As Ireland comes to grips with the reality of COVID-19, it is Cork City, not Dublin, that is showing the way forward.
Cork has adapted to the new restrictions imposed by the pandemic by turning one of its central streets into a sprawling outdoor restaurant.
On a recent staycation in the Rebel County, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Princes Street had become pedestrianized in response to the pandemic.
The several restaurants that line the street have now effectively turned inside out, with socially distanced tables stretching all the way down the thoroughfare.
The street, which is an offshoot of Oliver Plunkett Street, a major shopping street in the heart of Cork City, is ideally placed for tourists and locals alike to ramble by the many eateries that line it.
There are no boundaries between the impromptu outdoor restaurants, lending to the pleasant atmosphere in the area - an atmosphere that is enhanced on particularly balmy summer evenings.
We were lucky. Temperatures reached a scorching 25C during our stay in Cork, an almost unnatural high for Ireland at any time of the year, meaning that conditions were absolutely perfect for al fresco dining.
However, the outdoor dining is not exclusive to unnaturally warm temperatures and could still prosper in cooler conditions. It has been flourishing ever since it was implemented on June 29 and it is something that Dublin painfully lacks.
Didn't know this was underway, love it, must get in ASAP @Nash19Cork @QuinlansFish @oakfirepizza_ @MouseCork @CorkEventCentre @CorkCraneCount @EoinBearla @KarlDiskin pic.twitter.com/Wa6974CLgS— Flintlock Chevalier (@FlintlockCheva1) June 29, 2020
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Granted, several Dublin restaurants have quickly put together outdoor terraces to comply with new COVID-19 regulations, but Ireland's capital lacks a centralized area to rival the atmosphere in Cork.
Dame Lane is arguably the closest thing Dublin has to Princes Street, but it is so poorly organized that it quickly becomes a mess when crowds start to swell. Dame Lane additionally centers around alcohol rather than food, precipitating a chaotic atmosphere rather than the relaxed one found on Princes Street.
The Cork Street could be best compared to Stone Street in New York City, where several restaurants offer outdoor dining on a pedestrianized street.
Dublin needs this and not just in the context of COVID-19.
Unlike virtually every European capital city, Dublin City lacks a central focal point and the atmosphere in the city suffers as a result.
Dublin has no central square lined with shops and restaurants, an unusual feature in its own right. It simply needs a family-friendly area where people can enjoy an outdoor meal in peace in the warmer months.
Issues like wet and cold weather are easily mitigated by parasols and patio heaters and a pedestrianized project would be mutually beneficial for both restauranteur and customer.
For restaurant owners, outdoor dining instantly provides additional capacity that they could never have dreamed of. Several restaurants on Princes Street, for example, easily doubled their capacity thanks to their new al fresco dining.
For customers, it offers a chance to enjoy Ireland's precious days of summer sunshine by dining outside and adding a distinctly Mediterranean feeling.
Most importantly, however, it would add something different to Dublin and utterly transform the city.
In the current context, there is nothing more important.
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