Starts St Patrick’s Street at St Patrick’s Bridge.
Below is a brief historical walking trail, which covers some of the topics on my physical walking tour. The information is abstracted from various articles from my Our City, Our Town column in the Cork Independent, 1999-present day, Cork Independent Our City, Our Town Articles | Cork Heritage
The curving and elegant thoroughfare of St. Patrick’s Street was, is and will always be the common ground where all Corkonians mix. A street of great character, a chequered past provides the setting for Cork’s principal boulevard.
Strolling down St. Patrick’s Street or affectionately known in the native tongue as “Pana” is a pleasure. Being the main thoroughfare in a city such as Cork is unique in itself, but being from Cork, one is bound to meet a relative or friend. Perhaps, it is its role as a meeting place that provides the street with its rich appeal.
The street’s cultural heritage is rich. The area of and surrounding St. Patrick’s Street was the brainchild of city merchants in the early eighteenth century. Prior to the 1700s, the area was just marshland, which was reclaimed as the eighteenth century progressed. Indeed, St. Patrick’s street was a curving channel of the River Lee and turned into a canal with quays, shops and warehouses on both sides of it. Circa 1780, the canal was filled, which created a wide and elegant thoroughfare
Today, the old streetscape has been combined with the new as Spanish architect Beth Gali’ plan for the street finally becomes a reality. A new era has been born for Cork’s eminent thoroughfare.
1. St. Patrick’s Bridge:
In the late 1700s, Cork had an extensive butter trade. Hence, there was a large need by the city’s butter merchants for a new bridge linking the northside of the city to the warehouses and quays within the city centre. Of course, opposition reigned in the city, especially amongst the businessmen, near the proposed site, who operated ferry-boats across the River Lee. Their petition to the Corporation of Cork was turned down.
In 1786, the go-ahead was given by the Corporation for the raising of money for the project. It was decided by the Corporation that loans would have to be taken out to finance the construction of the bridge. A Mr. Michael Shanahan was chosen to be the architect and chief contractor of the operation. From 1788, he set about planning the project and on 25 July of that year, the foundation stone was laid. It took six months to complete the entire job. To pay back the loans taken out, tollls had to be paid by anyone using the bridge to cross, and these tolls were kept in place for 21 years.
On Saturday, the 17th January 1789, disaster occurred as a flood swept through the Lee Valley. An old boat moored at Carroll’s Quay-Popes Quay broke lose and crashed against the centre arch i.e. the keystone of the bridge, causing the structure to collapse. The bridge was rebuilt and christened on 29 September 1789.
In November 1853, disaster occurred again when St. Patrick’s Bridge was swept away by another flood. Architect, John Benson was chosen to design the new St. Patrick’s Bridge.In November 1859, the new bridge, comprising of three arches over the river with a ornate pillared balustrade on both sides was opened and christened. Disaster struck again when the bridge had to be reconstructed due to a small boat, which struck it when it got loose from its moorings. It was built again and was opened on the 12th December 1861 for public vehicular traffic.
From here on, the Bridge remained the same and it still spans over the rushing waters of the River Lee. On the bridge, relics of its past can be viewed, in particular two remaining gas lights, which were placed there in 1861 can be seen. The effigies on the top of each arch of the bridge today were carved by a Corkman, Scannell and are of St. Patrick, St. Bridget, and Neptune and the three sea-godesses.
2. Fr. Mathew Statue:
In the period 1830 to 1850, one of Cork’s most famous historical characters came to prominence to aid the impoverished of the city, Fr. Theobald Mathew. Fr. Mathew, a Tipperary man was ordained a priest in the Capuchin order in 1814. Subsequently, he was assigned by the Provincial of the Order to the South Friary (now marked by the City’s Tax Office) in Blackamoor Lane, near Sullivan’s Quay. Fr. Mathew established a boy’s school near Blackamoor Lane following in the example taken by the local Christian Brothers who were providing education for poor boys in the northern part of the city.
Much of Fr. Mathew’s works of mercy were completed in light of the cholera epidemic of 1832 and fever epidemics. Perhaps his most known work of charity in the city was his involvement in the creation of an effective temperance movement. Among the many social problems afflicting the people of the country in the first half of the 1800s, drunkenness was a major problem. By 1839, Fr. Mathew’s temperance movement began to gain popular support through the creation of branches in several County Cork towns.
By the end of 1839, the reputation of the Cork Temperance Society, the first such known effective society in the city began to spread further into north Munster. Indeed, it was at this time that Fr. Mathew began to be acclaimed as the ‘Apostle of Temperance’. Indeed, by the end of 1840, it is recorded that 180,000 to 200,000 nationwide had taken the pledge.
