On the 8th of January Cork City was crowned European Capital of Culture for 2005, with what was the most spectacular celebrations ever seen in Ireland. Over 100,000 people from all over the country and Europe joined the native Corkonians in ushering in what is set to be a momentous year for Cork.
Being Capital of Culture, sets Cork on the European and World stage with a vast and unique programme of events, highlighting Cork's cultural excellence and promoting the rich heritage of this vibrant and multicultural, maritime city as a city of arts and literature, both in the English and Irish language, a city of music and merriment and a city and county of great sporting prowess.
Every month, every week, every day of 2005, Cork's venues, stadia, museums, galleries even its parks and streets will be presenting the work of important Irish artists, writers and musicians as well as the work of leading international companies and individuals. In 2005, Cork will be the focus of attention throughout Ireland and Europe with an extensive programme of events and festivals from the worlds of visual arts, performing arts, film, food, literature, music and much more.
2005 is the year to visit Cork, and if you're unfamiliar with the city here is an introduction. With a population of over 123,000 Cork is Ireland's second city, behind Dublin - though don't tell a Corkonian that. Cork is known locally as, the ‘Real Capital of Ireland' an assertion from its historic status as the ancient capital of Gaelic Munster.
Cork has played a key role in nearly all the sagas of Irish history and its cultural legacy is defined by its heritage, its multi-culturalism, its sense of independence and its proud Gaelic Irish identity. Cork was established in the 7th Century when St Finbarr, according to legend, booted out a giant serpent from the River Lee and established a monastery. Cork was built around the hillsides and islands of the Lee Valley, on more hills than Rome and more waterways than the Danube delta, so its is said. Having fought off constant Viking raids from the 8th Century, Cork developed into the chief city of the Kingdom of Munster, a thriving port trading in both commerce and culture. In 1543 King Edward VI granted Cork its Charter, cementing the city as a merchant centre and throughout the Elizabethan era Cork continued to prosper. Cork's boom time was perhaps during the 1800s with the influx of Huguenot merchants and artisans from the continent, thus giving parts of Cork's architecture, such as the Huguenot Quarter and the splendid Finbarr's Cathedral, designed by William Burgess, its French Gothic look. However, a century later Cork, as with much of Ireland, was ravaged by the Great Famine. Around 1.5 million people died of hunger and another 1.5 million left Ireland from the port of Cobh in Cork in search of better lives in the new worlds.
Cork is known as the Rebel County and not just for the indomitable spirit of its inhabitants or the untamed nature of its countryside. Throughout the centuries of English dominance of Ireland, Cork stood defiant, the city and indeed many famous Corkonians played a key role in Ireland's eventual independence. The label of ‘Rebel County' was first given to Cork in 1603 after it refused to accept King James I, but it brought on more significance during the Fenian movement of the 19th Century and Ireland's War of Independence of the 1920s. During this period the British killed two of Cork's Mayors; Thomas MacCurtain by the ruthless Black and Tan forces and his successor, Terence MacSweeney, died on hunger strike in a London jail and the city itself was set ablaze by British forces. A Cork man would famously take on the Brits and win, delivering Ireland from oppression but dividing the nation. That man was of course Michael Collins, the sad irony being, he was killed not far from his birthplace in Clonakilty Co. Cork, by republican rebels.
Cork has since come through its tribulations and rebuilt its self as a modern cosmopolitan city with solid reminders of its distinguished past. Cork's docksides are undergoing a process of regeneration and its main thoroughfares, St Patrick's St, South Mall, the Grand Parade and Oliver Plunkett St have been recently modernised. While narrow streets and spiralling steps still characterise the old ‘Latin quarter' of Shandon where the famous bells of St Anne's Church still ring out and in the heart of the city, the English Market still goes strong. Though today the produce on sale ranges from the traditional ingredients of Cork, such as Crubeens, fresh fish, and to items found on more continental markets such as olives and sundried peppers. The main difference with the English Market today is that traders no longer have to pledge allegiance to the English Crown to trade there.
Cork's visitor attractions again outline the city's past, its future and indeed its character. From the contemporary setting of the Crawford Art Gallery, to the atmospheric Cork City Jail and the medieval theme park of Blarney Castle, where thousands of visitors come each year to kiss the Blarney Stone. Where else other than Cork, where the people are renowned for their colourful turn of phrase, would you get the gift of the gab!
This is part of what Capital of Culture seeks to outline; that most of all Cork is a city of people. Cork's stint as European Capital of Culture is set to be socially inclusive and interactive, with a calendar of events aimed as much at promoting the character of Corkonians as of the City. And so if you visit Cork in 2005, you're likely to get a lot more than you expected.
this time next month...
Conor B & Seamus.