I reverted to form on 25 January 1998 and slept in until about 10 am. From hostel high on a hill I spotted the famous Shandon Church Tower. The pink tower stood out well against the battleship gray sky so I used it to navigate my way through the winding streets and alleys on a cold Sunday morning. Along the way I spied grafitti that read “Religion is a fairy tail” (sic). Apparently this represents a popular opinion in this part of Cork because when I reached the Church of St. Anne it was locked and the area desolate even though the sign on the door stated the only Mass of the day started a little less than an hour earlier.
Not wanting to look for another church, I moved on to plan B: a day trip to the port town of Cobh. I took the commuter spur of Iarnród Éireann to Cobh which is pronounced “cove” and was called Cove under English rule and then Queenstown after Victoria landed there for her visit to Ireland. Many of the “coffin ships” carrying emigrants from Ireland departed from Cobh. Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island in 1892, departed from Cobh and there are statues of her at both locations. It was the last port of call for Titanic before it sailed off to its destiny with the iceberg. Rescuers from Cobh brought back survivors of the Lusitania, and the bodies of those who didn’t survive.
The main attraction for me was The Queenstown Experience a multimedia museum depicting the town’s maritime history. I was lucky in that the museum was actually supposed to be closed for the season but was open for a special group event that day and thus they let me in as well. It is an excellent and well-thought out museum. The town of Cobh was cute too, although a dreary winter’s day is not the best time for strolling along the harbor.
That evening in Cork, I go on a pub crawl in search of stout and Irish trad. Cork is home to it’s own stouts, Murphy’s (a worthy competitor to Guinness) and Beamish (a low-cost but still tasty brand). The music is a little more challenging to find. I visit the following four pubs:
- An Spailpín Fánac (“The Wandering Potato Picker”) – there was a session here but hidden in a snug and not too audible. This pub rubbed me the wrong way so I moved on.
- Rosie O’Grady’s – here the music was recorded, but the Beamish stout was good and I try a Caffrey’s Ale for good measure.
- Donkey’s Ears – this pub specialize in reggae, but once again it was recorded music albeit expertly spun in Dancehall Stylee by the dj. The reggae beat and the swirling lights make for a fun, surreal experience for drinking stout, but I’m in search of Irish music so I move on to
- The Lobby – this is Irish heaven, the right mix of stout on draft and a session of trad with the musicians playing at a table right in the middle of everything. As an unexpected bonus, I get to chat with Irish people for the first time, mostly a middle-aged woman named Jean. When I tell her I live in Virginia, she asks “Is that where they filmed Little House on the Prairie?” I try to explain that it was set in Minnesota, but probably filmed in California, neither of which is anywhere near Virginia.
Sadly I have to leave early as my American constitution revolts against having too much fine Irish stout. I make it out on the quay where I end up polluting the River Lee with the contents of my stomach. I somehow stagger my way back to the hostel.
Back in the USA, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and the game is about to kickoff. But I will spend most of my night by a cold toilet wondering if I will die first from alcohol poisoning or hypothermia.
The tower of the Church of St. Ann’s famed for its Shandon Bells.
A tiered hillside of rainbow-colored houses in Cobh.