Wind your way through Ireland's Ancient East
Wind Your Way Through Ireland's Ancient East
Last month, we announced our new blog series on this country’s latest designated road trip around Ireland’s Ancient East. This journey sits with the Wild Atlantic Way and even Route 66 in the USA, in becoming a ‘must-do’ trip for those who love to travel by road. A voyage of historical and culinary magic awaits, in a region steeped in myth and legend, folklore and tradition. Five thousand years of history is contained in 17 counties.
Our journey begins in Cork city, which blazes a trail in the Rebel spirit and and bit of the craic! This time round, we will travel on through East Cork, along the coast to Waterford City. The coastline here is known as the Celtic Coast, bordering the ancient Celtic Sea which runs between South East Ireland and St George’s Channel and the Bristol Channel off the UK coast. The Celtic Sea merges with the Irish Sea, which then connects the whole of the east coast of Ireland to our nearest neighbours.
Come and join us at the start of this magical journey, where the history of the land births the culture of the people, and times gone by are still remembered and relived.
Cork City has a lot to say for itself! From the broad span of ‘Pana’ or St. Patrick’s Street where big name stores line up alongside little boutiques, to the little streets which run off this shopper’s paradise and boast pavement cafes and art galleries, and the mighty River Lee which divides city dwellers into south or northsiders, Cork has a temperament all its own. There is a welcome here like no other, with a quick witted comment from the barman as you order a pint of Murphy’s (no Guinness please, we’re Corkonians!), impromptu trad and folk sessions in the pubs, and the lively theatre, film and food culture which permeates Ireland’s second city.
The history and heritage of Cork is part of its charm for the many visitors who come here every year. Here are some places you should make a point of visiting in the Rebel City.
SAINT FIN BARRE’S CATHEDRAL
Historians credit Saint Finbarre with founding a monastery in Cork in the 7th Century. The exact date is unknown, but the earliest mention of the monastery was in 682. The monastic settlement was around the area of the city where Saint Finbarre's Cathedral, Cork’s Anglican Cathedral, is now situated. Saint Fin Barre’s was designed by William Burges and consecrated in 1870. The cathedral is open to tourists and visitors as well as Christian worshippers.
Guided tours are offered and worth partaking in, to get the full history of this magnificent building with its stunning architecture and embedded cultural importance. The cathedral choral foundation is at least 700 years old, while some of the cathedral bells date back to 1763. The whole site has been a place of Christian worship since the 7th Century. You will stand on this spot of saints and scholars and soak up the spiritual atmopshere and architectural grandeur of one of the most significant buildings in Cork City.
CORK BUTTER MUSEUM
The Cork Butter Museum in the historic Shandon area of Cork city, tells the story of Ireland’s oldest food export. Galleries trace the earliest days of dairy farming in Ireland and the storing of butter in bogs, the development of the Cork Butter Exchange of the 19th century, and home butter making which took place in many farmhouses. Traditional equipment is on show throughout the museum. Visual displays also chart the rise of the Kerrygold brand, Ireland’s most famous butter export to this day. The Cork Butter Museum offers glimpse of past life in the city and county, and the background of an industry still very much part of rural Ireland.
THE ENGLISH MARKET
Trading as a market since 1788, this iconic and historical emporium is the very hub of good food in Cork city. The English Market is one of the oldest municipal markets in the world, and stands alongside Europe’s finest permanent covered markets for choice and quality.
SAINT ANNE’S CHURCH, SHANDON
Good Food Ireland members in the market include Farmgate Cafe, On the Pig’s Back, O’Connell’s fish stall, Tom Durcan butchers and The Sandwich Stall. A must visit market, where you will get a real sense of the personality of the Cork traders who sell their wares here, day in day out. Marked by it’s distinctive tower topped with a giant golden fish, St.Anne’s Church in Shandon is home to the famous Shandon Bells. It has a clock on each of the tower’s four walls, and is known to Corkonians as the ‘Four Faced Liar’ because all four clocks may tell a slightly different time. St. Anne’s is a landmark in the city, and can be seen across the river clearly, and on the skyline.
CRAWFORD ART GALLERY
The Crawford Art Gallery is housed in a building which dates back to 1724, originally Cork Customs House. The Gallery now takes up three buildings which were added through the years, the first in 1850 as the house became the Government School of Design in 1850. The growth of the student body dictated a further extension in 1884, to house studios and galleries, at the great expense of William Horatio Crawford, after whom it was named the Crawford School of Art. It became the Crawford Art Gallery in 1979, when the Crawford School of Art relocated.
Some of the works in the gallery display ancient Cork and its transformation during the 19th Century. A good way to see the visual effects of the city’s development as a merchant city, and how this changed it’s landscape.
When you’ve taken in all that artistic culture and history, pop along to the Crawford Cafe, where you can enjoy tea, coffee, lunch and light refreshments throughout the day. A great meeting spot for the people of Cork, you’ll soak up the atmosphere of the city as you dine.