In the late 1840s, Fr Mathew went to America to rally support for his teetotaller cause and the tee-totalism cause in Ireland and England started to suffer by his absence. He died in December 1856 and was buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery, Cork, his own cemetery that he created for the poor. Fr Mathew has left a legacy in this city that has been maintained and respected since his death. Of all his commemorative features in the city, the Fr. Mathew Statue, erected in 1864, on St Patrick’s Street very much honours of the man.
Cork City Libraries has published a book on the history of the Father Mathew statute in Patrick Street (by Antoin O’Callaghan). The book celebrates the history of one of Cork’s most iconic monuments. The book can be purchased from Cork City Libraries.
3. Rebellions, Burning and Rebuilding: Circa 1920:
In the 1910s Ireland’s War of Independence was a dark time for the country. Violence escalated on both sides between Ireland and Britain. Eamonn DeValera and his unofficial government, Dáil Ēireann struggled to break Westminster’s grip on Ireland. During this period, Cork had a strong rebel nature. The city’s uncompromising stance was epitomized by two men: Thomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney.
In response to Irish Republican Activities in Cork and in the country as a whole, from January 1920, the British government increased the number of men serving in the Royal Irish Constabulary, recruiting the infamous Black and Tans to swell the ranks. The total number of British government servants in Ireland came to approximately 40,000, whilst the IRA numbered 5,000 men. Thus, more often than not Irish Republican Army employed hit-and-run tactics. On 28h November 1920, a famous incident involving the British auxiliaries and the IRA occurred near Cork. The ‘Flying Column’, a division of the West Cork IRA, ambushed a police patrol near the village of Kilmichael, just south of Macroom. Twenty British soldiers were killed. In West Cork and in Ireland as a whole, Kilmicheal became a celebrated victory of rebel arms. Indeed, the column commander, Tom Barry, became a folk hero and a revolutionary celebrity.
In December 1920, six unknown IRA men ambushed a troupe of auxiliaries within a hundred metres of the central military barracks near Dillion’s Cross on the northside of Cork City. At least one auxiliary was killed and twelve others wounded. In retaliation, indiscriminate shooting commenced by the auxiliaries and Black and Tans in the main city centre streets shortly after eight o’clock. Curfew was at ten o’clock, but long before that the streets were deserted. At ten o’clock two houses at Dillion’s Cross were set alight, and the adjacent roads were patrolled to prevent any attempts to extinguish the flames. Soon, petrol was brought into the city centre and various premises were set alight at random.
The fires spread rapidly and soon most of the southern side of St. Patrick’s Street was ablaze. Cork City Hall and the adjacent Andrew Carnegie Library were destroyed, with large tracts of Cork’s public and historic records destroyed forever. Between 1921 and 1930, St. Patrick’s Street was rebuilt in an early twentieth century style of architecture. Hence, two styles of architectures grace the streetscape, the northern side comprises the nineteenth century style whilst the southern side, comprises the early twentieth century style.
British Pathe’s view of St Patrick’s Street, 1927 – Cash’s Buildings had just been re-built, following the building’s burning out in 1920,
4. Pana’a Golden Cinemas – The Savoy and Pavillion Cinema:
Two fine places of entertainment, two cinemas of high repute, the Savoy and the Pavillion adorned St. Patrick’s Street for much of the twentieth century.
The Pavillion Cinema opened on Thursday, the 10th March 1921 with a single presentation of D.W.Griffith’s epic, The Greatest Question. The interior was impressive, a plush 900 seater auditorium fitted with comfortable cushioned seats. The Tallon family from the Rochestown Road were owners of this new cinema, and Fred Harford was the first manager. It was the finest cinema in the city with an extensive orchestral music area to accompany the silent films. The ‘Talkies’ made their debut on Monday, the 5th August with an Al Jolson film, The Singing Fool. The film caused a huge stir in Cork and drew in 12,000 people in the first five days alone. The ‘Pav’ had a contract to show all the MGM films. The auditorium also had a stage on which live shows, recitals and concerts were frequently held to great popular acclaim.
On 16h February 1930, disaster struck when a fire swept through the building. The Pavillion was severely gutted. It reopened, fully remodelled and redecorated the following June. The building also possessed a fashionable restaurant and was always a suitable place to take a first date. The restaurant was often used for workshops during the Film Festival. Spiralling costs led to the closure of the famous restaurant in 1985. The Pavillion closed in August of 1989 with a screening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as its final film.
