The days when Cork closed its gates from sunset to sunrise barring entry to enemies and strangers are long past. Cork is now an open, vibrant, welcoming city. On the streets of Cork the visitor will hear people speaking in many European and non-European languages. This is entirely appropriate. The site which became Cork city was traversed in prehistoric times by people about whom we know little apart from what we can deduce from the bone needles, stone axe heads and other implements which they left behind them. What is certain is that they, or their ancestors, came from Europe. Celtic monks and Scandinavian warrior-traders co-founded Cork city. Normans conquered the city and built its walls. Irish, Old English and New English developed it. The cultural and economic life of the city has been immeasurably enhanced by communities of English Quakers, French Huguenots and Eastern European Jews fleeing the pogroms of Czarist Russia. Thousands of Corkmen died on the battlefields of Europe during both world wars. The history and development of the city are inextricably set in a European context.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Cork hosted the great International Exhibition. At the beginning of the twenty first century it will host the European Capital of Culture event. There is a pleasing symmetry about this. A symmetry which mirrors the physical symmetry of this old city bounded to the north and south by the twin channels of its beloved River Lee. Given Cork’s long history and its unbroken economic and cultural links with Europe the European Capital of Culture 2005 could not have chosen a better home.