While there might not be loads of typical ‘tourist attractions’, you can happily pass the time savouring some traditional Irish beer, food, culture and history.

Harbour town

Cork is reputed to have the second biggest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney). The best way to see it is on a speedboat tour.

Tours run by Safari depart from central Cork and cruise slowly up the River Lee before hitting the harbour where the skipper revs up the motor and makes you glad of the waterproof jackets and pants they handed out beforehand.

The trip takes you past an Irish naval base, the port of Cobh (see right) and pretty towns such as Crosshaven, which is home to the world’s oldest yacht club.

If you’re lucky, you’ll also spy a dolphin or three frolicking about.

Don’t drink Guinness

Down in southern Ireland the very tasty, locally brewed beers Beamish (which has a brewery in downtown Cork), and Murphy’s are the way to go.

Fortunately Cork has loads of great bars in which to try the local drops. Sin é (translation: this is it) and Dan Lowrey’s on the north side of the river are both great local boozers — not too posh, not too grungy. On the south side around St Patrick’s Street are dozens of pubs you can wander into and feel at home.

Maybe it’s a mystical Irish thing, but on the weekends, bars seem to heave with people having a good craic without being overly raucous — brilliant.

Cell block

Today Ireland’s economy is envied globally, but Cork Gaol provides a haunting reminder of a time when things weren’t so good.

The 1846-49 failure of the potato crop — on which Ireland’s growing population depended — caused mass starvation. So much so that many people committed a crime so they could be sent to jail where at least they would get food, shelter and medical care.

The tiny cells housed up to five inmates — but never just two on their own. “Putting two people in a cell would encourage immoral practices,” says our guide of the bizarre reasoning behind this means of avoiding jailbird hanky panky. “Obviously they didn’t know about orgies back then.”

A load of Blarney

Just 8km up the road from Cork is Blarney Castle, home to probably the world’s second most famous bit of rock (after Uluru).

The 500-year-old castle and its grounds are undoubtedly impressive and would be worth visiting on their own. But the reason everyone is here is to kiss the Blarney Stone.

You don’t give it a smooch for good luck, but rather to obtain the gift of eloquence, and it’s kinda cool to snog the famous rock. To do so you have to lie on your back, grasp a railing (an old Irish geezer will give you some support) tilt your head back and pucker up to the stone.

Go west

Head west from Cork for some lovely coastline and characterful small towns.

Kinsale and Clonakilty (each an hour or so by bus from Cork) are both worth visiting, and provide an authentic experience of Irish life outside the big cities.

» Daniel Landon travelled with Eurolines (0871-781 8177; www.eurolines.co.uk). Fares to Cork start from £39 return.

Sinking feeling

These days the town of Cobh (pronounced Cove) is a tranquil port. But the rows of terrace homes with their vibrant colours and the magnificent cathedral that overlook the harbour belie a heartbreaking past.

Almost half of the six million poverty-stricken Irish people who emigrated between 1848 and 1950 bade farewell to their homeland in Cobh — as did 39,000 convicts who were sent to Australian penal colonies between 1791 and 1853.

In 1912 — then known by its British name of Queenstown — Cobh was the final port visited by the Titanic before it whacked into an iceberg, killing 1517.

Three years later, during World War I, the passenger ship Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine while en route from New York to Liverpool. The 761 survivors were brought to Queenstown, but most of the 1198 who died were never recovered. A mass grave in the city marks the sinking, which helped bring US military action into the war.

Cobh, The Queenstown Story is the town’s heritage centre, and does a brilliant job of bringing to life the town’s tragic past.

There are regular trains (half-an-hour journey) from Cork to Cobh.