Character of the Inhabitants of Cork

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter I-5 | Start of chapter

As I have elsewhere observed, Cork, in a general point of view, has considerably improved within the last half-century: the appearance it now presents is that of a thriving and healthful town—its docks full of shipping,[3] and its quays and streets exhibiting cheering evidences of the prosperity it has attained to by the activity, industry, and intelligence of its inhabitants. The proverbially humid state of the atmosphere, and the great quantity of rain which falls in Cork, have very frequently had the effect of prejudicing strangers against a place which they have only seen under most unfavourable circumstances: but no one who has resided there for any time, with leisure and opportunity to view it thoroughly, has ever denied its being a handsome city, though the natives, with excusable partiality, have called it "the beautiful." Another instance of their pride of home is the fact, that they never speak of Cork but as "the city." "Welcome to the city;" "When did you leave the city?" is the manner in which a native would be certain to address you, and a stranger could scarcely wound his dignity more effectually than by speaking of the "beautiful city" as a town.

The manners of the Cork people are exceedingly urbane; a natural kindness and suavity of disposition at once removes the chilling barriers to social intercourse which require long and tedious formalities to surmount in the sister island, and renders a sojourn in Cork peculiarly gratifying to a stranger. This habit, however, of using the gentle oil of flattery in conversation—which amongst the lower classes is carried to an extent perfectly oriental—has obtained for the Corkonians the epithet of "sweet-tongued," and a character for insincerity, which I am positive they do not deserve. The poetical licences which these imaginative people allow themselves in their ardent professions of attachment, are no more to be taken literally than the unbounded liberality of the Spaniard, who, on your first introduction to him, earnestly requests your acceptance of his house and all that it contains. Divesting their flowery eloquence of its "taste of the blarney," there will be found beneath it a rich fund of noble and generous feelings, which a little kindness never fails to ripen into warm and genuine friendship.

The lower order of the population of Cork are a lively and hard-working race —improvident in their habits—strongly attached to old customs—intelligent and ready withal—warm and sudden in friendship, but equally sudden and violent in quarrel. They had formerly the character of being addicted to that bane of Ireland's peace and prosperity—whisky; but the late moral revolution wrought by the Rev. Mr. Mathew, the great apostle of temperance, whose truly pious exertions have been the means of reclaiming millions of his countrymen from the use of intoxicating liquors, has nowhere more strikingly demonstrated its beneficial effects than in this his native city, where he commenced those benevolent labours which have since yielded so abundant a harvest of good to Ireland. The vernacular of Cork is perfectly distinct from that spoken in other parts of Ireland, it is a patois peculiar to itself, and "may be regarded as the ancient Cockneyism of the mixed race who held the old city, Danes, English, and Irish." The intercourse with strangers, which has increased with the rapidly extending commerce of this city, has done much to remove this peculiarity of dialect; and it is now to be found in its unadulterated purity only in the ancient localities of Mallow Lane and Ballythomas.


[3] The staple trade of Cork is chiefly in butter and whisky, which it exports in vast quantities, and for which it has long been celebrated. It also exports huge quantities of beef, pork, live stock, &c.