Pack your warm clothes she told me, Ireland’s colder than England, much colder, we get the breeze from the Atlantic.  Two days later I’m standing in a sun drenched Cork high street, clad in shorts, flip flops and sunglasses worried about the distinct possibility of panda eyes.  Yep, that Atlantic breeze is one to watch out for!

cork at nightIreland had been on the cards for a while as Esther spent 5 years living just outside of Limerick and often visited her old friend for a good drink and a gossip.  This time I was along for the ride.  Taking advantage of the numerous bank holidays over the Easter period, we booked up flights into Cork and out of Shannon.  The idea being we’d get the coach between Cork and Limerick after a couple of days.

Our hotel in Cork was lovely.  It wasn’t too difficult to find after getting to Cork city centre from the airport, and our room was nice and cosy.  After a quick welcome drink in the hotel bar, we set out to explore.  The city centre was just a 5 minute walk from where we were staying, but actually took more like 10 once you allow for all the traffic lights that surround the river.  The river did look stunning at night though.

I’d always wanted to visit Cork over any other Irish city, but I was never sure why.  Whilst everyone else was screaming Dublin for a weekend away, Cork always took my fancy.  Once again I had an image in my head of what the city might look like, and once again it was totally different in reality.  That’s not to say I didn’t like Cork, I was just shocked by the extent to which the recession had crippled businesses in Cork.  So many independent businesses were closed or closing, hand made ‘sale’ posters were rife.  There were still a decent number of shops open and Esther managed to cram a few extra items into her luggage, but once off of the main high street and into some of the smaller side roads it was evident where cool independent shops and cafes would once have been serving.

We found the food in Cork to be extremely well priced, especially since we has Esther’s ‘Taste’ card which saved us around 50 Euro over 2 nights.  Captain Americas bar & grill took our fancy on the first nights, their enormous burgers and cocktail selection did the trick, we would both recommend the mint Oreo ice cream cocktail! On the second night we ate at a tiny Thai place which had the hugest portions.  An epic meal.  There also seemed to be a bit of a music scene in Cork, but being the middle of the week places weren’t quite so busy and admittedly we were tragic in our efforts to stay out late..  Drinks also seem quite expensive when compared to the prices at home (London), a pint of beer or cider was usually around 4-5 euro.

blarney castle

blarney castle

Whilst in the Cork area we used the local buses to go visit Blarney.  Most famous for Blarney Castle and the Blarney stone, the area was exactly like how I expected rural Ireland to be, and I loved it.  The stone walls, the village green, the local pub.  Stereotypical maybe, but beautiful definitely!  We wandered up to the grounds of the castle and paid our entrance fee of 10 Euro each and then simply strolled through the grounds without a care.  The landscaping was stunning, and looked even better in the blazing sun.  The castle was a little tourist minded, but it was very very interesting, and yes I snogged the stone.  My inability to tell the time meant that we had an hour to wait for the next bus back to Cork town centre, so we stopped briefly in the local pub.  Booze is slightly expensive in Ireland, but it wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without the consumption of … cider, I’m not a Guinness man sorry.  It was by far my most favourite day we spent in the Cork area. blarney castle

After 3 nights in Cork, very little sleep due to our room being just above the hotel bar, and 3 gigantic hotel fry ups, we were kindly picked by one of Esther’s friends Ciara, and driven all the way from Cork to Newcastle West.  We stopped off along the way to see Ciara’s new house which was in fact not a house but a palace complete with 3 of the cutest huskies you’ve ever seen!  We also went to watch a bit of a local hurling game which I particularly enjoyed, slightly brutal but definitely watchable.  Whilst I discussed the finer points of the game with Ciara’s dad, Esther took her place cowering behind me for fear of being hit by the ball which never once actually came our way.  Wuss! irish hurling

I’d met a lot of Esther’s friends at her birthday party in London, but I hadn’t met her cousin who we were staying with, I was tres nervous.  I needn’t have been!  Esther’s cousin Una and her husband Boots were quality, and their little man Daniel was so cute.  They all made us feel right at home.  We arrived very late armed with only a Chinese and some cider, but that proved not to be a problem as we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to finish the afore mentioned food and booze whilst listening to the stories about Esther’s inability to handle cider when she was 14, and another night when they were picked up for a night out on a tractor.

Esther had always talked down Newcastle West, maybe so that I didn’t expect too much when I visited, but in truth I love it.  The small shops, the lack of high rise, the open spaces filled with green.  It appealed to me much more than Cork.  We weren’t particularly active in NW.  We went a lot of time just chilling at Una’s place and eating more Chinese and therefore becoming obese..  We did make it to a house party on the Saturday evening which consisted of some colossal karaoke performances, a lad having his face mummified in sellotape, and everyone apart from the 4 of us disappearing all at once … hmmm.  That last bit led to a hastened exit, and on the drive home I was the recipient of an expertly drunken tour of the area.

On the Sunday we set out for a bit of a pub crawl which would take us to several neighbouring villages before stopping off to watch a cross dressed wedding.  It was obviously for charity and highly amusing, especially as everyone had already been drinking for almost 4 hours before the ceremony took place.  After the wedding we got a cab back to Newcastle West to meet up with some of Esther’s other friends.  My impeccable understanding of the Irish language was yet to fail me, and I was still able to understand roughly 82% of what everyone was saying.  After a couple of drinks, a lot of hand shakes, some cheesy photos and random football related chat we moved on to a club that must have had a door policy of over 15’s.  The place was bouncing, but it felt like a youth club at times and that trouble was imminent.    After a fake KFC and vomit dodging on the way home we crept into the house for fear of waking Una and Boots, and slipped into the bed very much looking forward to our impending hangovers the next day.charity wedding

The next morning came and went, but Una and Boots were still to materialise, it seems they hadn’t made it home at all, and had instead stayed out and decided to frequent the pub again the next morning.  A fine achievement.  Bank holiday Monday was not particularly energetic on anyone’s part, the best we could muster was being driven back to Ciera’s house for yet another Chinese by Esther friends Bridget and Paul.  The night began with the usual stories and gossip but ended with us all watching the news as the reports about Bin Ladens death rolled in.  Don’t think anyone anticipated that from our evening.  In an act of kindness upon saying our goodbyes to Ciera’s family, at the end of the night , Ciera’s dad gave me sliotar(the ball used in hurling) surprised and a little taken a’back, it now sits in my room at home as a memory of my trip.

The next morning we just had time to grab a quick lunch with yet more of Esther’s friends and then say goodbye our hosts before catching the plane back to Heathrow and then the bus home.   It’s sometimes nice to live that close to an airport because it means you can collapse in your own bed all the quicker.  I was knackered.

Tips:

  • Blarney– Stunning grounds to wander around on a sunny day, well worth the 10 euro entrance fee.
  • Buses – An intricate networks covers the majority of major cities. Cheap and easy to get around, so go explore
  • Taste card – Not just for Ireland, but for the UK.  Save £££s on your food.