If you ever get to study abroad, consider a small city, or at least do your research ahead of time and see which cities are known among the citizens to be more culturally rich. The decision is, in the end, up to personal preference, but I’ve found that smaller cities are typically more culturally enriching than their larger counterparts.
Even though Cork is a big city to me, it is diverse and rich in culture. After visiting Dublin this past weekend, I came to realize why some of the Irish dispute Dublin as the capital and claim that Cork is the true capital of Ireland.
One of the most fascinating things about Cork are the street performances. Performers and musicians frequently line the streets. While there are some museums here, most of the culture of here commonly spills out onto the streets and is easily accessible if you were just to walk out your front door.
Music is a crucial part of Irish culture and Cork takes this very seriously. There is always someone on the streets with a saxophone, a guitar and a vocalist accompanying them. Occasionally you see an accordion and traditional drums. When the weather is warmer there are also dancers that come out and perform near the musicians. If you step inside almost any pub you will find Irish step dancing and live traditional Irish music performances. There are also performers imitating statues, mime performers and various other types of performers all with unique talents.
This past weekend, I traveled to Dublin with some of my friends. While there, I realized that there were very few street performers. We walked past the occasional human statue, but we didn’t cross paths with any other artists. It was disappointing to find the capital and largest city in Ireland so lackluster.
We eventually made our way into some museums and galleries that were full of art and historical artifacts — and tourists. Those places were mobbed with people trying to crowd around the exhibits. We also visited the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity College. Those exhibits would have been fascinating if it hadn’t been for the jostling crowds. Trying to sneak a peek at the Book of Kells — encased in a small glass rectangle — was like entering a boxing ring. The Long Room was better but was still so packed that it took away from the experience.
Even Trinity College in Dublin wasn’t what I expected. It was a beautiful campus for sure, but it wasn’t “Irish” in feeling. The main campus reminded me more architecturally of Rome or other major European cities. Instead of castle-like buildings, it had gleaming white columns and grand-looking buildings. While they were beautiful to look at, I can safely say that the University College Cork stuck closer to its Irish roots. From the old castle-like stone building near the quad to the little stone church on campus, it reminds me of the distinctly unique culture of Ireland.
Sometimes the places that you haven’t heard of can provide you with better experiences. I’d heard of Dublin before coming to Ireland, but I’d never heard of Cork. When I was awarded the George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship, I was thrilled to be going to Ireland but I never quite realized what was waiting for me in Cork. I’m so fortunate and thankful to have ended up where I am, among such a vibrant and lively people in a city that richly reflects their culture.