East vs West
If Cork is the pride of Ireland, then which part of the county is the best?
We all know about Cork's insatiable desire for rivalry, their unflinching and unwavering view that they don't think themselves the best, they are the best.The need to be seen as better than all-comers seems to be hardwired into the very DNA of Corkonians.
Just ask folk from Kerry, Dublin, Waterford, Limerick... heck, ask anyone if they've ever felt inferior in the presence of someone from Cork and all that unquenchable self-belief, and the answer will always be yes.
When I gently rib a good friend of mine from Cork about the fact that the greatest ever Cork footballer, Larry Tompkins, was of course a Kildare man, he simply shrugs his shoulders and says: "He was never a Kildare man, he was just a Cork man born in the wrong county".
So, in honour of the 'People's Republic', I decided to pit Cork against one great rival it could never beat – itself.
This is a battle of east vs west, a tale of two Corks, the search for the first among equals, and I would have to decide the winner during a week-long jaunt along the southern coast.
My trip began in the east, and with no better a starting point than a bit of five-star luxury at the Fota Island Resort.
Despite the trials of Ireland's similarly once-opulent luxury hotels, Fota Island has remained stoic in its desire to deliver top end services. Staff are impeccable, service is delivered at a breakneck, always-willing-to-impress speed, and the quality of the food is gold standard, whether in the bar, the restaurant or the golf clubhouse. Accommodation was spotless and faultless, and, unlike some of the more renowned Celtic Tiger five-star retreats, Fota Island's rooms are not in any need of a breath of fresh air.
There is always plenty to do on site, with golf, games rooms and an aqua leisure centre, and there is a most excellent kids' club open throughout the day and evening.
This, as most of my trips these days seem to be, was about the children, and no better place than Fota Island Wildlife Park next door– this is Dublin Zoo by the sea, with a very relaxed atmosphere and without the throngs of the capital's zoological gardens.
Fota is also beside the beautiful town of Cobh and all its maritime and Titanic interests. The sun was out when we visited and illuminated this already sparkling gem of east Cork.
After a few days on Fota, the time had come to head for the west, in particular for Clonakilty and onwards to Inchydoney Island. Inchydoney Island Resort is one of the country's great hotels, based on location alone. Its splendid isolation on the edge of the roaring Atlantic Ocean and its vast beaches make this a real getaway location.
It's easy to slip the family for a few minutes and enjoy a solitary walk along the huge expanse of sand and sea and believe that, for one precious moment, you are the only one that matters.
When that dream comes crashing back to earth, there is always the leisure centre with its fabulous sea-water pool, the games rooms and the most chilled relaxation room, complete with piano and whiskey bar.
If ever you would want to leave the island, there is always the fabulous town of Clonakilty and all her chocolate-box characteristics, the cafés, book shops and restaurants.
I settled on the gastronomic thrill of Richie's Bistro – quite honestly one of the best eateries I have ever had the pleasure of dining in. And it was a great thing to have fed well the night before, because the following day involved whale-watching and a trip around the islands of west Cork with our skipper Nic Slocum, a former City of London worker who is now living a wonderful life in west Cork.
We set out from Baltimore Harbour, around the islands and down as far as the extraordinary Tuskar Rock lighthouse and back via the North Harbour on Cape Clear. It was a delightful day seeking out some of the 12 different whale species that have been seen here in the southernmost coastal area of Ireland.
The beauty of the journey was truly awe-inspiring and something I will never forget.
No family trip would be complete without a bit of education, so the following day I upped sticks with the eldest two and brought them to the Michael Collins Centre in the rolling hills of Castleview just outside Clonakilty.
The museum is a labour of love for Dolores and Timothy Crowley, who, along with their family, open the centre up – where the Collins story is told magnificently – every summer. There is even a recreation of the Collins assassination on an exact duplicate of the roadway at Beal Na Blath, the way it would have looked at the time.
The Crowleys have some fantastic museum pieces from Collins's life, including the Big Fella's shaving mirror, among his constant possessions as he moved from place to place before his ultimate death.
And while we're on the subject of education, there's no better form of stimulation than a bit of drama, so while you're in the area head across to Rossmore to visit one of Ireland's most isolated theatres. Gerard Finn will only be too happy to show you around what is one of the great community theatres in the country, which recently held the All Ireland Confined Drama Finals.
And so my journey has come to an end and I have to decide, did the luxury and beauty of east Cork win out against the wild beauty of west Cork?
Well, as you might expect if you put Cork -v- Cork in any competition, there will only be one result, and that is, inevitably, a draw.
For more information, see fotaisland.ie / fotawildlife.ie / inchydoneyisland.com / discoverireland.ie/cork