notable “watering holes”.

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles