“You must be from America,” the bartender said to me in the pub after I ordered a Guinness.
Ugh, is it that obvious?! I was frankly too tired for his comment. Exhausted after my plane ride from Iceland to Ireland, I soon found out my hostel wouldn’t let me check in for another three hours. Left without many options, I lugged around my backpack aimlessly until I stumbled into a pub.
For the record, I didn’t even want to go into that particular pub in the first place. After I had first strolled in, the maybe three people inside all stared at me as if I were a lost puppy–but in the dirty-island-dog kind of way, not the cute-baby-golden-retriever way. As soon as I backtracked out of there, though, the skies opened as they so often do in Ireland, and rain descended.
So, back into the pub I went.
“Yep, you guessed it right,” I replied, a bit grumpy. “What’s wrong with Guinness?”
“Here in Cork, we brew our own stout: Beamish and Murphy’s. Order a Beamish, trust me.”
Ordering a Beamish taught me the first and most important lesson I took away from Cork--the city has an extremely unique identity, in which the people there declared that Cork was the “real capital” of Ireland. The fact that Cork brews its own stout is a perfect example.
Cork was a beautiful city where people spoke in a higher-pitched Irish accent, and pronounced Cork like “Caark, Bai.”
In this lovely, river-surrounded hub, you can find seemingly endless rows of pubs. Rearden’s, on Washington Street, served up delicious pizza with their pints and had a quirky stage for live music.
Meanwhile, Tom Barry’s, nestled along Barrack Street in South Cork, had an older-style pub and friendly bartenders (thanks, Ellie!). Fionnbarra’s also laid south of city center, but the colorful beer garden was worth the walk. And Chamber’s, the local gay nightclub, turned out to be an especially fun spot, especially after the enormous Cork Pride Parade–which I somehow finagled my way into leading.
With the help of my new friend Muru, I even found a pub called Sober Lane that live-streamed Game of Thrones. Bartenders dished out mini bottles of Jager every time a character uttered the word, “Dragon” (FYI: season 7, episode 4 was a fun time to be in Sober Lane).
There were so many excellent pubs in Cork, it would have taken me weeks (and a more seasoned liver) to try them all and describe them here.
But what I found most striking about Cork wasn’t the nightlife, the old barracks and bunkers, the outdoor heated beer gardens, the architecture or even the Beamish. It was the people.
The people of Cork had a unique, admirable sense of loyalty to their home. A group of guys I met at the Pride Parade soon told me that Cork was called the “Rebel County.”
The term first gained traction in the 15th century, although Cork was involved in warring long before that. In the 9th century, the people of Waterford and Cork destroyed a Viking castle in Cork, retaking the land for themselves.
About six centuries later, in 1491, Maurice fitz Thomas FitzGerald, the earl of Desmond, and the city of Cork backed Perkin Warbeck, a “pretender” to the British throne. Cork then supported Warbeck’s rebellion against King Henry VII of England. After that, the British monarchy began referring to Cork as the “rebel county.”
The unofficial slogan resurfaced during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War in the early 1900’s. Cork was a stronghold for Irish Republicans, Sinn Fein politicians and IRA members. Much of the violence occurred in County Cork, which contained a fifth of all fatalities on the entire Irish island between 1917 and 1923, according to some sources. British forces even burnt out all of Cork’s city center in 1920.
After the Anglo-Irish truce, which was a compromise that left Northern Ireland a part of the U.K., anti-treaty Republicans broke with the Free State of Ireland government. This signaled the start of the Irish Civil War and Cork was left the last Republican-occupied city left before the end of the war in 1923.
Still today, there’s a noticeable Irish Republican presence. Eight Sinn Féin politicians–the Republican Worker’s Party of Ireland–are currently serving on Cork City Council, and the city is dotted with memorials commemorating IRA volunteers who were killed in the War for Independence. Even some of the guys I made friends with were involved in Sinn Féin, and held a banner declaring so at the pride parade.
Although the times of Viking invasions, wars and the Troubles were over, Cork’s rebellious spirit remained. I think that’s why the residents were unlike any others I met for the duration of my Ireland stay. They were fiercely loyal to their friends, their city and their history. They denounced the Brits, cherished their surroundings, celebrated Gaelic culture–and raised a pint of Beamish in celebration to it all.