A walking tour of Cork's vibrant city art scene

Cork is awash with brilliant artwork and murals. DYLAN O’CONNELL leads us by the hand on a guided tour of some of the highlights
A walking tour of Cork's vibrant city art scene

MAKING A SPLASH: This fabulous mural on Mutton Lane features the Echo

CORK has been transformed in recent years into one of Ireland’s most bohemian and colourful cities, with outdoor restaurants, cafés, and craft beer bars all bringing a different flavour and sound.

But a very visible and tangible symbol of Cork’s renaissance has been the creation of some spectacular street art, which guides you through the city.

Brought to us by a collective of local and international artists, these pieces give light and personality to nearly ever corner and crack in the city centre.

A walking tour of Cork’s street art is a must if you’re lucky enough to be within a 5km radius — or when the Level 5 restrictions ease.

Start off at the original gateway to Cork city, at the end of Barrack Street by South Gate Bridge.

What will be sure to catch your gaze there is a painted crimson electrical box of John Caulfield, Cork City FC’s most successful manager. ‘Beir Bua’ (‘We Will Win’) exclaims the box, designed by Mad About Cork, as it gives directions to Turner’s Cross stadium, the home of football in Cork since 1905.

The Mad About Cork salute to Cork City
The Mad About Cork salute to Cork City

Carry on down Sullivan’s Quay and over Nano Nagle Bridge. As soon as you step onto Grand Parade, a brightly coloured mural exploding with colour will come into view.

The mural, produced by Fiona O’Mahony (Conjun Box) with Siobhan Bardsley (Cork Zine Archive), is a celebration of punk rock album Kaught at the Kampus, which featured local groups Urban Blitz, Mean Features, Microdisney and Nun Attax.

Kaught at the Kampus mural
Kaught at the Kampus mural

The album is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and features some previously unpublished photographs of the bands.

Just behind you, towards the River Lee, is Deep South, a trendy bar on the remains of Sir Henry’s nightclub. It was here, once upon a time, that acts such as Nirvana and Sonic Youth came to entertain in one of the hottest venues in European music.

It is here, in the epicentre of Cork, that one of the most striking and brilliant pieces of art in the county will greet you.

Overlooking the Peace Park is a giant painting of a migrant woman sitting in a pool of water, clasping a bowl of native wildflowers from Cork.

A giant painting of a migrant woman
A giant painting of a migrant woman

This painting was commissioned by Australian artist Fintan Magee in 2019 to commemorate the city’s links as a trade post.

Meander up Grand Parade and take a left onto Tobin Street where renowned artist Peter Martin has created a huge mural depicting Cork city as it moves from day into night.

Many faces from the county’s history are on the display here including legendary guitarist Rory Gallagher and renowned writer Frank O’Connor.

Turn back onto Grand Parade and you will see a bright pink electrical box, painted by Mad About Cork in remembrance of American anti-slavery campaigner Fredrick Douglass, who lived in the city for three weeks in 1845.

The tribute to Frederick Douglass
The tribute to Frederick Douglass

One of the most striking images in the whole city is a large mural to the Burning of Cork on Grattan Street.

This was completed over the summer of 2020 by Peter Martin to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the atrocity, which saw British forces burn Patrick Street in December, 1920.

Turn onto Bachelors Quay and go right onto the Coal Quay. At the end of the street you will see a wall commemorating Cork’s heroes from the War of Independence and the 1916 Rising, painted by local artist Alan Hurley.

Along the wall are portraits of Corkmen Michael Collins, Thomas Kent, Terence MacSwiney, and Thomas MacCurtain.

Tributes to Independence heroes
Tributes to Independence heroes

Directly opposite them, on the wall of Peig Twomey’s shop, you’ll find another colourful mural depicting the 1690 Siege of Cork, by Peter Martin.

Around the corner you will see another mural, by Tom Doig, depicting famous Corkonians such as Olympic athletics medalist Sonia O’Sullivan, guitarist Rory Gallagher, Irish and Manchester United football captain Roy Keane, and U.S. workers’ rights campaigner Mother Jones.

If you go back onto Bachelors Quay and follow the River Lee, a giant painting of a kingfisher, by Curtis Hylton, will stand out. This stunning piece of art was completed in 2019 as part of a programme to enhance the city centre by Cork City Council.

The kingfisher artwork
The kingfisher artwork

Across the road is a painted electrical box, gently reminding us of our most famous soft drink, Tanora. This is another piece from Mad About Cork and the box pays tribute to John Daly and Co who invented, manufactured, and sold the drink at Kyrl’s Quay.

The Mad About Cork tribute to Tanora
The Mad About Cork tribute to Tanora

Further along the quay, a mural depicting Ireland’s most famous writers appears. Stretching along Half Moon Street, this piece of art, spray painted by Dusto, from Mallow, and Psychonautes, from France, features a collection of Irish novelists, playwrights, and poets including George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker, and Conal Creedon.

Follow the river, take a left and you will end up on Patrick Street. Next, walk south away down Cork’s through the shoppers and slip down an alleyway to Mutton Lane.

This is home to an amazing mural by Anthony Ruby stretching almost the full length, culminating in one of the most atmospheric and cosy pubs in the city: Mutton Lane Inn.

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