The Savoy Cinema (5a) was constructed in the early 1930s, was commissioned by the Rank Organisation, and was built by the firm of Meaghar and Hayes. The first film was shown on Thursday, 12 May 1932. The cinema had a colourful art deco exterior with an imposing exterior lighted canopy. The interior design was elaborate with a spacious marble foyer. The rear of the Grand Circle was known as the Gods, which was the cheapest part of the house. The grand auditorium held an audience of 2,249 patrons. The Studios of Rank, United Artists, 20th Century Fox and Columbia supplied new films to the Savoy and the programme changed twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Sunday was always “the” night of the week to go to the pictures. The general public dressed in their best clothes. Fred Bridgeman, was the organist, and was the Savoy’s top live entertainer for nearly thirty years. The Cork Film International Festival, originally called ‘An Tostal’, began in 1953. For one week each year, the Savoy was home to the festival. By 1970, the character of the Savoy was starting to fade. The departure of Fred Bridgeman signalled the end of the era of the cinema organ and the grand sing-a-long shows. In July 1973, the Savoy cinema closed. Today, part of the Savoy is a shopping centre and the remainder is awaiting redevelopment.
5. G.P.O. Former Site of Cork Theatre Royal, Winthrop Street:
The first reference to a theatre in eighteenth century Cork occurred in 1713 when the directors of Smock Alley Theatre Dublin, Messrs. Joseph Ashbury, Thomas Elrington, John Evans, Thomas Griffith leased property in the marshes to the east of the walled town, now the area of Oliver Plunkett Street. The directors converted a large room into a playhouse. This was the first Smock Alley Theatre outside Dublin. The associated company of actors of the Smock Alley Theatre performed there for two decades during the summer months and entertained the masses of Cork’s population. At the beginning of the decade of the 1730s, a decision was taken by directors of the Cork Theatre to design a new and proper playhouse. This was to be more suited to the needs of performers and audience. Funds to construct the new Cork Theatre came from the estate of Thomas Elrington who died in Dublin in 1732.
With increasing wealth and elegance came a proposal in 1759 by the management of the Crow Street Theatre Dublin, headed by Spranger Barry, to create a playhouse more fitting of Ireland’s second city. The new building was located three blocks east of the old Theatre Royal on the same side of George’s Street between Morgan’s Lane (now Morgan Street) and Five Alley Lane (now Pembroke Street). The Cork General Post Office now occupies the site. The playhouse façade on George’s Street possessed a ground floor arcade or a façade similar to that of the Crow Street. The new playhouse finished in early summer 1760, 136 feet long and 60 feet wide, The Cork playhouse was the biggest playhouse in eighteenth century Ireland outside Dublin. In the intervening periods of uncertainty in the eighteenth century, the Theatre Royal was subject to great competition, all of which did not last the test of time and many closed within a decade, a number of small actor companies established new playhouse venues in Cork’s expanding urban area.
A fire gutted the Theatre Royal in 1840, but it was reopened in 1853. In 1875, owner, James Scanlan sold the Cork Theatre Royal on Oliver Plunkett Street to the Postal authorities who were to use the building as the city’s General Post Office. On the 10th April 1875, the last three professional performances that were to take place in the Theatre Royal were announced in the Cork Examiner. These performances comprised; Monday 11th Virginius; Tuesday 12th, Hamlet; Wednesday, 13th, Belpheggar. After a period of 113 years, from 1760 to 1875 (Cork Theatre Royal), James Scanlan shifted the centre of theatrical interest to a building at the side of the northern branch of the river Lee, which had been variously known as the Athenaeum, the city’s arts venue.
6. Cork Opera House:
The fabric of the Athenaeum was from the exhibition hall, which occurred in 1852. In ensuing months after the 1852 National Exhibition, the President of the Royal Cork Institution, Thomas Tobin formed a committee for converting the use of the Great Exhibition Hall as a venue for promoting culture, the fine arts and practical sciences. John Benson’s iron and glass designed exhibition building was to be transferred from its site overlooking the south channel of the River Lee to the present day site of Cork Opera House overlooking the north channel of the Lee.
As a lecture and assembly hall, the uses of the Athenaeum were limited and in 1874, when the ownership of the building came into the hands of James Scanlan, he remodelled it and added a 700 seated concert hall. In addition, he changed the name to the Munster Hall or Halls. Remodelling made stage performances far more practical but the premises was more suited to concerts.
