Cork City received its first charter in 1185 from Prince John of Norman England, and it takes its name from the Irish word corcaigh, meaning "marshy place." The original 6th-century settlement was spread over 13 small islands in the River Lee. Major development occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries with the expansion of the butter trade, and many attractive Georgian-design buildings with wide bowfront windows were constructed during this time. As late as 1770 Cork's present-day main streets—Grand Parade, St. Patrick’s Street, and the South Mall—were submerged under the Lee. Around 1800, when the Lee was partially dammed, the river divided into two streams that now flow through the city, leaving the main business and commercial center on an island, not unlike Paris's Île de la Cité. As a result, the city has a number of bridges and quays, which, although initially confusing, add greatly to the port's unique character.
Cork can be very "Irish" (hurling, Gaelic football, televised plowing contests, music pubs, and peat smoke). But depending on what part of town you're in, Cork can also be distinctly itself—the sort of place where hippies, gays, and farmers drink at the same pub.