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For St. Patrick's Day, an Ode to Ireland's Rebellious Second City

The ruins at Dromberg
The ruins at Dromberg

Cork embraces LGBTQ people, celebrates Native history, offers inventive cuisine, and safeguards Celtic culture.

The Irish county of Cork has a unique spirit. Dubbed the "Rebel County" by King Henry VII (in the 15th century's War of the Roses), the title could have been earned centuries earlier when the upstarts in this region drove out an occupying Viking force in the 800s -- or for its role as home to Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary who led the War of Independence in the 1920s.

This rebellious spirit lives on, and yet doesn't detract from the amiability of the locals. In fact, last year, the city of Cork was voted the third friendliest city in the world by Conde Nast Traveler readers. Cork excels in personifying the traditional Celtic welcome: cead mile failte or 100,000 welcomes.

Jerry Buttimer -- who served as Leader of Seanad Eireann and Leader of Fine Gael in the Seanad (the highest-ranking member of the Irish Senate) since June 2016 -- tells The Advocate, "LGBT travelers should visit Cork for its welcoming, inclusive, and diverse city, which welcomes people from all cultures. In keeping with our rebel history, we Corkians lead the way in shaping queer politics."

Indeed, modern Ireland is open and welcoming of LGBTQ travelers and same-sex couples. In 2015, Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce marriage through popular vote (elsewhere it has been enacted by legislators or decreed by judges). In the same year, the city passed an inclusive gender bill -- allowing people to self-determine their gender identity.

Konrad Im, Mr. Gay Ireland 2016, hails from Cork, and you can often catch him and American Idol Season 16's Les Greene at Chambers, Cork's most popular gay bar and the only one to stay open late-night (until 2 a.m.). It features DJs, regular shows, andlive performances.

The Cork LGBT+ Pride Festivalruns every August. "It's always great fun! We are lucky in Cork that there is a whole host of other festivals that run throughout the year including the Cork International Choral Festival, the Guinness Jazz Festival, the Cork Film Festival, the Ocean to City Race, as well as the annual Cork City Marathon," says Padraig Rice, coordinator of the Gay Cork Project, an organization founded in the 1970s that now runs a LGBT community center at and supports The Cork LGBT Archive.

Rice recommends a few places he loves: "[I'm] biased, but I love spending time in the Cork Gay Project, a thriving queer community center. University College Cork has stunning grounds and a wonderful art gallery, the Glucksman. I love some of the small cozy pubs like Mutton Lane and the Abbey Tavern. But my favorite place is probably at the top of St. Patrick's Hill, where you can view the entire city and the green hills beyond."

Get similar views of the city of Cork and the sea when you stay at The Montenotte Hotel. Once home to the merchant princes of the area, the building was beautifully refurbished into four-star luxury boutique hotel that features an in-house cinema, swimming pool, and a Sunken Victorian Garden.


Even today, Cork's history is never far away, and you can stay in a part of it at The Eccles Hotel (pictured above), the oldest hotel in Ireland, whose previous guests over the past 250 years include a few Irish literary geniuses. Playwright George Bernard Shaw, poet William Butler Yeats, and novelist Bram Stoker have all stayed here -- and contributed unique gifts to the hotel. In West Cork, Eccles overlooks the gorgeous Bantry Bay and Garinish Island, which you can view from Garinish Restaurant. Try the Blue Cheese and Beetroot Salad and Cork Whiskey & Vanilla Cured Salmon.

Dublin might disagree, but as the BBC notes, Cork "regards itself as the country's only genuine guardian of Celtic culture." It also celebrates another indigenous culture, that of Native Americans. During the Great Famine in 1847, the Choctaw tribe, hearing of the plight of the Irish, sent $170 in aid. This great act of international empathy has been commemorated many times over the years, in many ways (including in 1992, when Irish activists walked the Trail of Tears, a 500 mile stretch from Mississippi to Oklahoma, while raising money for charity). Most recently, local sculptor Alex Pentek's "Kindred Spirits," a circular arrangement of nine 20-foot stainless steel eagle feathers, was erected in Bailic Park in Midleton, about seven miles outside of Cork City.

Above: The ruins at Timoleague Friary are drenched with stories and folklore.

While you're in Midleton, visit the Jameson Distillery Midleton, the current home of Jameson Whiskey (for 200 years it was distilled in Dublin), which is exported around the world. Take a tour of the distillery and experience a whiskey tasting.

After a stiff drink you may be ready for a different kind of experience, one that promises to really give you a sinking feeling. The nearby town of Cobh was the last stop the Titanic made before sinking en route to America. A replica of the Titanic is being built elsewhere and plans on taking its maiden voyage (retracing the doomed ocean liner's route) in 2020 -- but until then, check out Titanic Experience Cobh, located in the original White Star Line Ticket Office. The guided tour gives you a sense of life on the luxury liner, and even lets you "experience the chill of the sinking, through a unique cinematographic experience."

Once you settle your stomach, you'll find a plethora of options to fill it, as Cork is the food capital of Ireland and boasts some of the freshest and finest cuisine in the world. Don't miss cool, unique spots like the English Market, which has been operating at its location since 1788 and traces its roots to 1610. Another foodie hotspot is the Quay Co-op Vegetarian Restaurant, Organic & Health Food Shop, a vegetarian workers co-operative, with some of the best vegetarian dishes around. In a city surrounded by luscious green fields, there is no shortage of fresh ingredients for the hundreds of other pubs, restaurants, and cafes in the city.

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