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A weekend in Cork, Ireland

The plate of Manooshet Falafel appeared in front of me, straight from the oven. The freshly baked flat bread generously topped with falafel, hummus, tahini and rocket, and gently dusted with sumac made me salivate. I had been stuffing myself the whole day, but suddenly found more room in my belly for this feast. Eating traditional Palestinian food would not have been my guess on a list of things to do in Cork and yet here I was. What a treat. I also found my new Achilles heel – Saffron cake. Too good to pause even for a moment to take a photo. I inhaled all of it in a minute!

Izz Cafe’s delicious Palestinian food (left) and the English Market (right) in Cork City

While I was excited to visit Ireland’s second city with its long tradition of making butter (it was the largest butter market in the world at one point), see its majestic churches with glorious vantage points and explore its coastlines made for postcards, it was my encounters with people that I’ll always remember.

I walked up the surprisingly steep Patrick’s Hill for a view of the city; perfect on a clear day as the sun is setting

Cork has more bridges than Dublin and is the foodie capital of Ireland; the centre of Cork is basically an island separated by a river, so there are multiple bridges to cross to get from one side to another

Trying to hike across the Old Head of Kinsale

The weather forecast had gone from bad to worse. Heavy rain and strong winds starting at 2pm, I remember reading. “A little rain isn’t going to put me off; I’m going to do it,” I told myself. Little did I know what I was in for.

“Where are you headed to today?” the friendly bus driver asked me on the local bus service from Kinsale. “I’m trying to hike the Old Head of Kinsale starting at Garrylucas beach,” I replied cheerily. “Oh let me know where exactly you want to get off; I can drop you there no problem,” he said warmly.

I couldn’t help but think how different this was compared to bus journeys in London where exchanging a mere greeting with the driver is a rarity. Although admittedly we were on a minibus and I was one of only two passengers on it. The unfriendly weather arrived sooner than expected. It was just approaching 12.30pm and the heavens had opened. And in Ireland I was quickly learning that rain falls almost horizontally given the billowing wind.

“Do you have any rain gear?” the driver asked, looking quite concerned before I got down. “Yes, thank you, I’ll be fine,” I instinctively responded even though I had nothing more than a small umbrella and a winter jacket. I opened the minibus door. In a second it felt like Ironman had wrenched the door wide open, the wind howling. I gulped. This was going to be an interesting hike.

Twenty minutes later, I was completely drenched. My jeans were clinging onto my legs. My supposedly waterproof jacket was not as waterproof as I believed. I didn’t even try taking my camera out, fearful it would get damaged by the water. My umbrella had blown inside out. “One and a half hours more in this weather would be brutal,” I thought. Time for a shortcut to the Speckled Door pub.

“Table for lunch?” the friendly waitress asked automatically as I entered. She tried her best to conceal a chuckle when she discovered what a drenched wreck I was. After apologising for dripping water everywhere, I tried (in vain) to dry myself using far too many paper towels and settled down for a plate of fish and chips. I stared out of the glass bay windows at the trees swaying vigorously outside. This just wasn’t my day. Or so I thought.

Two hours later, I mustered up the courage to head back out. There seemed to be a brief respite in the weather. Strike while the iron is hot? As I was zipping up my (still wet) jacket, I heard someone calling out to me “Are you going walking in the rain?” the gentleman at the adjacent table asked. “Yes,” I replied somewhat sheepishly, realising how mad I must have seemed. “If you don’t mind waiting a few moments, we can drive you.”

And so what began as a miserable afternoon with me soaking wet, led to me befriending a kind-hearted retired couple. Sean* and Dearbhla* were staying nearby for the weekend while their house was being renovated. Little did they know their quiet post-lunch drive would turn into becoming tour guides for me! When they knew how much I was looking forward to hiking around the Old Head, they drove me across the entire stretch. And stopped for me to get down and have a quick look at the views (they just smiled and shook their heads when I asked if they wanted to jump out of the car too; like most sensible people they preferred to stay warm and dry).

The Old Head of Kinsale in the pouring rain

If you’ve come across a drone photograph of the Irish Atlantic coast that made you gasp with wonder, chances are you were looking at the Old Head of Kinsale. The iconic headland with dramatic cliffs rising from the sea has outstanding scenery throughout. That’s provided you can see it on a clear day instead of being hammered by sheets of rain.

