This university city on Ireland’s southwest coast may not be the first place which springs to mind when looking for cultural kicks, but Cork didn’t win European Capital of Culture in 2005 for nothing. Vatican sculptures, contemporary art and cool jazz, this compact city hits the spot.
Sculpture, namely the Canova Casts, is the highlight of the Crawford Art Gallery (Emmett Place, +353 21 480 5042), a city arts institution since 1884 and free to enter. Donated by none other than the Vatican to the Cork Society of Arts in 1818, Antonio Canova’s Greek and Roman sculpture casts include the much-lauded Belvedere Torso, Laocoon and Discus Thrower. Don’t miss the stained glass by Harry Clarke, paintings by Jack B Yeats and other pieces by Irish and international artists.
For alfresco art, head to Fitzgerald Park by the River Lee, where a walkabout takes you past sculptures of characters of Cork life such as the city’s War of Independence heroes. It’s worth a jaunt to the pretty campus of University College Cork too for the imaginatively designed Lewis Glucksman Gallery (UCC, +353 21 490 1844), winner of several architectural awards and home to around 350 prints, sculptures and paintings by several of Ireland’s most renowned artists.
While Cork’s contemporary art scene witnessed the closing of the Cork Vision Centre in October 2015, there’s more of that at Lavit Gallery (5 Father Mathew Street, +353 21 427 7749), the studios at Wandesford Quay (+353 21 433 5210) near Crawford College of Art & Design and the always-inspiring exhibitions at Triskel Arts Centre (Tobin Street, +353 21 427 2022). For dance, the top spot is Firkin Crane (John Redmond Street, +353 21 450 7487) with its ever-changing programme.
Literature lovers should pop into Cork City Library (57-61 Grand Parade, +353 21 492 4900) where they can bag themselves a free audio tour of Cork. Easily downloaded to a smartphone, this self-guided tour highlights the literary history behind Cork’s busy city streets.
To discover what the city was like as a bustling medieval town, head to Cork Public Museum (Fitzgerald Park, +353 21 427 0679) with its collection of Cork, Egyptian and Greek relics. The city was also something of a headquarters for the butter industry, a story explored at Cork Butter Museum (O’Connell Square, +353 21 430 0600) by St Anne's Church. Celebrating Ireland’s most important food export, it explores the ‘butter roads’ and what was the world’s biggest butter market – don’t miss the keg of a 1,000-year-old butter.
The church itself is worth a visit – panoramic views from the top, a close-up of the impressive 18th-century clock, and best of all, the chance to ring the Bells of Shandon with yet another rendition of Frère Jacques…
Book a seat at Cork Opera House (Emmet Place, +353 21 427 0022), a stalwart since 1855, located right next to the Crawford Art Gallery. There’s a huge programme of concerts, theatre, opera, comedy, dance and films plus a more intimate space in its Half-Moon Theatre. Similarly, check the listings at The Everyman (15 MacCurtain Street, +353 21 450 1673), one of Ireland’s leading theatres.
New, amateur and professional theatre and comedy comes together at Cork Arts Theatre (Camden Court, Carroll’s Quay, +353 21 450 5624), known locally as the CAT Club, while experimental and contemporary pieces are the mainstay of the Granary Theatre (Mardyke, +353 21 490 4275). Fans of arthouse cinema will enjoy the Triskel Arts Centre’s offering, a result of its partnership with the Irish Film Institute.
If you’re looking for fiddle players, Cork won’t disappoint with its veritable output of traditional Irish music. By day, the buskers along Oliver Plunkett Street and St Patrick’s Street may well be belting out a few favourites, while at night head to local favourite Sin É (8 Coburg Street, +353 21 450 2266), renowned for hosting several musicians in one evening. The pub dates back to 1889 and once had a barbers shop upstairs – notice the chairs and mirrors still in place. Other traditional music options include The Corner House (7 Coburg Street, +353 21 450 0655) next door or the locales of An Spailpín Fánach (27-29 South Main Street, + 353 21 427 7949) and An Bodhrán (42 Oliver Plunkett Street, +353 21 427 4544).
Music often takes centre stage at the Triskel Arts Centre, with jazz, classical and contemporary events. At the riverside CIT Cork School of Music (Union Quay, +353 21 480 7310), jazz and classical are the order of the day, with classical compositions from the Cork Orchestral Society who also perform during March’s weekend Forte Festival.
The city loves a festival or two. Visit Fitzgerald Park between May and September for the many Summer in the Park events, from concerts and theatre to film screenings and craft workshops. June welcomes the Cork Midsummer Festival with a series of events including circus and dance performances, theatre, music, festival trails and talks, all taking place on the banks of the River Lee.
For colour and flamboyance, Cork’s Pride Parade in August is always fun. August also hosts the popular Cork Heritage Open Day on the first Saturday of Heritage Week, with buildings such as the National Sculpture Factory open to visitors, plus free themed events such as Medieval Day at Elizabeth Fort and walking tours.
September’s Cork Culture Night is a treat, with 200 free art, literature, music, film, family and food events across the city in around 100 different locations such as the English Market, Butter Museum and Blackrock Castle. In November, Cork hosts Ireland’s oldest festival by way of the Cork Film Festival, showcasing the best of contemporary world cinema along with a sub-festival of short films, Shorts @ CFF.
Other big dates in the events calendar include: October’s Cork Folk Festival, with performances in concert halls, bars and other venues, and Cork Guinness Jazz Festival, with gig venues as varied as the Opera House, Triskel Arts Centre and live music venues Savoy Club and Cyprus Avenue (which also hosts weekend DJ sessions).
And of course, there’s always Cork’s café culture when you need a break from jazz sessions and butter artefacts. Take a stroll down Paul Street and French Church Street and you’re get your dose of culture for a shot, or two, of espresso in some of Cork’s finest coffee bars.
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