Rachel Gaffney's Letter From Texas

The famous foodie who’s flying the tricolour for us in Texas takes a trip home and enjoys a new energy in her home town, Cork city, where ‘sharing and collaborating’ is becoming the norm - and the community spirit and quality of life make it a great place for companies to locate

Each city emits its own energy. I often hear people telling me about the positive vibe they felt when visiting that city. Einstein said “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another” I am currently visiting Cork City and the energy that is being transmitted is palpably positive.
Something is happening here in Cork.

On arrival I decided to see where the city would lead me. I had no plans but an open mind and a willingness to say yes to everything Cork had to offer. It began with the discovery that SeaFest was happening while I was here. SeaFest is presented by Cork City Council and the Marine Coordination Group and is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Union. The Cork Docklands, once an area neglected by Cork people was heaving with new life. The magnificent historic buildings are being revitalised, offices are springing up, cranes are fully operational, hotels are being planned, ships are in the harbour and sailboats were moored along the quays. Irish Lights were on hand to give guided tours of the ILV Granuaile (named after the Pirate Queen) and I was fortunate enough to board this vessel with my good friend Chef Neven Maguire from MacNean House and Restaurant in Co Cavan. We were guided by the First Officer and met with the Captain. This ship supports Buoy deployment, helicopter operations support, Seabed Excavation, Seabed sampling and mapping. I discovered Princess Anne had recently spent 2 nights on this vessel. Children meandered on deck, learned about sonar equipment and how the Granuaile services the 12 spectacular working lighthouses around the island of Ireland.

As I walked along Albert Quay, towards the City Hall, I was now acutely aware of the architecture in my own home town and I noticed the facade of the buildings were different. They have been given new life. The City Hall, made from limestone quarried in Little Island was looking particularly majestic. New office buildings have sprung up around the quays and the contrast of gleaming glass and polished limestone made me feel just that little bit proud. I have always loved this city but now I notice a new sense of pride and ownership. Now, please do not think for a moment that Cork people have never felt that way, it’s just a renewed sense of pride that I sense. What is happening? Roads are being widened. Food emporiums are springing up. International companies are relocating and calling Cork their home. People are running 5k’s and kayaking on the River Lee. Opera Lane, the pedestrian laneway linking Patrick Street with the world renowned Opera House and Crawford Gallery is heaving with life. Cork City is alive.

I had noticed on Twitter that Cork’s Long Table Dinner were promoting a Long Table Walk. The ticket was 85 Euros. I purchased my ticket and set off on this walk with my good friend Aisling O’Callaghan from Longueville House in Mallow. We joined 13 other guests and met at Ali’s Kitchen in Paul Street. Our guide was that indomitable lady, Head Chef of Jacob’s On the Mall, Trisha Lewis.

Our progressive meal began at Alis’ at 2.30pm. From here we went to the Farmgate Cafe in the English Market, Nash 19, Electric, Jacob’s On The Mall, Crawford & Co, Dockland and finally The Imperial Hotel. We sampled oysters, Ballycotton Seafood, Cashel Blue Cheese, Local Beets, Kinsale Gin, Local Strawberries, Local Cheeses, Longueville House Cider, Crispy Kale, Gazpacho, West Cork Whiskey, Jameson Black Label Whiskey and dark chocolate truffles. Each restaurant has its own local story and its own fascinating history. I was so enchanted, that leaving each place was my only disappointment. However, if the idea was to leave you wanting more, with a desire to return, then it definitely worked.

Meandering through the Cork streets going from restaurant to restaurant, I felt alive. Claire Nash, the dynamic proprietor of Nash 19 shared the stories of her restaurant with us and how it also serves as an art gallery, partnering with the Crawford Art Gallery. She curates and features artists on a regular basis. Art and artisans connecting in the same creative space. I am very accustomed to people collaborating in the United States. In my own community, Dallas, working side by side and lionising each other is common place and second nature and it is this spirit that I seem to notice here in Cork. Could this be another reason for this invigorating feeling one gets here? My answer is most certainly yes, as everyone I have met and encountered is sharing and collaborating. Another reason for this positive energy I feel here.

The historic Imperial Hotel on the South Mall is looking particularly splendid. Outside people sipped their drinks in the early evening air and inside, the lobby and restaurant had a lively feel too. It was here that Michael Collins stayed, in room 115, the night before he met his demise in August 1922. But, his fighting spirit abides and it is probably no surprise at all that Cork is known as the Rebel County!

“ Under the Ireland 2040 Plan, Cork will increase its population by 50% in 2 decades, with a lot of planning and investment, ” says Tanaiste Mr Simon Coveney. It is not hard to see why so many companies are now locating to Cork, as there are much smaller commutes and a good quality of life. With all of this growth, it seems to be generating a lot of excitement and thus this excitement is churning out creative people. Great food, arts, storytelling, culture, sporting activities and hotels are everywhere. Cork City is a lively, evolving and exuberant city with a vitality that has to be seen to be believed.

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