What's Cork, Ireland like?
October 14, 2013 9:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering applying for an academic job in Cork, Ireland. What is the city like? What is University College Cork like? I'm from the US, and I know very little about the city, but I'm curious.

Secondary question: what advice can you give a US academic applying in Ireland? Are there any common pitfalls I should avoid as I put together my application?
posted by umbú to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hello from early-morning Cork! I don't know where you are in the US, but I'm from New York and have lived all over the US and in London and Cork is my favourite city after Providence, RI. I'm a fan.

Cork is a small city; including commuter suburbs, it's about 240,000 people. The city centre is on a flat island and the rest of the city rises up on steep hills across the rivers on either side, resulting in Corkonians being either Northsiders or Southsiders. There are a lot of bridges, which is nice. The whole thing is walkable; we live in the city centre without a car. If we wanted to live in the suburbs, that wouldn't be possible because public transportation isn't great; there is a bus service but it's not brilliant. Biking is possible but you need to choose your residential area carefully because there are hills that would turn commuting to UCC into SF-level difficulty. I think it's a pretty, attractive city.

Culturally, it has a lot to offer especially for a city this size, and Cork was the European Capital of Culture two years ago. We have an opera house; several theatres; several galleries and museums ranging from the Glucksman to the Butter Museum; film festivals; and many, many live music venues. We also have an abundance of great pubs. Food-wise, we have a handful of excellent restaurants and a broader selection of mediocre ones. (For some reason, while you cannot move in this town for iPhones and craft cocktails, if you want sushi you're shit out of luck.)

If you're a foodie you're going to land in an interesting position. There is no Whole Foods here and nothing like Whole Foods or Trader Joes. However, because it's Ireland, all our beef is grass-fed and pastured, we have no GMO foods, we do not raise pigs on conveyor belts, and ethical poultry products are easy enough to buy. Supermarkets are plentiful and range from posh to Lidl and Aldi low-cost grocers. Cork also has the amazing English Market which is indeed amazing.

UCC is a beautiful campus with what should be award-winning horticulture. I can't tell you what the students are like as academics, but I can tell you that as neighbours, 50% of them are complete shits in the vein of Girls Gone Wild. Interestingly, however, they all go home every weekend to see their mammies, which is pretty much standard for every university in Ireland. I think shelleycat is in a research post at UCC, so she may be a good resource for you.

The city is welcoming to English-speaking foreigners. It's easy to meet people and make friends here if you're good at making friends. Historically, there has been very little immigration here; the last 15 years has seen the first sizeable influx, mostly from Eastern Europe, and Irish culture is still acclimating though we're starting to see marriages and better integration now.

Cork is a harbour town; there's a dying port that will maybe get regenerated in the next 10 years. There is stunning coast and lots of it; Kerry is close and gorgeous West Cork is on your doorstep. Dublin is 3 hours by train. There is an airport about 10 minutes from the city centre; European connections are cheap and plentiful, but there are no trans-atlantic flights because the runway is not long enough.

Overall, I think quality of life here is pretty good if you're employed even though cost of living is high; groceries are expensive, petrol is outrageous, and home energy is dear. On the plus side, healthcare is free and your taxes mean that nobody depending on the social welfare system is living in anything like the kind of poverty seen in the US, so there's that. if you want to poke around property, Daft.ie is basically the go-to site for sales and rentals. Rentals will all come furnished and depending on what you want, will run from €650 - 1200 per month.

Other differences: there are almost no highrises here. We have one 17-story building in town, and it's literally the tallest in Ireland. Few buildings are more than 3 stories. Houses in the city are small, and almost always terraced instead of detached. There is one IKEA in the country and it's in Dublin (but there are local shop-and-deliver services who will bring IKEA stuff to you.) It opened in 2009, had to get special planning permission, is the largest retail space in the country and they had to widen the highway to accommodate projected traffic, so that tells you something about typical scale here.

That's all I can think of unless you have children, in which case education is going to be a... thing. If you have any questions, I'm happy to follow up.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:45 PM on October 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

I spent one night there many years ago. Stayed at a great hotel, partied into the night with the staff, and no fistfights broke out. Made out with a girl and when room service cut us off went down to the bar for half a dozen screwdrivers and a scotch and water. I was in high school. So I love it the way one loves a great high school crush. I recall it as fun, mysterious, and kind.
posted by vrakatar at 10:46 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, also: the weather. Cork generally has a very mild climate because this is where the Gulf Stream makes landfall. Palm trees survive here. We get the same amount of rain as the Pacific Northwest, just in a different pattern. We get some rainfall about 150 days a year, but in spring and summer, often that's literally a 10 minute shower. It does snow but it's sort of a marvel when it does; most years it's just the odd day of snow, some years with none at all. Typicall it doesn't even stick. Our climate is changing, though, and preparation for "severe weather" is now a thing. The Irish definition of severe weather is nothing like any location in the US where it snows routinely. People here don't even own snow shovels.

