Barry Egan's Fota Opportunity: Yerrah, they've got some neck in Cork
'I've never met an animal I didn't like," the late Doris Day once said, "and I can't say the same thing about people."
My family and I clearly concur with the first part of that statement as we are regulars to Fota Wildlife Park. It is one of our favourite spots in Co Cork. Our visits follow a certain pattern.
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We start with a treat in the Savannah Cafe just inside the entrance gate, then we buy something ridiculous (ridiculous because aforesaid purchase is invariably never heard of again within a week or less of leaving the park) like an animal mask in the Serengeti Gift Store, before setting off on our long and enjoyable trek around the 100-acre wildlife sanctuary. This usually includes having a goo at the giraffes, ostriches and zebras out on the open plain and then on to see the Asian lions (which are usually sleeping on rocks - we sing a certain song:
All together now, don't be shy:
'A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh/A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh/In the jungle, the mighty jungle/The lion sleeps tonight/In the jungle the quiet jungle/ A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh...' )
Once we have finished our song, we nervously observe the Sumatran tigers on the prowl, watch the monkeys and gibbons climbing on the branches, the rhinos lying around in the mud, and the scimitar-horned oryx doing whatever it is they do, to name but a few of the creatures on view at this award-winning zoo.
All in all, Fota Wildlife Park is a great family day out. We also feed the ducks by the lake, then feed ourselves with some lovely stone-baked pizza and ice cream, and then get the train back to the entrance. Such a great five hours that we went back two days later and did it all again.
We were based for four wonderful days in a beautiful three-bedroom lodge at the nearby Fota Island Hotel and Spa. The lodge is enormous and so fabulously well appointed that during our time at the chic self-catering lodges, I actually became a new man of sorts.
I cooked for my wife and kids with ingredients I bought fresh in the English Market in Cork on our first day. So on a sunny spring evening looking across the Rebel County we ate outside on the patio: pan-fried hake with lemon butter and crab cakes, with strawberries and cream to finish.
On another beautiful evening basking in the views of the surrounding countryside, I served up steaks with a lovely salad and crab cakes to start. It was al fresco fine dining courtesy of Daddy Cool (that's me.) The kids and their mother loved it. What made it even more wonderful is that all we had to do was get up off our chairs and we could go for a long walk in the hotel's grounds, which we did after dinner most nights.
And then on another night we spoiled ourselves and went to the hotel's fabulous restaurant for desserts.
That was the life.
We usually had a swim in the hotel's pool after brekkie, before heading out for the day. On our second day we went for a walk around Cork city and had a lovely lunch in hipster hangout The Oyster Tavern off Patrick's Street.
I had to try the oysters, but had to sadly decline the delightful cocktail menu as I was driving. After lunch, we had a leisurely walk around the beautiful grounds of UCC. Then we drove to the heritage town of Cobh.
It was a bit of a journey from the centre of the city, (Sure, I'm a clueless Dub langer!) but it was worth the effort. It was very sad to realise that Cobh was the often final departure point for millions of Irish people who left for North America between 1848 and 1950. Cobh was, of course, the last port of call for Titanic. It was also tragic to learn that many of the victims of the Lusitania that was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off the coast of Cork on May 7, 1915 were laid to rest in the Old Church Cemetery close to Cobh.
I told my utterly bemused young son that Roy Keane, once of daddy's team Manchester United, played for Cobh Ramblers.
Our rambles the following day also took us to another beautiful town by the sea, Kinsale, which the kids loved. And yes, I bought fresh fish here straight off the boat that I cooked for tea when we got back to Fota.
On the journey back to the hotel from Kinsale, we sang songs in the car. I even sang The Sultans of Ping's Where's Me Jumper? Complete with possibly casually racist Cork-ish shrieks for emphasis on the chorus.
We had a great holiday. I think I have finally warmed to the place. I love the scenery and the history, the banter and the food. Despite sitting in-between, and working with, two lovely Cork people for the guts of 25 years at the Sindo, it took me a while to get my head properly around Cork or its ways. So, when someone calls you a langer to your face, is it a form of affection? Michael Collins possibly prefigured this Cork conundrum in 1922 when he said: "They'll never shoot me in my own county."
On our day, we went back to Fota Wildlife Park to say goodbye to the animals (we became members too) then drove to the English Market for another potter around. We had fish and chips in a cafe before going for an aimless walk around the real capital.
On our final night in Cork, I was exhausted from all the cooking (and cleaning up afterwards as the kids and mummy played in the garden) that we had a goodbye meal in the magnificent restaurant at Fota Island Hotel and Spa.
It won't, however, be goodbye. I'm going back with the family to Co Cork soon for another wonderful family holiday. You'd want to be a langer not to want to go here for your summer hols, wouldn't you?
A world away from the hustle and bustle and only eight miles from the dynamic city of Cork, the award-winning five-star Fota Island Resort lies at the heart of a peaceful island, surrounded by gorgeous scenery and mature woodlands.
Lying in a 780-acre estate, the gates mark the entrance to a unique combination of luxurious five-star hotel and spa, residential lodges, Fota Island Adventure, championship golf courses and a world-class golf academy, making it the perfect option for any families looking for a memorable break this summer.
For more information, visit fotaisland.ie, or call 021 488 3700
NB: This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.
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