The strong, unforgiving waves have acted on the thin layers of soft rock to create a fractured coastline with blow holes and narrow sea inlets. I managed to grab a few glimpses thanks to Sean & Dearbhla, but have an incentive to visit again on a clearer day 😉

I got back into the car only to find them animatedly playing Wordly (a word scramble app). “Vin, you must have a go,” they began, trying to teach me when they discovered I had no clue what it was. While I’m quite content living the single life, I couldn’t help but smile warmly at these two kind souls, and how they enjoyed the simple pleasures of a rainy Saturday afternoon in Kinsale.

*Names changed

Some of Sean and Dearbhla’s favourite vantage points in Kinsale
When there was a brief respite from the rain, the scenery and sunset in Kinsale were stunning


I peered tentatively through the glass door. Sunshine was beaming in. I couldn’t see anyone yet. Glancing at my watch I saw the time: 09:26am. I was the first person eagerly standing outside Ellen’s Kitchen, a small cafe at the edge of a little seaside town called Cobh (pronounced Cove).

Sunday breakfast at Ellen’s cafe in Cobh

The night before, I was reading about Spike Island which had piqued my curiosity. Just off the coast at Cobh, Spike Island was used at one point as a holding centre for thousands of prisoners who were sentenced to ‘transport.’ Many of these people were political prisoners or had committed petty crimes (more serious crimes like rape and murder were not transportable offences).

Once they were sent to the overseas colonies (Americas, Australia), the convicts were used as forced labour. In other cases people emigrated to the colonies voluntarily on a scheme where the travel cost was paid for and in return the recruits committed to working and staying for fixed periods.

“People were literally kidnapped by “man catchers” who received £4 for every person successfully captured and transported in an effort to ethnically cleanse the Irish population. It is thought as many as 50,000 people were sold to the plantations in the Americas in the 17th century.”

Cobh Heritage Centre

This morning it wasn’t before long I was sitting down, coffee mug in hand, talking to mother and daughter, Caoimhe* and Roisin*. By the strangest of coincidences, Roisin came from a military family and grew up on Spike Island when it was a barracks!

Sipping her steaming black coffee, Roisin explained, “There was a small school and the teacher used to come on a boat each day. So if there was a storm, there was no school. And school didn’t start at the same time everyday because the boat could cross over only when the tide was high enough.”

“What about food and groceries?” I asked. 

“Fresh bread and milk were delivered daily to the military barracks so you could buy that. For anything else, we (the families) had to hop across to Cobh every Saturday to buy what we needed. If you didn’t get it then or ran out mid-week, you had to somehow find a way to manage!”

*Names changed

Walking into town from Ellen’s cafe, you can cut across to a pedestrian path right by the water.

The ‘Deck of Cards’ with Cobh Cathedral in the background

#Admin Info: Food & Drink in Cobh
  • The best coffee I had in County Cork was at the Wholey Ground cafe in Cobh (€2.80 for a flat white)
  • Cobh Heritage Centre cafe for lunch: vegetable soup with bread = €5.25
#Admin Info – Spike Island

Spike Island ( starts in full swing with regular daily ferries in the summer (April onwards). Before that, it’s normally just weekend ferries. When I visited on a Sunday in March they had only 2 ferries (12pm, 1pm). The €22 return ticket includes a guided tour; the whole excursion takes about 3h45min from start to finish.

#Admin Info: Getting to Cobh from Cork City

Cobh is a 25 min train ride from Cork City’s Kent station (or 30 min bus journey) with trains departing every 1-2hrs (€10 return ticket).

#Admin Info: Food and Drink in Cork City

This includes my hit list of places I wanted to visit, but didn’t end up having enough time

