So, we planned another day trip, to pack it all in as it were, while home in Ireland for the summer. One of my sisters was available this particular weekend, and I asked her if going to Cork city for the day would be too much of a rush? She said if I planned to visit just a couple of places we could do it in a day no problem. Now, what did I want to see?
June knew it was a must for me to see a couple of fabulous churches, or at least significant ones, and she thought the famous Shandon Bells of St. Anne’s would be of interest, as well as a Pugin Church in Cobh, a quaint harbor town just outside of the city.
With that part of the plan taken care of I was at a loss as to what else we might do? Cork City is a place I had never actually explored, favoring the coastal spots of the county such as Kinsale, Mizen Head and Ballycotton.
“I know” said June, “how about we eat lunch at The English Market!” I had never heard of it. Embarrassing I know, I love food, love to write about it, and this particular market is the oldest food market of its kind in the country, and I had no notion of its existence. It was pretty clear that I couldn’t leave the country without visiting this food mecca.
In about 2 hours and 20 minutes we were parking the car on a narrow side-street at the entrance to St. Anne’s Church. As we got out of the car, the bells were ringing loudly in the tower, which was our destination.
The church itself was nothing spectacular, but the bell tower was worth the trip. This church sits in one of the oldest districts in Cork known as Shandon and the church was built in 1722 replacing St Mary’s Church built in 1199 but destroyed during one of Ireland’s many plunderings (this time during king William’s reign)
On entering the church we were given ear protection to stop us from going deaf as we climbed the 120 feet to the top (an element of danger always adds to the experience!
The best part was that we had the added treat of being able to ring the bells, and my daughter begged for the job. She decided to ring out the famous song The Bells of Shandon, a tune written by Francis Sylvester Mahony. June called out the numbers from an accommodating instruction book, and Ide pulled the rope of the bell with the corresponding number. She was so happy, it was all she talked about for the rest of the day!
What with our long drive and all of that bell-ringing, we had worked up quite the appetite and so piled into the car bound for The English Market. The English Market got its name merely to distinguish it from an Irish market that opened 52 years after the establishment of the now English Market.
The English Market set up by the then ruling “english” in 1766, but by 1840 when the government was reformed, an Irish market was also created. The older of the two was known as The English Market from then on.
The moment I walked through the arched entryway I was reminded of an equivalent covered food market I had the opportunity to explore earlier this year; the Piazza del Mercato Centrale in Florence Italy. Needless to say, I was transported to food heaven.
The pleasure I get from walking through a market with this much food assembled under one roof is inexplicable. The initial walk-through is usually a blur as sensory overload takes over.
In no particular order we wandered in a daze past stalls of fruits, vegetables, herbs, exotic spices, oils, olives, fresh fish siting on mountains of ice, all kinds of meat (including pigtails!), cheeses, pastas, not to mention chocolates, pastries and other sweet confections too numerous to take it all in!
There was a vendor busily cooking herb infused-sausages with mounds of frying onions, and the smell of freshly baked bread in the air. This was the place to be when your stomach is screaming to be fed, and all four of us could not wait to eat.
The problem that comes with being overly hungry is that it is hard to make a decision on what to eat when standing in a food menagerie, as this market most definitely was.
Since we all wanted to try something different, and we were tired, we decided to try out the Farmgate Cafe on the upper balcony. This was actually a recommendation from a lovely woman I met in a restaurant in Kilkenny City who was sitting at the next table. She was originally from Cork and told me that dining in the cafe, which served terrific food, was a great way to experience the “buzz” in the market.
We followed the droves of people heading for the cafe and waiting in line to see what was on the blackboard menu. The Farmgate cafe’s menu changed daily, being dictated by the market below which they literally used as their pantry; an ideal relationship.
The line was long and I thought nerves would fray by the time we got to the big counter where all of the food was displayed, but that was luckily not the case. A friendly and highly efficient gentleman went through the line asking how many in each group and then got tables lined-up for each party as they rolled off the veritable food assembly line.
We got a great table right by the food counter, and as we ate we were able to enjoy not only the clatter on the market floor, but the Farmgate staff slicing Quiche to go with salads, ladling lamb stew into bowls, and dolloping fresh cream on desserts that were irresistible to absolutely every diner that passed the register.
After our lovely lunch we walked the market once more, this time taking it all in without the added stress of hunger. We could not resist a selection of bakewell-style tarts from a lovely place called Heaven’s Cakes, which was the perfect descriptor for these little gems; they tasted so heavenly with my cup of coffee the following morning.
The day was not over yet, we still needed to get to Cobh to visit St. Coleman’s Church. The town of Cobh sits on a very steep hill, so steep in fact that I was reminded of the tireless upward slanting streets of Cortona, Italy, a town I lived in for 3 months this year (yes, what a life!).
Here is what I love about catholic churches; the surprise shock and awe factor. What I mean is that these dramatic buildings which tower to the heavens, are located in a place where they literally spring out at unsuspecting mortals, making them cower in respect.
You may, (as we were), deliberately be walking to a church, know it is just around the next corner, but when you turn that corner your breath is taken away by the indomitable size of the building. If you had any notion of superiority it is wiped away in that instant.
And so it was when we climbed the steep street in Cobh leading to the Gothic-Style 19th century Cathedral of St. Coleman’s. It was very misty that afternoon and the black stone of the church disappeared into the tips of the clouds, making it appear never-ending.
The church facing me in the hilly town of Cobh was a prime example of the work of the famously talented and controversial English architect E. W. Pugin who spear-headed the huge revival of the gothic style. It is a masterpiece which boasts a carillon of 47 bells, the most in Ireland (and Britain) which ring out over this colorfully clad harbor town with regularity.
Inside the vastly spacious interior we lit candles for both the living and the dead.
We left Cobh as the signs of evening became to loom and made our way back home. I was more than satisfied with my day in Cork and will recall the food at the English Market and hear the ringing of The Shandon Bells whenever I feel homesick (right about now).