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK
A seat of learning since 1845, once one of the three Queen’s Colleges in located Cork, Galway and Belfast, named after Queen Victoria. The site of UCC was chosen for its link to Saint Fin Barre, whose monastery and school was close by. This Saint inspired the college motto of ‘Where Finbarr Taught, let Munster learn. Historic buildings of the early college house the Aula Maxima, (Great Hall) which was the place of inauguration of just 115 students in 1849-1850. This Great Hall is still the place where graduates celebrate with familes after gaining their Bachelor and Masters Degrees. The Stone Corridor of the Main Quadrangle rings with the footsteps of many famous ancient scholars.
If you’re spending a few days in Cork, no finer place than the River Lee Hotel, which is strolling distance from UCC and has the River Lee gurgling past the front of the building. A comfortable contemporary hotel with all weather terrace by the river, and Weir Bistro and Bar.
As you travel east from the city the rural East Cork countryside will charm and relax you. This land is very fertile and was once home to the big houses and large farms. One such place you can still visit is Ballymaloe House, once a large family residence for the Allen family, now a world class country house hotel, farm and organic gardens. A great spot to stay and enjoy this area for a couple of days.
Places and things to see include:
Situated east of the city in Cork Harbour, Cobh is a traditional seaside town where big liners dock in the and are welcomed and waved off by the brass band. This town was the last port of call for the Titanic, where it dropped anchor at Roches Point to pick up the last passengers to board the ship before it left for its fatal journey across the Atlantic toward America. Take a walking Tour of Cobh with the Titanic Trail. Cork historian, Dr Michael Martin, creator of the Titanic Trail. Other fascinating tours include the Spike Island Tour and an eerie Ghost Walk of the town which highlights the haunted sites and paranormal activity in Cobh. You’ll also learn about Cork's American history and the Lusitania connection. Dr Martin is a mine of information. If you love history, then this activity is one not to miss.
One of Cork’s ancient market towns, Midleton is home to the Jameson Distillery. See the the ancient buildings that were once the Midleton Distillery established the 1800’s, a major centre of employment in this region for generations of families. Now home to the Jameson Experience since 1975. Visit for a guided tour and a taste of the history of this distillery past and present.
Also in Midleton, the lively Midleton farmer’s market, Ireland’s first ever farmer’s market, runs every Saturday. Founded by Darina Allen of nearby Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry. This market is the hub of activity every Saturday morning, with stalls selling seasonal and artisan produce. One big fan is Kevin Aherne of Sage Restaurant, whose now iconic #12 mile ethos was born of the original Saturday Market Menu he devised after collecting his ingredients at the Saturday morning market every week.
Raymond’s in Midleton is near to the Jameson Distillery, one of the original restaurants of the town, serving a casual dining offering of local food. The original Farmgate Cafe is also in this town, with Marog O’Brien’s legendary original cafe and farm shop serving a super menu of traditional Irish dishes and homemade cakes and desserts.
A beatuful little fishing harbour in East Cork, where the finest fish from the Celtic Sea is landed. Great outdoor activities include fishing, sailing, wind and kite surfing and sea angling. You can also visit Ballycotton Lighthouse, situated on its own offshore island, tour the lighthouse and enjoy the stunning views from the lighthouse balcony. Be sure to visit the Ballycotton Seafood Shop. You may recognise a friendly face if you have previously visited them at English Market.
Ardmore is an old and pretty seaside village with a lovely beach, a short drive from Youghal. This is the place for traditional family holidays, where kids still love to build sandcastles and have a paddle in the sea. Home to White Horses restaurant in the village, serving a menu of casual dining with local produce as a speciality. Open weekends in the off season.
If you fancy staying in Ardmore, the architecturally stunning Cliff House Hotel is situated a short walk from the village, and commands a breathtaking position overlooking Ardmore Bay. Dine out in style in the Michelin starred House Restaurant, or in relaxed ambience in the bar, with its terrace overlooking the water. You may even see dolphins as you eat!
Waterford City was founded by Vikings in 914 AD. From here its history has grown and developed. In 1167 the deposed King of Leinster failed to win Waterford, and in 1171 it was named a royal city along with Dublin by England’s King Henry II. The French Hugeunots brought with them the bread roll now known as the Waterford Blaa, which is the staple of the city and county. It’s said not a blaa is to be found after 11am in the city, when they have all been eaten by locals for breakfast!
Walking tours of Waterford reveal it’s rich history and heritage in the various quarters of the town. Reginald’s Tower was built by the Vikings, Ireland’s oldest civic building and perfectly preserved. You can visit the tower and have a tour of this ancient monument to Waterford history.
The Granville Hotel in Waterford has a history all its own. It dates back to the 1700’s Once the home of a Dutch merchant family, then sold to Thomas Francis Meagher a prominent Waterford city merchant trader. His son Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, who was born in this building in 1823, made his name in the American Civil war.
The Granville is now a family owned hotel which specialises in the ‘old school’ graceful style of hospitality and service from General Manager Richard Hurley and his team.
An eclectic style and local food experience is availble at Bodega in Waterford City. Mediterranean ideas meets Irish ingredients here, matched with great wine.
Also, a must-do is to enjoy high end dining in one of Waterford's most historical houses. The Roseville Rooms at the Faithlegg House Hotel set the scene for a magnificent culinary experience. A main dining space is connected to an annexe dining room by a conservatory style area. All three have lovely garden and countryside views.