Travel: Open all hours in Cork
All roads lead to Cork this June for the Irish Open, but away from the fairways Tanya Sweeney discovers the beautiful county has much more to offer visitors
It wouldn't be summer in Ireland without a bracing trip around a golf course, and the Irish Open is the Big Daddy of all events in this summer's golf calendar (June 19-22).
Cork will be the beautiful backdrop for this year's 72-hole tournament; Irish and international celebrities will make their way to the Fota Island Resort (Tel 021 488 3700, or see fotaisland.ie) to cheer on the world's golfing elite. Among the homegrown heroes hoping to defeat defending champion Paul Casey are Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.
East Cork is sure to become something of a Mecca for celebrity fans over the weekend, though whether McIlroy's tennis-pro fiancee Caroline Wozniacki will make an appearance at Fota Island remains to be seen. For serious star-spotting opportunities, make haste to the Pro Am Day (June 18) where people from the world of entertainment will pit their putting skills against the pros. Tickets for this event start from only €10; see irishopen.ie for more information.
For those intent on making a real weekend of it, the wilds of East Cork are waiting to be discovered. Next door to the Irish Open extravaganza is the Fota Wildlife Park (Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, 021 481 2678, fotawildlife.ie). Billed as one of Ireland's top family attractions, this is no common-or-garden zoo. Animals thrive in a free-range environment at Fota Wildlife Park. Among the park's highlights is the Cheetah Run, which makes the animals work for their food by suspending it on a wire that travels 10 feet off the ground at approximately 65 miles per hour.
Nearer the sea at Midleton lies the family-friendly Trabolgan Holiday Village (Whitegate, East Cork, call 021 466 1551 or log onto trabolgan.com).This 140-acre venue boasts a host of indoor and outdoor activities for visitors of all ages. From nightly entertainment for grown-ups to a host of activities for kids and teenagers, there's never a dull moment in this buzzy holiday village.
In nearby Cobh, history buffs will find much to like at the Titanic Experience in Cobh (20 Casement Square, Cobh, Co Cork, Tel 021 481 4412 or log onto titanicexperiencecobh.ie). As everyone knows, Cobh was the last port that the famous ship departed from before its fateful maiden voyage to America. 123 passengers boarded the liner at Cork; visitors can retrace their footsteps and discover the strong Irish links to one of history's most notable moments. Here, history is brought back to life thanks to plenty of modern-day wizardry: think cinematic shows, scene sets, holographic imagery and touch-screen technology.
If you have a nose for revelry on the Irish Open Weekend, meanwhile, the Old Midleton Distillery (irishwhiskey trail.com) will be open for business. The 150-year-old complex – which has recently been restored to its former glory – is responsible for producing 24 million bottles of Jameson, Powers and Paddy Irish whiskey each year. After one of their historic whiskey tours, you'll be in no doubt that the humble uisce beatha gives Rory McIlroy a run for his money in the 'best Irish export' stakes.
Over the weekend, summer in the (second) city gets off to a spectacular start with a host of musical visitors a stone's throw from the 72 holes. Tom Jones (June 19) brings the party as only he can to the Marquee in the Cork Docklands, while Imelda May sings the rockabilly blues there on June 21. Among the other high points of the weekend are vocal superstars Il Divo, who will join The City of Cork Symphony Orchestra for A Musical Affair: The Greatest Songs of Broadway Live at Musgrave Park (June 21). With an open-air, five-hour performance planned, this should be a musical event to remember. See ticketmaster.ie for information on all events.
The pubs and clubs of Cork City will also be experiencing Irish Open fever all weekend. The Bodega (St Peter's Market, Cornmarket Street, Tel 021 427 3756, or log onto bodegacork.ie) is a restaurant-cum-nightclub that springs to life after hours thanks to a selection of local DJs. Elsewhere, Havana Browns nightclub on Hanover Street (Tel 021 427 1969, havanabrowns.ie) has a prestigious VIP area and thumping tunes aplenty, making it a favourite with revellers in the People's Republic. Rearden's (26 Washington Street, Cork, Tel 021 427 4445, or log onto reardens.com) – reportedly a favorite watering hole of local lad Roy Keane – is a joint with an antique, shabby old-bar feel and a late licence to boot.
Soakage aside, there's plenty of culinary riches on offer too, as Cork has well and truly cemented its reputation as the country's foodie heaven. Amid the golfing action, sort some serious sustenance out at Ballymaloe (Shanagarry, Midleton, Cork, Tel 021 465 2531, or log onto ballymaloe.ie), the food institution that's right on Fota Island's doorstep. The Ballymaloe restaurant combines more than 50 years of expertise and know-how from three of the country's best-known cooks – Myrtle, Darina and Rachel Allen. If you have time on your hands, book yourself in for one of their famous cookery courses, too.
Elsewhere, whet your appetite on the Fabulous Food Trail (fabfoodtrails.ie), a walking tour that appeals to a broad range of visitors from enthusiastic foodies to those getting to grips with what Cork has to offer. This two-and-a-half hour walk, visits markets (including the renowned English Market), cheesemongers, fishmongers, butchers, bakers and other artisan traders. With a dollop of local history and architecture thrown in, the Fabulous Food Trail is the perfect way to stock up on local delicacies and experience the best of Ireland's food capital.
Another walk – the East Cork Food Trail (discoverireland.ie) – offers a fresh and tasty perspective on the area's rich maritime heritage. Stretching from Carrigaline to Midleton and Youghal, it draws on the area's varied artisan food producers, farmers' markets, wild Atlantic seafood and fine dining facilities to offer an above-par gourmet experience. Try Carrigaline Farmhouse Cheese, buy superb fish from Ballycotton Seafood and don't miss Ahern's seafood restaurant in Youghal.
The West Cork Food Trail ( discoverireland.ie), meanwhile, takes visitors from Kinsale to the Mizen Peninsula; stopping off at Deasy's in Clonakilty and Kalbo's in Skibbereen, as well as artisans like Sally Barnes' Woodcock Smokery and Gwen's Chocolate Shop in Schull.
For more information on taking a great weekend break during this year's Irish Open, see discoverireland.ie.