The worst thing about the weather here is not the rain, it's the quality of the light in winter. Ireland is further north than you probably realise; Cork is roughly on the same latitude as Toronto. Winter skies are dim. The sky out my window right now is remarkable for its complete absence of colour. We get 7 hours and 45 minutes of daylight at the low point. On the plus side, Ireland excels at fabulous peat fires and delicious winter food, so there is that. Oh, and we get a lot of rainbows!
posted by DarlingBri at 12:44 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Loved Cork as a brief visitor a few years back. I can't add more detail than a resident like DarlingBri but two things I did notice:

- Rain and gloomy skies. It rains for 152 days a year. For reference, it rains 150 days/year in Seattle, 113 in NYC, 120 in Boston, 110 in London. I'm sure, like DarlingBri and many others, people get used to it but it would be a factor for me.

- Cork is a mid-size city. Which is either a good, bad or neutral thing depending on how you see it. On the one hand the city is totally accessible and manageable in terms of getting a handle on it. On the other, if you're used to a city like NYC, Chicago, London it might feel a bit small. If you're expecting ye olde Ireland of media depictions, at least in the city itself, prepare to be surprised though - Cork felt pretty modern-facing to me. Ireland's low corporate tax rates have encouraged a lot of big business to set up factories and headquarters there. Pfizer have a big operation just outside the city in the wonderfully named Ringaskiddy. Apple's European HQ is in Cork, for example.

The English market is awesome. The surrounding countryside and coast is beautiful. The people I met were super friendly. At the time I went, pre-crash, Cork seemed quite expensive. DarlingBri's comments above would confirm that's still the case.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:39 AM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: I think shelleycat is in a research post at UCC, so she may be a good resource for you.

I was but haven't been for a while, contract extensions no longer happen at UCC. I'm actually leaving Ireland in a couple of weeks.

Are there any common pitfalls I should avoid as I put together my application?

Yeah, make sure it's a real job and they're actually looking to hire an outsider. UCC put in a 'career structure' a while back that means all jobs have to been advertised, even if there's an internal candidate already ear marked, even if it's just an extension of someone's contract. This affects research jobs mostly so as an academic you're probably fine, but since then we've all seen all kinds of jobs advertised that would not have been previously. Oh and note - 'academic' and 'research' are quite different job tracks here just in case that's relevant. The rules do say that all candidates have to be considered so you probably wouldn't get a straight answer if asking about it directly. So just don't put the cart before the horse. You haven't even applied yet, let alone been short-listed. Academic jobs in Western Europe are really competitive so, even if it is a real job they're actively recruiting for, you have a long way to go before worrying about anything else.

I don't know if you're the kind of academic that also does research but, if you are and you do get short listed, then you'll want to ask about that whole career structure thing and how it's impacting your department. Because in mine it's driving out all the longer term research staff leaving labs staffed by PhD students and early, inexperienced postdocs only, and that makes a difference to the kind of research program a PI can run. You'd need to talk with people in the department not HR, because the latter think everything is wonderful.

I don't know about the students, I'm a researcher I avoid them. I do get a bit bored with picking through the piles of vomit on the way to work during term time, but don't live in the middle of town and stay at home on weeknights and it's otherwise fine.

HR is generally very good at sorting out the paperwork for non-EU hires and the immigration is very straight forward. You'd be eligible for either a Hosting Permit or an Irish Green Card so there would be no worries there at all. You would probably want to address in your cover letter why you're interested in Ireland and you'll definitely be asked in an interview if you get that far, so it's worth having a short sentence lined up.

On the plus side, healthcare is free and your taxes mean that nobody depending on the social welfare system is living in anything like the kind of poverty seen in the US, so there's that.

Keep in mind that as a non-EU national you have zero access to any kind of public funds, so no social welfare for us. You will still pay for them via your taxes of course. I'm coming from a different angle to DarlingBri in that I'm from a country with very good nationalised healthcare and I've found access here to be a big issue. It's absolutely not free. Again as a non-EU person the only coverage/help I get is from private health insurance. It's expensive, does not cover any kind of pre-existing condition for two years (which means basically covers nothing for someone with several mild health issues like me), and in general covers only the bare minimum in an emergency. For me it was not worth paying even more for slightly better coverage because of the pre-existing condition exclusion. Doctors visits are expensive (50-60 euros), so are dentists, and it's all more than I can afford. So basically I don't. Friends from other countries with well subsidised, functional health care systems have also found they can't afford the level of care they're used to. So, while an emergency isn't going to bankrupt me, that's about all good I can say about it. Lack of healthcare is one of the reasons I'm leaving Ireland.

