June 2003 issue

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Cork's surprises

Cork is a lively city, offering plenty of social activities, historic attractions and Irish charm, as Gillian Evans finds out.

Cork is Ireland's second city after Dublin and yet has a population of only 160,000. Nevertheless, it has produced many famous artists, musicians, writers and craftspeople over the years, and today, says Odiele Migieu, of Cork Language Centre, it is a vibrant and fun place in which to learn English. ''[Cork] is a young city with 25 per cent of the population under 25 years old,'' she relates.

Majellia Sheehan, of North Mon Language Institute (NMLI), says that Cork is particularly popular with international students in their twenties because of its lively social scene. However, most schools welcome students of all ages. ''The charm and welcoming nature of the city surpasses every age barrier,'' asserts Marc Cullen, of Cork English College.

Nations Training specialises in courses for professionals. ''Cork is often seen [by our students] as a medium-sized, attractively placed town,'' says Ivan Kearns at the centre. He adds that their clients often find the city to be more sophisticated than they had imagined and especially enjoy the wide range of good restaurants.

Although sometimes overshadowed by Dublin, schools are keen to point out that there are some real advantages of choosing to study in Cork. Catherine McCauliffe, of Yes Language, claims Cork does not have the traffic congestion of Dublin, for example, and that the schools in Cork are generally small and the host families located conveniently close to the city centre. She adds, ''Cork has all the advantages of a city with theatres, cinemas, great pubs [and] sporting facilities, [but] it is cheaper to live in Cork [than in Dublin].''

The Irish culture is a major draw for students studying English in Ireland, and they can certainly experience life with a ''distinctly Irish flavour'' in Cork, says Sheenan. According to Cullen, one Japanese student decided to go to Ireland because he wanted to follow his dream of becoming an Irish dancer after he had seen a performance of Riverdance in Tokyo. He studied English at Cork English College in the mornings and practised Irish dancing in the afternoons. As Cullen says, this illustrates the ''magnetic effect that Irish culture has on people abroad''.

Cork itself is an attractive city, which is easy for visitors to get to know. ''Cork is beautiful to wander around, with remarkable charm and a unique atmosphere created by narrow lanes and markets, which date from the 19th century,'' says Migieu.

Cork grew up on an island on the River Lee, just up stream from the harbour, and eventually spread over on to the riverbanks. Today, the two channels of the River Lee, which flow through the city, are crisscrossed with bridges. Evidence of Cork's importance as a seaport is still visible. Along the South Mall, there are large arches under steps leading up to main doors. These were once boathouses when merchants arrived at their warehouses by water. The old market building, dating from 1786, still functions as an indoor market today. The English Market, as it is called, has stalls selling locally caught fish and seafood, vegetables, meat, home-made breads and locally produced cheeses.

Schools help students to familiarise themselves with the city through the varied social programmes they organise. These include trips to sites of interest, such as the French-Gothic St Finn Barre's Cathedral, with its impressive three spires, and the Old Gaol, which has been restored and tells the story of everyday life in the gaol in the 19th and 20th centuries. Sheenan, at NMLI, mentions that students enjoy the Shandon Bells ''where you can play a tune on the church bells'', while Migieu adds that the Beamish and Crawford Brewery - ''where you can sample the famous Beamish Stout'' - is also very popular among their students. Apart from sightseeing and tasting Cork's many local delicacies, free-time activities organised by schools include Karaoke nights, pub lunches, a trip to watch greyhound racing, bowling afternoons and Irish dancing events.

In the evenings, many students enjoy socialising at one of the city's many pubs and drinking a pint of the ''Black Stuff'' [Guinness], says Cullen. Favourite student haunts include Aoife Landers on Oliver Plunkett Street, which offers traditional Irish dancing nights, while Riordans in Washington Street is a pub and nightclub complex, ''where students can dance the night away'', says Migieu. But this is only a small selection of what is on offer, adds Cullen. ''The large array of cafés, bars, restaurants, pubs and nightclubs in Cork guarantee to cater for everybody's culinary tastes and musical interests,'' he explains. ''It is testament to this belief that Cork has [recently] been declared European Capital of Culture for 2005.''

The people of Cork themselves could also be considered as one of the city's attractions. Corkonians are said to be among the most talkative people in Ireland, and go out of their way to help visitors to their city feel welcome. ''For many people, Cork surpasses their expectations as they find the people extremely friendly and helpful,'' confirms Cullen. McCauliffe recounts the story of one of their students who got on the wrong bus and ended up at the bus depot. Once she told the driver, he turned the bus around and drove her right to her host family's front door!

Agent viewpoint

''The majority of our students want to go to Dublin, but we also send students to Galway, Limerick and Cork. In general, we have to suggest Cork as a possible destination, otherwise the first Irish city our clients think about is always Dublin. The students who go to Cork are the ones looking for a lively city and at the same time don't want to meet too many [other] Italians. Cork is a good destination to discover the southwest of Ireland, so usually our students [go on] excursions either with the help of the Irish school or on their own. I think Cork is a good destination both for young and adult students as it's easy to [get] around. It's also easy to get to know international students and, at the same time, experience the typical Irish way of life. Cork is still less busy than Dublin and the students enjoy its atmosphere. There is only one problem we may have, [and that is travelling] to the city: Cork airport is not very [well connected] as few airlines serve it, therefore, it's always quite expensive to arrange a transfer for the students who fly to Dublin or Shannon.''
Laura Vico, NewBeetle, Thema Viaggi, Italy

''I only send students to Cork because I went to visit the school and liked what I saw. My students like Cork because the city is small, pleasant, and [there are] not so many foreigners. The school [we represent] is small, well organised and has a variety of nationalities. Students speak very highly of the level of teaching and about the group spirit in the school. The [host] families are very highly appreciated. They are not 'normal' families, meaning that the houses are excellent, food first rate and students feel at home. The price is also very reasonable. [In terms of any disadvantages], for Spanish students, the weather is always a disadvantage, and travel arrangements can be a problem especially in summer. [Nevertheless], many of my students, often managers or politicians, repeat the experience.''
Mary O'Neill, ESADE Business School, Spain

''We send students to Dublin and Cork. Cork is less popular than Dublin and we generally sell it to students who have already been to Dublin. Clients choose Cork because we suggest that it is a nice area for trips and excursions. [The city] also generally provides a familiar atmosphere and a safe environment. The only [disadvantage] could be the [lack of] flights.''
Anna Maria Tondi, I Viaggi del Toghiro, Italy

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