Celtic class: The magic of Cork

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Bantry Bay in County Cork. (Shutterstock)
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The English Market in Cork. (Shutterstock)
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Cobh, a picturesque town in Cork. (Shutterstock)
Updated 08 July 2019
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Celtic class: The magic of Cork

  • The southern city is regarded by many as the real jewel in Ireland’s crown
  • West Cork is one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, filled with lush countryside, spectacular beaches and Michelin star restaurants.

DUBLIN: Cork is different. At least that’s what those who live in Cork will tell you. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the locals in Ireland’s second city reckon they have had all the luck. Not only do they live in a place surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe (West Cork truly is a gem), but their city is populated by some of the wittiest, smartest, best-looking people in the country. Ask them, they’ll tell you.

Seriously though, Cork does have a lot going for it.

A small, picturesque island city, surrounded on both sides by the river Lee, it’s a pedestrian-friendly place and most visitors start off wandering along the river banks to get a sense of it. Foodies, however, should first head to the English Market, which is a veritable treasure chest of artisan cheeses, meats and freshly caught fish. As appealing as the produce is the banter of the local tradesmen: Corkonians have a great sense of humor and love nothing more than to have the chats with visitors. The market is also a beautiful example of Victorian architecture — all vaulted ceilings and high columns. On a sunny day, take your food to Bishop Lucey Park for an alfresco lunch in the (all too infrequent) sunshine.

For a sense of Cork’s history, visit the Cork Public Museum. Housed in a Georgian Mansion overlooking the river, it spans the years from the Stone Age right up to Cork’s favorite sporting son, ex-footballer Roy Keane. Cork is not a city filled with art, but one must-see stop is Crawford Art Gallery, home to a wonderful permanent collection of Irish art, including work by Jack B. Yeats, Sir John Lavery and Nathaniel Hone.

Much of the joy of Cork lies in wandering the streets and finding one of the many wonderful cafés and bakeries. It’s fair to say a sweet tooth is a local characteristic, and the area around Oliver Plunkett Street and Patrick Street is full of places to satisfy it. For something more highbrow, head to recent Michelin star winner Ichigo Ichie, in the city center. Run by a Japanese head chef who pioneered kappou-style dining in Ireland, it’s worth booking a few days (or weeks) in advance in order to get a table.

Of course, most visitors to Cork city use it as the gateway to West Cork, which is no surprise since it’s one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. It’s a land filled with lush countryside, hidden bays, spectacular beaches and Michelin star restaurants. The first stop on any itinerary should be Cobh, about 30 minutes south of Cork city. It was where the Titanic made its final stop before its ill-fated journey, and there’s a fascinating museum that features everything from mock-ups of the cabins to an interactive reenactment of the journey.

Further west, the grandeur of West Cork opens out. From the charming foodie-favorite of Clonakilty, dotted with colorful houses, organic markets and a cosmopolitan, expat population, to the picturesque coastal village of Ballydehob (which has its own Michelin Star restaurant, Chesnut), which is filled with food and music festivals during the summer months.

Baltimore and Schull are two other perennial favorites. Baltimore is the perfect place to base yourself if you fancy a boat trip to the nearby Sherkin and Cape Clear islands, and the busy fishing port has a maritime charm all its own. Head to one of the cafés overlooking the harbor and grab a cup of tea or an ice cream and watch the comings and goings.

Schull, further west, is quieter and more rugged, with spectacular views of the West Cork coast. Come during the annual regatta and prepare to be regaled by tales of the sea by the participants. Whether you choose to believe them is up to you, however! The town is also home to Ireland’s only planetarium, built by a German visitor who fell in love with the place. Further west are equally gorgeous towns; the likes of Crookhaven, Bantry and Glengarrif. Your best bet is to rent a car and drive the coast road, stopping off at the towns and villages that take your fancy. There’s an undeniable magic about this part of the world, which is why so many visitors end up living here.


Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins. (Supplied)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Sheikha Alyazia’s ‘mishmash’ of ancient and modern

  • Inside the Emirati artist’s inaugural solo exhibition in London, ‘I Met a Traveler From an Antique Land’

LONDON: You are searching for treasure. Several potential locations are marked with an ‘x’ on your map. You move methodically from site to site, always to be met with disappointment — never striking gold. Are you, in following trails set by others, missing the treasure ‘hidden’ in plain view?

This is one of the conundrums posed in the artworks of Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al-Nahyan, whose inaugural solo exhibition in London presented a thought-provoking range of work fusing the ancient past with modern life.

Her “Mishmash Trails” featured cave-like shapes cut in marble, with the treasure taking the form of imagined ancient eastern coins, reflecting Arab, Roman and Phoenician influences. She described the coins, embedded in the marble, as symbolic of the great treasures buried in secret locations that were sought out and fought over by many. 

Al-Nahyan named her exhibition — held at Pi Artworks from June 25 to July 7 — with the opening line of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias”: “I met a traveler from an antique land.” (Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II.)

Mishmash Dirham. (Supplied) 

The poem, published in 1818, imagines a meeting between the narrator and a traveller who describes a ruined statue lying in the desert. The description of the statue is a meditation on the fragility of human power and on the effects of time: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!/Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

“Maybe a positive thing from looking to the past is that it proves it is only human to repeat the mistake and the lesson,” Al-Nahyan told Arab News. “Studying the past is a realization of human nature, individually or in groups, right or wrong. This natural feeling of connectivity is something I usually aim for.”

There is humor in some of her work — particularly the depictions of old commercial airline advertisements from the 1950s and 60s with ancient figures superimposed in the frames. They certainly give the viewer pause for thought about how much our world has changed in the short time since air travel became widely available.

The exhibition’s curator, Janet Rady, said of Al-Nahyan: “She has been practicing art from a very young age and is self-taught. She is incredibly talented, and you see this in the wide range of her work, which uses all sorts of different media. I can’t necessarily call her a pop artist or a collage artist or an installation artist; she is in fact all of these things, but it is the concept behind her work — connecting the past with the present — which is important.”

The UAE’s UK ambassador, Mansoor Abulhoul, was present at the opening and he particularly admired Al-Nahyan’s works based on the classic wooden board game Carrom paired with a modern video game.

Carrom Station in Motion. (Supplied) 

“I first played Carrom with my cousins as a boy, and she has combined it with modern computer games, which is very creative,” he said. He pointed out that her innovative work ties in well with the dynamic of the UAE.

“Next year we have EXPO 2020, with its theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’ It’s very much about our roots and how we take them forward, how we develop the mind and global cooperation,” he said. 

The exhibition included a short clip from Al-Nahyan’s upcoming film “Athel,” written by Al-Nahyan’s sister, Sheikha Shamsa. It centers on a strange encounter in the desert between a pre-Islamic poet and a modern-day TV presenter. “Athel” is set for release later this year and stars Hala Shiha and Mansour Al-Fili.

“The idea behind it all is taken from the tradition of Arabic poetry — its wisdom and, sometimes, risks,” Al-Nahyan explained. “And ending with a realization of one tribal law putting redemption and family before all.” She added that there are some “light-hearted” moments in the film too.

Arabic poetry is an ongoing inspiration for Al-Nahyan’s work, adding another layer of meaning to many of her pieces.

“The Arabic language is poetic, and Arabs and other cultures around the world have documented their lives through poetry,” she said. “So, for example, when tackling the topic of what is considered treasure, we found different meanings in various verses. Like when (pre-Islamic poet) Zuhair Bin Abi Salma refers to glory as the only true treasure.”

There is a much to absorb and reflect on in this exhibition which opens windows into many facets of Arab history and culture and poses universal questions about humanity and what constitutes real treasure.