I also wouldn't call flight connections into Europe "plentiful". If you want to go to Spain or the UK and book in advance then sure, and there are a handful of other flights depending the time of year. But, unless you're prepared to go to Dublin first (which adds four or five hours to the trip), using this as a base to explore Europe is not great. The Cork airport is really nice though, small, laid back, easy to get around in. The trains to Dublin are also nice - clean and comfortable - and can be cheap if you book a month in advance. Alternatively, the bus to Dublin is very cheap and not terribly uncomfortable. Otherwise you really want a car or access to a car (hire cars are surprisingly cheap) to see anything of the country.

Within Cork, public transport is not great at all. Getting to and from the town centre is doable, depending on where you live, getting across town at all sucks. Buses often leave early or really late so they're easy to miss. Fortunately there are lots of good places to live within walking distance of the University and the local supermarkets deliver. So it is possible to live here without a car (we do), and it is pretty bike-able in general (my husband bikes 8.5 km each way to work each day and we get around by bike a lot), it just gets boring not having access to much of the city. Cars are expensive by my standards (cars in NZ are very cheap) but they're certainly available to buy if you want to do that too.

I left New Zealand because it's small, isolated and just generally very far away. After two and a half years in Cork I'm leaving here for somewhat similar reasons. It is a small city, it is quite isolated, the research I was doing was also quite isolated (although I don't know what the rest of UCC is like), and frankly I'm bored. I'm moving to mainland continental Europe (in Germany) and feeling quite excited about that. So that's my prejudice for what it's worth.
posted by shelleycat at 1:42 AM on October 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine lived in Dublin, but the advice probably applies here - Ireland is very expensive at the moment in terms of day to day living. Many of his colleagues would drive north over the UK border in order to do their food/clothing/cosmetic shopping, as it was that much cheaper.
posted by mippy at 2:00 AM on October 15, 2013

Best answer: I studied abroad for six months at UCC in 2007, and visited again this summer with my husband (we met there!). I agree with everything DarlingBri said about the city - I lived with a combination of Irish and foreign UCC students, and everyone was very friendly, and the city was beautiful. I loved it. The city centre feels like part of a much bigger city, with street performers and great pubs (go to Sin E) and the English Market, which has to be the thing I miss most about Cork. If it starts to feel small, it's no thing to get to Dublin, or to just about any European city on RyanAir. I flew all over the place for $15. It was great. (re: shelleycat, she's right about going through Dublin, but I grew up in northern Wisconsin so I am used to that particular inconvenience, ha)

As for UCC - well, that's going to depend where you're coming from. It is...not like an American university. I actually had really good professors in all my classes, but the school seriously lacks resources (for example, you could only check out a few books at a time, and only for two weeks, and there were always people sitting on the floor because space was so insufficient) and most students don't take school that seriously (our professors tended to really like international students, who were generally more dedicated to their studies; I had an Irish roommate who at one point took like six weeks to go wander around Switzerland mid-semester and this surprised no one). It is not at all a residential school, so if that's something you're used to, the environment might seem strange. I had a really good experience at UCC, but the students at least are pretty low-key about academics.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:26 AM on October 15, 2013

My credentials are skimpy - I've only spent about a weeks' time total in Cork City - but one of my best friends grew up there, and I'm trying to recall from some of her letters and my visit.

Nthing the climate. A lot of my pictures from my first visit are pictures of palm trees growing in people's yards because it just seemed so odd.

You would be a fairly short drive out to the countryside of West Cork and Kerry, and if you're into outdoorsy adventures you would LOVE that; gorgeous scenery and lots of quiet. But also, you've got Kinsale fairly close by, which is another major, major foodie town - it's a harbor town that's really tiny, but has become sort of a ground-zero for foodies, as I understand (both times I visited was a bit before that took off).

I've heard tales of a low-level rivalry Cork has with Dublin, kind of like Chicago-vs.-New-York; but saw no such examples during my admittedly brief stay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:37 AM on October 15, 2013

Read here about access to healthcare in Ireland, as there is some apparent conflicting information provided in this thread. I'm from Dublin but travel to Cork frequently for work, it is indeed a nice town, best of luck with your application.
posted by kev23f at 7:09 AM on October 15, 2013

Cork is roughly on the same latitude as Toronto.

Cork is well north (very well north!) of Toronto, which is actually just a smidgen south of Portland OR. Cork is 51.9 N. Toronto is 43.7 N. Cork is basically on the same parallel as southern Labrador, or the very bottom of James Bay, or midway between Calgary and Edmonton AB.

I lived in Waterford for 8 months in 2005-06. I liked Waterford, but I really liked my visits to Cork.

