If ever a book was destined to have Corkonians rubbing their hands together in glee while Dubliners roll their eyes, it’s 101 Reasons Why Cork Is Better than Dublin, written by Pat Fitzpatrick and published by Mercier Press.
As a Corkonian who braved the mean streets of Dublin for (whisper it) six years before fleeing home to the banks of my own lovely Lee, I am perfectly placed to review this book with utter impartiality. Yes, I did just write “fleeing” home.
In bookshops throughout Cork, the book is piled high. I’ll wager you would be hard pressed to find it in Hodges Figgis. This is a book that knows its market: the vast swathe of people who think that Cork is the best place on earth, boy.
Here’s the thing. I rolled my eyes when I saw the cover; I even felt a faint frisson of embarrassment – luckily no self-respecting Corkonian reads Dublin Inquirer so my confession is safe here. Why can’t Cork just bask in its glories without the need to involve Dublin at all?
I blame Dubliners. (Wait! Come back!) After six years of smirks and “bet you love Cork, like all Cork people … har dee har”, I could only respond with the truth – I do. I grew up here, and it is home. Home is always going to trump a city where, sooner or later, you have to give up on working in the creative industries or make peace with the fact that you’re going to live in a shoebox for the next 20 years.
The book is divided into sections: “tourist attractions”, “the locals”, “famous people”, “the great outdoors”, “history”, “culture”, “sport” and “food and drink”. Some sections are richer than others. Some are a stretch. Dublin has some world-class tourist attractions: the library at Trinity, Kilmainham Gaol, the National Gallery; Cork has a Butter Museum (Reason #14). Pride is one thing, but let’s not be delusional.
Pat Fitzpatrick knows this, and takes an arch tone throughout the book, knowing when to lay it on thick and when to pull back a little – Cork is no Paris or Berlin. What emerges instead of a tourist brochure is a celebration of the city, its people and its idiosyncrasies, the traditional but also the modern (the twenty-first century arrived in Cork about eight years ago – no sign of it throughout the recession). Dublin comes in for some gentle ribbing, but this is more a celebration of Cork than a bashing of our favourite frenemy.
Where Cork shines is in the qualities that make a city liveable, if not sellable to tourists. Reason #24 resonated: The Ninety-Minute Rule. Fitzpatrick explains that if you drive for 90 minutes in Dublin, you’ll likely find yourself in gridlock on the M50. Drive for 90 minutes in Cork and you’re in west Cork, digging into a plate of mussels by the sea, giving the barman the nod so he has your pint of Beamish or Murphy’s on the pour (Reason #99). And if you don’t know that west Cork is the best place in the world, I don’t know how to help you.
Our very own Seán Ó Faoláin had a complicated relationship with Cork and thought that nothing exemplified the city’s sense of its own importance like the definite article. In Cork, we talk about “the lough” (Reason #60) and “the fountain”, no need to expand because there’s only one, boy. Frank O’Connor (Reason #52) despaired at the city’s parochialism but, all the same, declared it “the most important city in the world”.
A friend in college shared O’Connor’s belief that Cork was the best place in the world. I recently met him again – he has since travelled extensively and now lives in Dublin while plotting his return (stop hogging all the jobs, Dublin). I asked if he felt the same way and he had to confess that no, he could now see that Cork wasn’t, by most measures, the greatest city on the planet. But it is still the place he wants to call home.
The book is a fantastic reminder for Corkonians that they haven’t stuck their head into Callanan’s (Reason #20) for a pint in ages, or that they should treat themselves to a vegetarian feast at Paradiso (Reason #97).
Dubliners won’t care, or, just maybe, if forced by evangelical Cork friends to take a gander at this book, they might be tempted to brave the M8 and come visit the second city? Trust me, the Beamish is mighty.