Cork’s airport is really a nice bit of industrial architecture and, as well, tiny (I think it is smaller than the one at Chattanooga, in fact). But, we had an hour to kill before the flight and I had drunk nothing at the pubs this trip except Beamish (save for some wine for dinner at Lowry’s) and it seemed sacrilege to go to Ireland without downing a whiskey so the Last Call it had to be for a quick Midleton. Ahhh…morning whiskey (and, quite nice even for this ridiculous price).
The Ovens was the first pub in town I was mildly disappointed in. It looked perfect from the outside with dozens of empty kegs stacked up but the inside was freshly refurbished and hadn’t yet developed the wear that gave the others so much of what I might mistakenly call character.
We found the Lee Session we came here for after leaving our second of the day at Sín É, but, like the room, it was much more formal as well with just two guys playing an actual set. To be honest, if I had seen this one first I might not have continued on to the others (although the fellows were brilliant).
We needed some ballast between the Lee Sessions at Charlie’s and the Lee Sessions we were headed to at Sín É so we wandered around a bit looking at restaurants but everything seemed like TOO much food (we really just wanted a snack to take the edge off). The menu posted outside Dan Lowry’s looked about right…soup of the day and a sandwich would be great.
On the full menu I spotted fish and chips and went ahead with that, instead. More breaded than battered but not bad (you can definitely taste the beef drippings in the chip fat which is always a bonus) and the peas mushed up nicely.
The pub itself has a nice, family-local feel at the early hour we were in (just after 5 on a Sunday). And, like everywhere we visited in Cork, they could not have been friendlier if they tried.
(Note: this post is a continuation of the 2014 Chippy Challenge, with all related entries linked to this map)
We finally made it to a Lee Session together on Sunday at Charlie’s. This is a spectacular pub, all rough edges and bullshit-free and we were early enough to grab a pew each at the corner of the bar about arm’s length from one of the flutes.
And, the music was brilliant. Three fiddles, 2 bodhrans, 2 squeezeboxes, 2 flutes/whistles, a banjo, and a guitar with another fiddler waiting in the wings. During one of the breaks between improvs, another spectator stood up and began to sing with this booming and heartbreakingly beautiful voice a song that was both funny and tragic about a soldier and his girlfriend (and, albeit several counties away, his wife). A few instrumentals after this another fellow filled in with another a cappella effort. Simply lovely.
A couple of kegs were delivered while we were there and the barman and landlady (I think) rolled them behind the bar. The fella ran up a spiral staircase, inexplicably. All became clear as a lift bucket/dumbwaiter was lowered by winch through the ceiling with a portrait of grinning Bob Marley on the bottom. Apparently they cellar their beer in the attic (odd, but the river would probably rule out a cellar).
Who the Fuck is Mick O’Flannery?
The first pub you get to on the way into town from the B&B we were at is Reidy’s Vault Bar (or, on this visit, the last one on the way back). Jackie wanted to sleep a couple of hours having worn herself out on a rainy walk around lunchtime whilst still fighting off a nasty virus (which 5 days hence I am having to deal with the first week back to work), so I went out to grab some groceries to fashion a dinner then Beamished my way back home via Reidy’s (and the aforementioned Courthouse Tavern).
Officially a wine vault, Reidy’s also has the best whisky selection of the pubs we made it to this trip. However, the prices are absolutely ridiculous (a shot of Midleton goes for more than what a whole bottle is priced in the stores). Still, the place is worth a visit for the atmosphere (they could lose the telly, mind) and the menu board looked compelling.
Out to pick up a few groceries to cook some dinner for the ailing wife back at the B&B was thirsty work (or, as the bartender here at the Courthouse said it, “torsty wirk”). The Beamish was as good as anywhere else and the lads watching the World Darts Championship down the end of the bar were welcoming enough (although I think they were more interested in weaseling some snacks out of my shopping bag).
We rang in the New Year with Jackie fighting off a bout of the flu and bravely making it till a little past 2 am. The streets of Cork were not the war zone an English town would have been late on a Thursday evening: we saw one fight and one puke but mostly just pleasantly high revellers either on their way to another party or, as were we, on their way to bed. I awoke Friday for my run and then we caught breakfast at the B&B and had a brief walk around town but that was all she had in her and Jax spent the next 24 hours in bed (poor baby).
One of the reasons we came to Cork was the Lee Sessions and, as I felt the first symptoms of the flu coming on and knew I had only a day or two till I was likewise bedridden, I headed out to see one at Sín É, a dimensionally unstable pub that looks huge outside, then tiny once you’re in until you find yourself upstairs where it expands TARDIS-like.
The photo, above, is from the Lee Session there that we went to Sunday night; the woman in the lower right and the fiddler were at an earlier one we attended at Charlie’s on the other side of the island. The gigs tend to be fairly organic with a bit of music then a break for a few minutes while a sip or two is taken and negotiations on what’s next occur usually concluding when some one starts to tune an instrument and the others frown like they are trying to solve a puzzle and then join in as a new song develops (more than once, a musician asked if “that one has a name?” to be met with the reply, “just something I’ve had in me head for a few days”).
Occasionally during one of the breaks between songs, someone in the crowd will stand up and just start singing songs of heartbreaking beauty or dark humour (or both), a cappella but with a voice that shakes your soul. The Lee Sessions are definitely reason enough for a trip to Cork (we’ve already planned a return trip later this year) and Sín É is one of the better venues to take in a session.
But, the pub would be worthy a drinking session as well. On the Friday visit, there were at least 10 musicians downstairs and while there were a couple of stools available and between a couple of songs I had some chat with other revellers, but I reckoned I could find a seat upstairs and still hear the music and moved up to find a cavernous dining area and a barber chair which turned out to be the most comfortable seat I’ve had in years (there used to be a barber shop here).
Lit mostly by candles, a few bar and tap lights, and whatever leaks in through the windows, Sín É is simply lovely.
I finished my second Beamish and headed back downstairs to find at least 10 more musicians spread out to the foot of the stairs. Despite the heavy rain, I could hear the music down the street as I headed back toward the west bit of the island to rejoin the patient.