American artist and writer Evin O’Keeffe grew up near Washington, D.C., and got bitten by the travel bug early. But after seeing the world, she decided to plant her roots in Cork City, where she has lived for the past six years—now with her husband and son. In addition to keeping up with her family and keeping her blogs, Evin OK and 40 Shades of Life, up to date, O’Keeffe is founder and creative director of Anchor and Bee and a member of the Irish Food Bloggers Association. Here are a few of Evin’s favorite things about the riverside city she calls home.
Follow Evin’s story on Twitter @freckledpast.
Cork Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to the English Market.
April and May are the best times to visit my city because it’s not tourist season so there are good hotel deals and there is a spell of early summer weather in spring. No matter the time of year, any given day brings a chance of rain and sun.
You can see my city best from the bell tower of St. Anne’s of Shandon Church on the north side of the city. Ring the bells on your way up. Locals have nicknamed its four clocks “the four-faced liar” because each face shows a slightly different time due to warping over the years.
Locals know to skip chain restaurants and generic pubs and check out places that focus on quality cooking with local ingredients instead. If the way to the heart is through the stomach, then the English Market is Cork’s heart and its stomach. The English Market Food Experience publicizes a list of pubs, restaurants, and cafés serving up the very best of what Cork food producers have to offer.
The 2020 Gallery (for etchings and art), Opus II music store (for handmade bodhráns), the English Market, Shandon Sweets (for handmade candy—since 1928!), and O’Conaill’s Chocolatier are the places to buy authentic, local souvenirs.
In the past, notable people like musician Rory Gallagher, Pennsylvania founder William Penn, political leader Michael Collins, labor organizer Mother Jones, algebra pioneer George Boole (Boolean!), and actors Cillian Murphy and Jonathan Rhys Meyers have called my city home.
My city’s best museum is Crawford Gallery because it has long-term and short-term exhibits, many focused on Irish artists, in a historic building with a gourmet café on the main floor. But don’t count out the Glucksman Gallery, a contrastingly modern structure with amazing light and thought-provoking exhibits, at University College Cork.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that walking is the ideal way to enjoy the little architectural details. So make sure to pack comfortable shoes.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is walking around town and window shopping, on a boat in the River Lee or marina, or having a picnic in Fitzgerald Park.
My city really knows how to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day because it’s an authentic and historic city embracing its Irish-ness with a festival for the occasion.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they end their sentences with “like,” “boy,” or “so.” Or if they drink local brews (like Eight Degrees, Franciscan Well, Mountain Man, Rising Sons, Longueville Cidre, Beamish, or Murphy’s Stout) or beverages (like Cork Dry Gin or Tanora soda).
Just outside my city, you can visit Fota Wildlife Park in Little Island, Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, Blarney Castle, and Ballymaloe House and Cookery School. Go farther afield to explore Goughan Barra Park or the coastline of West Cork. Some say it is a place to reconnect with your soul. I certainly breathe more deeply out there.
My city is known for being its thick Irish accents and rebellious nature, but it’s people are really friendly, individual, and have diverse, albeit sometimes thick, accents.
The best outdoor market in my city is Saturday’s Irish Market on Cornmarket and the indoor open-air English Market (Monday through Saturday).
Fenn’s Quay is my favorite place to grab breakfast because they have the best fruit scones, but I also love Nash 19 for their potato cakes. Arthur Mayne’s is the spot for late-night eats—that or Chipsy Kings for a guilty serving of fries.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I enjoy free music from the city’s many street buskers. Even with €5 in my pocket I can have a luxurious outing, including visiting a museum, picking up a book at a charity shop, and enjoying a hot chocolate from Idaho Café or a cup of locally roasted coffee at Cork Coffee Roasters.
To escape the crowds, I order a cup of tea and find a perch in Farmgate Café to look down at the hive of activity in the English Market. For complete escape, I love the Cork City Library, especially the music library in the back. Local tip: I find that the city is at its quietest between 10:30-11:30 a.m. and 2:30-3:30 p.m.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Stephen Fry because even though it’s not glamorous or much for bling, it’s substance through and through with a brilliant sense of humor and compassion. Oh, and a voice you could listen to all day.
The dish that represents my city best is spiced beef, Barry’s tea and a scone, or fresh fish or berries from West Cork. A local stout or one of the city’s many fine craft beers (Eight Degrees, Franciscan Well, Mountain Man, Rising Sons, Longueville Cidre) or Tanora (tangerine soda) are my city’s signature drinks. Sample them at Bradley’s Off-Licence (a fourth generation Cork business started in 1850) on North Main Street.
The English Market is my favorite building in town because the natural light streams in to the area where the fountain and Farmgate Restaurant are, making it a very happy place.
Jaywalking with an open beer in front of a police car and not being ticketed could only happen in my city.
In the spring you should visit Blackrock Castle Observatory and take a long walk along the water.
In the summer you should watch a cricket match at Cork Cricket Club.
In the fall you should enjoy the trees’ colorful confetti in Fitzgerald Park and the Mardyke Walk.
In the winter you should sip an O’Conaill’s hot chocolate or Cork Coffee Roasters coffee while strolling around the city enjoying the holiday decorations.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Pinocchio’s Toy Store on Paul Street.
The best book about my city is Star of the Sea, by Joseph O’Connor, because though it’s about the people who left Cork City seeking a better future in America during the Potato Famine, it’s also a rich and breathtaking true tale of real bravery in the face of uncertainty and hope.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “The Banks of My Lovely Lee,” or anything by the band Fred.
In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it is friendly, sincere, fun, and food-loving.