Meet Mary McCarthy
Director of the National Sculpture Factory in Cork and Chairperson of Culture Ireland tells us about Cork…
“There’s a real vitality about Cork. When we became the European City of Culture in 2005, it was a great moment and really changed the city centre. Patrick’s Street was refurbished and it created much more space for pedestrians, making it a great walking city. Cork is also a tech hub – we have our own "Silicon Alley" and host companies like Apple, Novartis and Pfizer. There’s lot of R&D here: indeed, we’re part of it at the Sculpture Factory.
Surrounded by farming country, Cork has always been known for the quality of its food, as the Cork Butter Museum testifies. The English Market is the key place to find contemporary produce, and has fantastic produce from the nearby fields and the ocean, as well as excellent cafes and restaurants
Cork has a real sense of itself. We’re the second city and very proud. We have two newspapers, two stouts in Beamish and Murphy (and yes, they taste very different to Guinness) and Barry’s Tea is made here, which has cult-like status. When Cork people go on holiday, they take Barry’s with them.
Cork was a huge port in the 19th century. Today it is the second largest natural harbour in the world, exporting agricultural goods and importing exotic spices from all over the world. You can get a flavour of that significance at The English Market, and also at the Butter Museum in Shandon. We’ve kept a great reputation for food, particularly for independent producers and you’ll work the calories off as Cork has a healthy, sporting side. There’s river rowing and Curragh racing on the Lee and lots of walking trails and running routes. And the countryside is amazing although Cork people take it for granted. Within 40 minutes east or west, you’ll find some incredible places. My favourite is Ballycotton, where there’s an amazing cliff walk. Head east and you’ll find Youghal, where Moby Dick was set; head west and there’s the yacht and food centre of Kinsale.
Cork still has some of its old grandeur, and the Docklands area, with handsome Grand Parade, is a great walk. You’ll see big merchant’s houses dating from those times – it was once a waterway - and you’ll get a sense of the city’s wider location as north Cork is hilly. The area around Cork attracted lots of artists and alternative types in the 1960s and 1970s and as a result it has a very European sensibility. Cork people love sitting with a coffee – there are lots of great coffee shops – and it’s chatty, buzzy and vibrant.
Surrounded by farming country, Cork has always been known for the quality of its food, as the Cork Butter Museum testifies. The English Market is the key place to find contemporary produce, and has fantastic produce from the nearby fields and the ocean, as well as excellent cafes and restaurants: try the Farmgate restaurant in the mezzanine of this 18th century market and if you’re feeling traditional and intrepid, try the drisheen or black pudding. In the evening, you can try some of Cork’s feted restaurants, such as Market Lane, inspired by The English Market and serving classics like braised pork marinated in Cork gin.
There’s also a lot of art to see in Cork. Close to The River Lee there’s the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, which opened in 2004, and the Crawford Art Gallery in the old Customs House has a great collection of Irish art. And of course Cork is very musical. We’re known for our traditional music (try Dennehy's and Counihan's) but there’s also a strong feeling for contemporary music. I’d venture that you’ll find a quality performance here every night - more when festivals are on. Above all, try your luck. The thing I really like about Cork is that it doesn’t manage its tourists. It’s a city for discovery.”
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