County Cork is the essence of what makes Ireland different. The small-scale city of Cork, with its limestone bridges and Georgian facades, is a friendly place where strangers soon become good friends. The gently lilting accent is mirrored in the green hills that lead to Blarney and its famous castle, but there’s drama aplenty on the rugged fingers of land that reach out into the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and on clear nights the glorious sunsets over the wide expanse of Bantry Bay paint a lasting picture in the memory.
With its landscape dotted with small farms, charming towns, mild climate, and deep-rooted history, the county of Cork is perennially popular with visitors. The county may be Ireland's largest, Cork may be Ireland's second-biggest city, and Kinsale the largest beep on the Irish foodie radar screen, but nearly everything else here is small-scale and friendly. The towns are tiny and the roads are narrow and twisting. Brightly painted villages and toy harbors encourage you to stop and linger. From Kinsale along the coast to Glengarriff, miles of pretty lanes meander through farmland. Indeed, this is Ireland's picture-postcard country.
But as you look over the fuchsia-laden hedges that ring thriving dairy farms or stop at a wayside restaurant to sample locally sourced beef, it's difficult to imagine that a century and a half ago this area was decimated by famine. Thousands perished in fields and workhouses, and thousands more took "coffin ships" from Cobh in Cork Harbour to the New World. The region was battered again during both the War for Independence and the civil war that were fought with intensity in and around "Rebel Cork" between 1919 and 1921. Economic recovery didn't pick up until the late 1960s, and tourist development did not surge until the mid-1990s.
During the Irish economic boom, large sections of Cork's city center were rebuilt with an array of all-weather shopping malls. However, the landmark buildings survived and the streetscape got a much-needed face-lift in 2005, Cork's year as European Capital of Culture. The lilting up-and-down accent of Cork City's locals will immediately charm you, as will the generally festive air that prevails in its streets, making many visitors assume that some kind of festival is going on, even on those rare occasions when it is not. Cork has a reputation as Ireland's festival city, with jazz, film, and choral music festivals and the midsummer arts festivals all attracting huge, good-natured crowds.