  1. [Visited] Lab 82 Coffee – supposedly the best coffee in Cork
  2. [Visited] The Grumpy Bakers – for gourmet viennoiserie 
  3. [Visited] Cafe Gusto – for coffee/breakfast
  4. [Visited] Cork Coffee Roasters – for coffee
  5. [Visited] Izz Cafe – great Palestinian food – try the Zaatar/Cheese Manakeesh Combo, Spinach Pies, Msakhan, Magdoos, Warbat and Cinnamon Roll and Saffron Cake
  6. Good Day Deli – for brunch (coconut pancakes, eggs royale, turkish eggs) in a garden setting with good coffee; lots of vegan/veggie options
  7. Cafe Moly – great coffee and pastries  – does good cinnamon rolls and Portuguese custard tarts
  8. Umi Falafel 
  9. SOMA/SOMA 2 Coffee Company – great coffee
  10. Alchemy – great coffee
  11. Cortado – great coffee by the harbour
  12. Cameron Bakery
  13. Three Fools Coffee – great coffee
  14. Filter Cafe –  great coffee
  15. Sensei Cafe and Sushi Cafe – for coffee and crepe cakes
  16. Tony’s Bistro  a Cork institution for a classic Irish breakfast
  17. Myo Cafe – great for vegetarian food, coffee with a boho chic vibe
  18. Liberty Grill – brunch
#Admin Info: Getting from Cork airport to the town centre

Easy access via public transport: 2.80€ by bus each way, takes about 20 mins from the airport to city centre.

#Admin Info: Choice of Day Trip – how I chose between the Old Head of Kinsale and BallyCotton Cliff Walk (both are great options)
  • Weather – the day I was visiting was forecast to have light rain showers all day with temperatures around 8C. Given Ballycotton is a 3.5hr hike vs 2hr at Old Head of Kinsale, it made sense to have a shorter hike to avoid being wet for longer. The Old Head of Kinsale trail is also flat; so potentially easier in wetter weather.
  • Transport frequency / risk of getting stranded – while the Old Head of Kinsale journey time was longer (1h30-1h45 one way) vs Ballycotton (1h10 one way), and additionally involved a bus change at Kinsale; there were more options to/from the Old Head. For example, I was aiming for the 3.30pm journey back; if I missed this for whatever reason, there was a departure at 4.09pm and if not that, a departure at 7.09pm. From Ballycotton, there was just one departure at 4.51pm, and if I missed that, the next bus was on Monday.
  • How the day will pan out (related to transport timings) – the transport timings are such that if I went to Ballycotton, I would end up spending close to 7 hours there (for a hike that only takes 3.5hours) which would require an early morning 8.30am start and a return by 6pm. If I chose the Old Head of Kinsale, I could have a leisurely breakfast since I needed to leave Cork only at 10.45am, the timings gave me 3 hours there for a 2-hour hike, and the proximity of the nice pub to the bus stop meant I could easily squeeze in a nice lunch before getting the bus back to Cork. I’d also arrive in the city by 5pm which would leave time for a coffee before dinner. So for me, the Old Head sounded a more relaxed day, that would probably be less wet, with a nice pub lunch.
  • Views – some online reviews describe Ballycotton as one to do when the sun is out whereas the Old Head of Kinsale rarely disappoints – “if the weather is sunny you will be wowed by cliff and ocean views, if the weather isn’t so good the moody sky and sea can be equally impressive.”
Admin Info: Hiking on the Old Head of Kinsale
  • Leave Cork City around 1045 on Sat morning after breakfast, arrive back in Cork City around 1700 (journey about 1h45 min each way)
  • Take the 10:53 bus from Clontarf Street to Kinsale (Bus #226 to Kinsale): 48min/13stops; reaches Kinsale at 11:41am. Then take the 12:05 bus from Kinsale to Ballinspittle, Garrettstown (Bus #253 to Clonakilty); 27 min/4 stops, reaches at 12:32pm, then walk 1 minute to reach Garretstown Beach. Take the 1530 bus from Ballinspittle, Speckled Door Pub (Bus #253 to Kinsale); 15 min/non-stop reaches at 1545; then take the 1600 bus from Kinsale (Bus #226 to Kent Station); 47min/12 stops, reaches South Mall/Cork City at 1647
  • Prices: Return bus trip from Cork to Kinsale = €14.90; return bus trip from Kinsale to Garrylucas = €5 (bring cash!)
  • Hike outline: In total it’s a 6-7km walk that can take about 1.5-2 hours. Start the walk from the corner of Garrylucas Beach and take the clifftop path from there that goes east. Then go all the way around the Old Head and end the walk with lunch and a pint at the Speckled Door pub before taking the bus back. Note that you won’t be able to visit the tip of the headland that’s now an upmarket golf club and entrance is limited to members only (apart from two days of the year when it opens to the public).
  • If stuck in Kinsale, enjoy fresh seafood or homely food in its restaurants or a pint in one of the many old-fashioned pubs by the sea 🙂

I visited Ireland in March 2022

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