Sunday 23 October 2016

Barry Egan in Cork: 'This Dublin langer will definitely be coming back'

Enjoying the wit by the lovely Lee

Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30

The Five-star Hayfield Manor
The Five-star Hayfield Manor
Cork's English Market, which has been trading since 1788, has a massive variety of foods - and is also a great place to savour the local banter.
Hayfield Manor
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I never thought of Cork as somewhere you'd go to on holiday. (This is something to do with the fact that I am there every other month for work. Sure didn't I nearly get local lad Micheal Martin elected Taoiseach recently.)

Be that as it may, we managed to have three blissful days of holiday in what is occasionally dubbed the real capital of Ireland. (But not by anyone with any cop-on in Cork, RSVP magazine editor Paula Lenihan told me, almost huffily.)

Indeed, I never thought I would have enjoyed spending four hours walking around Cork City Gaol: an austere, cold and slightly haunting place - particularly haunting when you learn of the suicide net "stretched by the iron stairs" in 1922, or get a sense of its general 19th-century spookiness.

But enjoy Cork City Gaol I did.

We had a nose around the freezing cells (you realise how broken and sad the poor souls who languished here among the lice and the rats must have felt). We learned all sorts of facts: in 1828 the first execution took place outside the front gate, in 1825 the hangman was jailed for robbery and in 1919 yer wan Countess Markievicz was in jail here.

Sigmund Freud apparently said that the Irish are the one race for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever. Whatever about the rest of the nation, chin-stroking psychoanalysis would certainly be wasted on the Corkonians.

A people apart, they make insults such as "yer a Dublin langer" sound like the most lyrical of finely structured poetry. Cork people have a confidence that borders on intimidating, before they segue into bubbly babbling.

Cork's English Market, which has been trading since 1788, has a massive variety of foods - and is also a great place to savour the local banter.
Cork's English Market, which has been trading since 1788, has a massive variety of foods - and is also a great place to savour the local banter.

One day beneath the vaulted ceilings of the English Market I bumped into Cork's most charismatic and dapper auctioneer (and father-in-law of Ronan O'Gara), Dom Daly. After telling me he was born in Goulding's nursing home ("it no longer exists") on Wellington Road in Cork, he waxed poetic about the aforementioned "effervescence of the Cork people".

Dom added in his ultra-posh Cork accent that the locals speak in a way that can be found nowhere else in Ireland. "I was in a limousine bringing a foreign gentleman down to Kerry to have a look at a house when the limo broke down. The man turned and said to me: 'What actual language do the natives speak in Cork?'"

Whatever language it is, they speak it beautifully. Walking around the English Market - one of the oldest municipal markets of its kind in the world, the locals tell me, and trading since 1788 - you couldn't but hear endless examples of this magnificent wit.

My wife enjoyed this almost as much as she did a foot-long hot-dog from one of the hundreds of stalls. (She said she would divorce me if I put a picture of her stuffing the aforesaid super-sausage in her mouth in the paper.) I had some exquisite spiced beef from another stall while our baby had a bite of a bit of lamb from another vendor.

There is so much variety here - in the food and in the people, many of whom are true characters. You can see why Queen Elizabeth is said to have requested to visit the English Market during her tour of this country in August 2011.

After our lunch, we retired to the utter splendour of our lodgings for the next three days, the five-star Hayfield Manor, where we met another character, the hotel's general manager Ettienne van Vrede. I am not calling him a character to suck up. I am calling him a character because upon our arrival he insisted on taking me for a drive into Cork in his vintage Porsche that he had had delivered, just that minute, all the way from his native South Africa.

It was exhilarating and a bit mad (make that very mad), roaring down the road in what felt like a cramped old two-seater jet with a James-Bond-style leather interior.

The car was so old, in fact, that it had no seat belts. So I held on for dear life as Ettienne turned the corner like 007 with a South African accent. Upon returning to the hotel, the first thing I did was drink a large and becalming brandy at the bar.

Hayfield Manor
Hayfield Manor

The second thing I did was go to our suite in the hotel. It was possibly the most luxurious and certainly the largest suite I have ever stayed in in my life. I thought they must have accidentally given me, a Dublin langer, the suite of a visiting monarch.

We had His'n'Hers bathrooms. I'm surprised there wasn't a bathroom for the baby. The size and grandeur of our suite soon mattered very little as our little baby quickly trashed the place - crawling along, throwing toys and other baby detritus about like a drugged-up rock star trashing a Los Angeles hotel room in the 1970s.

Emilia had a whole 2,000 sq. feet in which to wreck to her heart's content. My wife and I had some friends from Cork over to the room for afternoon tea and cakes while Emilia did her worst.

That night, to escape the madness of a baby on a toy rampage in a giant suite, we went downstairs for dinner. But not just any dinner. We had our own butler and chef for dinner in a private room in the hotel with its own roaring fire (while the hotel laid on a babysitter).

Champagne and oysters served up to you in the European Capital of Culture 2005. There's luxury for you. And there's this. The following morning we all went for a swim at 7am in the hotel's glorious pool, followed by a dip in the hot tub outside, all before breakfast.

While mummy went for a massage and a beauty treatment in the hotel's Beautique Spa, myself and baba went for a walk into Cork city, with its hilly streets, its lanes and alleys, like a Venice by the Lee.

We made our way eventually (pushing a baby is not a walk in the park) into the Crawford Art Gallery. Emilia seemed as fascinated as I was by this high-ceilinged mini-palace of culture on Emmet Place, which has more than 2,500 works of art. It is not difficult to see why the Crawford, I was told, gets more than 200,000 highbrow visitors each year.

This Dublin langer will definitely be coming back.

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