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Cork History

Cork has had it hard: browbeaten, brawled over, burned down and rebuilt; no wonder it never outshone Dublin in the capital city stakes.

Maimed by the Black Death, scared by starvation and ravaged by religious reformation, it’s remarkable that only a million Corkonians emigrated in the harsh winter of 1846-7.

That period, known as Black 47, was the toughest of the Great Famine. When potato crops failed, starving souls flooded Cork in search of food or work. They found full workhouses, beggars and new cemeteries being dug.

It’s not what Saint Finbarr envisioned when Cork was begun as a monastic site in the 6th century. Vikings settlers were more forward-thinking; their arrival in the 900s determined Cork’s destiny as a trading port.

With one of the world’s largest natural harbours, water trade became the city’s bread and butter, especially the latter. In the 16th century, Cork’s butter spread as far as the West Indies.

If only Cork’s history was all plain sailing. A long and complicated period of British interference started in 1169 with the Norman conquest of Ireland. By 1177, Cork was controlled by Henry II of England.

Prince John chartered and walled the city in 1185, before the bubonic plague wiped out half the population in 1349; more perished in a fire in 1354.

Control of Cork then continually changed hands in a restless period of war, revolt, bible burning and expulsion. It ended when Oliver Cromwell granted the Protestants command of Cork, something they retained until the 19th century.

The centre of the War of Independence in the 1900s, Cork was marred with curfews, violence and murder. Temporary constables, known as the Black and Tans, committed many atrocities. In 1920, The City Hall and Carnegie Library were burned to the ground.

Stability returned and an economic upturn (known as the Celtic Tiger) transformed Cork in the 1980s and 1990s. It became European Capital of Culture in 2005 before the global financial crisis poached it in its prime.

Did you know? 
• Sir Walter Raleigh is thought to have planted Ireland’s first potato near Cork around 1588.
• The first steam ship to cross the Atlantic, The Sirius, weighed anchor from Cork in 1838.
• Cork was the last port of call for the Titanic before its ill-fated maiden voyage.

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Featured Hotels


Vienna Woods Hotel

If you're after the charm of countryside living, you'll find it behind the yolk-coloured walls of Vienna Woods Hotel. Surrounded by some 9 hectares (22 acres) of woodland, this 18th century rural retreat is a charismatic and comfortable mid-range choice that mixes vintage furniture with modern facilities. There's free Wi-Fi, beds to lose weekends in and an onsite restaurant that does hearty Emerald Isle grub .

Hotel Isaacs

Most people come to Hotel Isaacs for its infamous Greenes restaurant, which serves up fine Irish dining and excellent wines on a charming little patio. Its rooms don't quite compete with the foodie flamboyance downstairs, but they're clean, spacious and practical, with a price tag that won't melt the credit card. Pick from 47 rooms, which come with en-suite bathrooms, complementary Wi-Fi, cable TV and one of the best locations in the city.

Crawford House

Just a 10 minute walk from the city centre, this smart, modern guesthouse is excellent value for money. Amalgamating three traditional houses, all rooms come with its king-size beds, huge baths and excellent traditional Irish breakfasts, served up in the conservatory. The staff here are lovely too. The quieter rooms are found at the back of the hotel.

Fota Island Hotel

It may be a little bit out of town, but it would be hard for you to swing a golf club anywhere near this 5-star retreat if it were any closer to Cork. The greens on its Championship-standard courses are as fine as the sheets in its ample, luxurious rooms. It has a gym, tennis courts and yoga, if you want to keep fit, plus a fine dining restaurant, complete with terrace, if you don't. Stylish, sophisticated and truly welcoming, Fota Island Hotel is worth blowing the budget.

Castlemartyr Resort

It may be 30 minutes out of Cork, but if you book a room at Castlemartyr Resort, you couldn't have truly envisioned leaving its grounds. This vast country manor dates back from the 17th-century and has the formal gardens to prove it. They, though, don't quite do its elegance justice. Its grace is admired from up close: it's found in the ruins of its 800-year-old castle, in the soothing splendours of its spa, around the 18 holes of its challenging golf course and in the unforgettable dining experience of its Bell Tower restaurant. Rooms, as you may have guessed, are worthy of the most magnanimous guest too.

Clarion Hotel Cork

Down on the promenade, next to the River Lee, the Clarion Hotel Cork is a stylish accommodation choice that isn't shy of stepping into world of avant-garde design. Its sleek rooms are generous and ultramodern, with clean lines and munificent king-size beds, while its fitness centre (including swimming pool and spa) squeezes in everything from aerobics to yoga. Step into its imaginative atrium though, and it's a world of fake grass, flaky croissants, fluffy sofas and strange, egg-shaped seating coves.