I loved a lot of things about southern Ireland which also apply to Cork. Most of these have been brought up already, but I'll chip in with my own words:

- small cities and towns that had more of an urban feel than newer North American cities ten times their size. Pedestrianized cores, plenty of foot traffic, beautiful architecture, cultural institutions, etc. In terms of population, Cork is only slightly larger than Fargo, but it punches leagues above its weight in "city-ness".

- excellent climate. Never too hot in summer, but never uncomfortably cold in winter. Huge stretches of light/medium jacket weather (my favourite). NB: if you are from a warmer part of the US, you might not feel the same way. Also, I lived in a new apartment with decent heating. I'm told older buildings can be miserable in winter.

- the work culture. It's somewhat stereotypical, but I found work more relaxed and friendlier than I would expect in a similar North American setting.

- easy and affordable access to both Dublin (which I found to be an excellent city to visit) and to other parts of Europe.
posted by erlking at 7:35 AM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live an hour from Cork in Kenmare (Co. Kerry). Darling Bri's has it all the way. As one who is in Cork on a regular basis I would offer the following:
1) Excellent transportation hub via auto, train and plane. Relatively inexpensive short flights to an number of European destinations. Hourly train service to Dublin and motorway/ring road. I can promise you that you will get lost several times in Cork.
2) Good dining and one of the best vegetarian cafes any where: Cafe Paradiso and yes the English Market and associated Restaurant
3) There is no Apple Store but a very friendly, competent and responsive authorized Apple reseller and repair shop.
4) And most important ( well maybe not and maybe yes ) easy access to some of the most scenic, compelling and striking landscapes and seascapes you will find. And the are several MeFi's so we can have a get together.

As for academics--sorry no experience or advice. If you want to discuss this further please feel free to email.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:02 AM on October 15, 2013

i studied abroad in cork at ucc for 6 months in 2000. coming from a small private us college ucc was quite a culture shock. maybe if i had come from a big 10 college it wouldn't have been, but the style of teaching/learning was so very incredibly different. all lecture based, no discussion.

we lived on bachelor's quay in city centre. at the time i had a lot of probelms with cork, but i was 20 and had never lived in a city. having lived in philadelphia for over a decade i can look back and see a lot of positives about cork. it was small, walkable, pretty pedestrian friendly, etc.

the weather was not terrible. a lot of misting, some rain, but it wasn't an everyday rainstorm. i was there until december 24 and i think i saw some flurries once or twice, but nothing that stuck.

i did not find the locals incredibly welcoming. we did make a few friends our age at the local pub, but they were more drinking buddies than anything else. the students at ucc were completely uninterested in us and were frankly annoyed at our presence, which was sad. but, we were 20 year old americans and we were likely acting like assholes. i remeber we got A LOT OF SHIT from nearly everyone when we couldn't elect a president.

anyway. just some observations, many of which may not be relevant since it was so long ago.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:19 PM on October 15, 2013

Cork is well north (very well north!) of Toronto

Sorry, I could only find very small latitude maps and it looked right, ish!

Just to clarify: shelleycat is totally right about our very different perspective on "free" healthcare. Here is the information about entitlement to healthcare. (Note a medical card is issued to low-income families and will not apply to you):

If you do not have a medical card, you are entitled to free public hospital services but you may have to pay in-patient and out-patient hospital charges. You are also entitled to subsidised prescribed drugs and medicines and maternity and infant care services and you may be entitled to free or subsidised community care and personal social services.

You qualify for the above if you are "ordinarily resident" in Ireland, and a work permit means just that.

I am not an EU national and I do not have private health insurance. I have been hospitalised three times in six years here and have never paid a hospital charge, ever. I do pay my GP for every visit (which I write off on my taxes) but have never been charged for any tests at my GP's. From a US perspective, I find prescription drugs here seriously cheap. Also from a US perspective, I am not terrified to get a serious or expensive illness and none of my hospital stays drove me into medical bankruptcy (or cost me a cent).

In other words, this one is totally a question of perspective and experience. To me, what's here is just so much better and because I'm not paying $1350 a month to insure a family of four, it feels free to me. It's a flawed system but despite that, I am a huge fan.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:19 PM on October 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your insightful and varied responses. This gives me a much better start in imagining what it would be like there.

I'll definitely have to sit down and study the healthcare question carefully, since we have pre-existing conditions in the family that would be a dealbreaker if not covered.
posted by umbú at 7:18 PM on October 15, 2013

Your pre-existing conditions are absolutely covered by public healthcare. You cannot be excluded; it is a public service paid for by taxpayers and and is a universal service that covers everyone in the country.

43% of adults here have private insurance. If your employer offers private health insurance, conditions may be excluded by those insurers (you'll have to ask HR) but would still be covered by the public health system. Which, as I may have mentioned 900 times, I think is awesome!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:33 PM on October 30, 2013

« Older Who are some artists that play traditional Chinese...   |   I need to make a clean break. I'm ruining my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.