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A guide to Cork City and its harbour

Patrick Street Cork

Patrick Street, Cork a century ago

Cork is a city located in the south-west of the Republic of Ireland, within the Province of Munster. It is the second-largest city in the Republic and the third-largest on the island, after Dublin and Belfast. The city sits on the estuary of the River Lee, with the centre being situated on an island created where the river splits into two channels before joining the sea. As a result of this location, it has one of the world's largest natural harbours and a strong maritime heritage, which fits into the city's rich and proud sense of history.

Cork dates back to the sixth-century but didn't become a major urban centre until the 900s, when Viking traders established a post there as part of their global trade network. This development, as in Dublin, transformed the city wholeheartedly. In the medieval period, the city became walled and strongly defended, but the population was badly decimated by the Black Death in the 14th Century. Perhaps one of the most famous chapters in the city's history comes in the Wars of the Roses, when many Cork residents supported a pretender to the English throne, earning the city the nickname 'rebel city' which is still in use today.

Nowadays, the city is still a bustling metropolis and the harbour forms an important part of that, in no small part due to the sheer volume of trade that passes through the Port of Cork, as well as developments in ferry services, cruise ship facilities and private berths. In addition, the harbour has numerous military facilities and is now home to the headquarters of the Irish Navy. Visitors to the harbour will be charmed by the delightfully picturesque town of Cobh, with its impressive cathedral, as well as being given the opportunity to take part in activities such as boating, canoeing and jet-skiing.

In the city itself, there is also plenty on offer to keep visitors occupied. Culturally, the city is very diverse and will not leave tourists disappointed. There are numerous galleries and museums as well as several theatre companies and the annual highlight of the Cork Jazz Festival. As if any more evidence was needed, Cork became European City of Culture in 2005. There is also a major culinary environment to explore from local foods such as crubeens and tripe & drisheen to a wide range of goods available at the English Market with its evident influences of foreign immigrants.

The city is also a prime example of architectural variety, with medieval buildings such as the Red Abbey with its bell tower surviving to this day and the two majestic cathedrals of St Mary and St Finbarre. Other major landmarks from various periods are visible across the city, including the massive County Hall tower, the vast Our Lady's Psychiatric Hospital and The Elysian now the tallest multi-storey building in Ireland. The most famous sight in the city, however, is the church tower of Shandon which is symbolic of Cork and sits on a hill overlooking the city and the river. Many visitors are also drawn to the charming grounds of University College Cork, through which the River Lee flows and the old fortifications of Elizabeth Fort.

Visitors seeking a little retail therapy will also not be disappointed, with the city offering several major shopping arcades. St Patrick's Street is Cork's main thoroughfare and is an attraction in its own right as it was once built over a channel of the River Lee on arches. It was remodelled in 2000 to increase pedestrian access and retail potential, but the limestone faaade of the General Post Office is still a major focal point. In short, a trip to Cork is sure to be full of interest and variety and with great accommodation available through sites such as, visiting the city is an all-round pleasure.

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