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Finding Inspiration in the City: Cork

Updated: Aug 14, 2018

In Cork, I was accepted by a Couchsurfing host to stay at Atkin's Hall - a former mental health hospital opposite the River Lee and huge building built between 1845-1855, which has since been converted into appartments. My host was a doctor, specialising in lungs and he worked long shifts - I was amazed by his dedication to his patients, often receiving calls in his free time after a busy day. His passion was storytelling, so we had lots to talk about and he was keen to share about his experiences visiting the Cape Clear Island International Storytelling Festival which happens every September on the island in County Cork.

One of his favourite storytellers was Daniel Morden, from Wales and he recommended that I listen to his CD, 'The Sleeping King,' a collection of English folk stories by Hugh Lupton, Daniel Morden & Nick Hennessey. We listened to some clips of Daniel on YouTube and I was delighted by the mysterious and passionate atmospheres he created. Daniel will be performing at this year's Cape Clear festival - for more information about the program and artists, please visit:

An extra performer playing this year at Cape Clear, includes the poet David Jackson from the city, who is based down in West Cork and some of his poems, inspired by the landscapes and nature of the area can also be found online:

Cork is full of antique shops, second-hand bookshops, artists, health shops, parks and has a grungy, raw, unique feel. It is definitely full of surprises, including the delightful Village Hall Vintage Market & Studio on St Patrick's Quay where I ordered a pot of tea with a friend and sat drinking in the midst of antiques.

Photos from Village Hall Vintage Market & Studio on St Patrick's Quay

There are so many antique shops and secondhand stores in Cork and a good guide for exploring these hidden gems is the Cork Vintage Map which features flea markets, vinyl shops, antiquarian books, vintage clothing and can be found online:

Vibes and Scribes is an amazing bookshop including new and second-hand books yet it also has a separate shop specialising in art supplies, wool and crafts - it's a huge selection and I would highly recommend it.

After arriving in Cork for my third visit, a friend invited me for tea and we made our way up to Quay Co-op Vegetarian restaurant and whole-food shop which also has a small second-hand bookshop at the back and a great atmosphere. I have eaten dinner at this restaurant before and was impressed by the portions and nutritious content.

We sat up in the restaurant, overlooking the River Lee and enjoyed rooibos tea and vegan chocolate and raspberry slices. Michael was from Dublin and had recently been involved in homeless activism and also meditation with the Kagyu Samye Dzong Tibetan Buddhism charity in Dublin. A mandolin player, he was exploring new sounds and was eager to share about how he really appreciated artists who create some inspiring new landscapes and beautiful futuristic visions, such as performance artist, Meredith Monk. In the following video she talks about what she calls 'antidotes' and the healing power that artists can provide:

Songs of Ascension by Meredith Monk at Walker Arts Centre (2008)

The Quay Co-op also has a good range of really nice organic food but there are many health shops across Cork including a good selection in the English Markets and there is also a good selection of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Cork such as 143, Cafe Serendipity and Paradiso (book early because it can be really busy!)

The following day, I had the chance to visit the Pink Octopus Dreadshop, an amazing boutique specialising in dreadlock creation and maintenance and run by a beautiful lady from France called Caroline who set up her independent business in Cork two years ago - now she works alongside lovely Melanie, from the Netherlands.

Later I spent time meandering through Fitzgerald's Park which has a small lake and fountain, just on the edge of the River Lee. The grounds of the nearby university are also green, with many trees.

Fitzgerald's Park

Back in November 2017, I visited my friend Pony who was studying at Cork university for a semester and she highly recommended visiting Fota House and gardens - it's a great place for anyone looking for some peace and a bit of nature - the gardens are full of huge trees, pavilions, stone chairs, an arboretum and maintained gardens. I would recommend visiting in the Summer since the house and cafe closes up in Winter. Blarney Castle with its magical grounds and gardens are just 8km to the North of Cork city and also definitely worth a visit - I went as a teenager and found the land to be very enchanting. Built over 600 years ago, the castle is famous for its stone which, according to folk legend, if kissed, will bestow the 'gift of the gab,' yet it is also associated with many other legends, mysterious stones and treasures and stories including the Seven Sisters.

A circle of seven rocks stands on the grounds and it is believed that a King of Munster who had seven daughters and two sons once needed to defend his land against a rival clan chief and his sons were killed. The army returned to the castle, passing this ancient druid's circle and in grief, the King ordered that two of the nine stones be pushed down to commemorate his sons. The seven remaining stones are still standing.

On the grounds, three ancient yew trees (Taxus baccata) are standing, known as the The Three Wise Men and it is believed that they are 600 years old.

The Seven Sisters

(Photos from

Finding the love in Cork.

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