In 1875, a group of citizens, under the chairmanship of Mr. John George McCarthy, M.P. and local historian formed the Great and Royal Opera House Co. and purchased the Munster Hall from Scanlan. Indeed, at the same time music as a cultural element in the city, began to be developed on a professional level. Opera was hugely popular amongst Corkonians.
On the 17th September 1877, Cork Opera House opened its doors to begin its long illustrious career as Cork’s principal theatre. Mr. C.J. Phipps of London was commissioned to design the Cork Opera House. The Munster Hall was soon to change with two balconies added and a very fine stage. The decorations of the theatre were entrusted to the architect to Mr. Edward Bell of London.
The Opera House opened on 17 September 1877 with a performance of H.J. Byron’s comedy, Our Boys by William Duck and his company. The first manager of Cork Opera House, James Scanlan operated under a board of directors acting on behalf of a private limited company, which had been formed. Fundraising events were common in the 1880s. Scanlon, the manger tried everything to raise funds including a balloon ascent from the Cornmarket. During this event, the balloon, which had refused to ascend for the first two days, suddenly decided to do so with the result that two prominent Cork citizens had to walk home from Carrigtwohill, after they managed the balloon. However, the company that was formed in 1877 went into liquidation in 1888.
A fresh group of enthusiasts formed a new company with a capital of £12,000 and this was the company, which through all the trials and tribulations was still in existence when the theatre burned down 67 years in 1955. Cork Opera House was reopened with a new look in October 1965
For further details see www.corkoperahouse.ie
7. Crawford Municipal Art Gallery:
In 1883 a deputation, consisting of Mr. James Brenan, R.HA, schoolmaster of the Cork School of Art and the Hon. Secretary, was sent to London, to request further finance from Mr. Mundella, the then Vice-President of the Committee of Council for Education, for finance to construct a municipal art gallery.
Several months later, through the efforts of the committee and headmaster, James Brenan, William Horatio Crawford, a prominent Cork City merchant, decided to donate the necessary finance to complete a renovation and extension of the existing School of Art. The cost was £20,000 whilst Arthur Hill of the architects firm of Hill & Co designed the renovated building and extension. The architectural firm were renown in the city for their use of good quality Victorian building work.
It was originally proposed that the extension and additions would include a School of Art and Science and the wrought iron gates still visible today at the entrance to the Crawford Art Gallery still bear the inscriptions, “Art” and “Science”. The roof was to be complete with several turrets. The initial intention was also to have art and technology taught under the one roof with both an art museum and a science museum. However, due to the cost, many of Arthur Hills’ designs were scaled down. The exterior roof was to have only one turret, still visible today and which marks the joining of the old eighteenth century custom house and the new school of Art and gallery extension. The wrought iron gates at the entrance to the new School of Art and gallery building bear the date 1884, the year the extension and renovation were completed. The official opening ceremony was not held until the 15 April 1885 (Murray, 1993).
The Cork Examiner noted on the 15th April 1885;
“Inside the gates are doors paned with diamonds of beautiful bevelled glass, of kind not hitherto used in any public building in Cork. Passing these doors we enter upon a spacious hall, from which open the various public portions of the building. The first door on the left opens into the large hall, which will be devoted to a collection of modern sculpture already in possession of the committee, in this are the Hogan casts, lately purchased from the widow of the famous sculptor. It will also celebrate the famous works of Canova at present in the School of Art, also a fine marble by Mr. Ambrose, the gift of Mr. Crawford”.
8. Remnants of the New City: Canals and the Chateau Bar:
For nearly five years, the walled town of Cork (c.1200-c.1690) remained as one of the most fortified and vibrant walled settlements. However, political events and civil unrest amongst citizens in the late seventeenth century culminating in the ‘Williamite’ Siege of Cork 1690, provided the catalyst for large scale change within the city itself. The ensuing breaches in the medieval walls meant, that in a sense, the town’s defensive spell had been broken.
Due to an absence of finance in the coffers of the municipal governing body, the Corporation of Cork, the town walls of Cork were allowed to decay. This decay in the walls was to inadvertently alter much of the city’s physical, social and economic character in the ensuing century, creating a distinct phase in Cork’s historical development known as ‘Georgian Cork’, a part of which the structure of the Chateau bar played a part.
In the early 1700s, large portions of marshland to the west and east of the town were to be reclaimed in the early 1700s by the Corporation of Cork and two influential religious groups who were lessees of the Corporation, the Huguenots and the Quakers. Residences, bridges, quays In general, five main developments occurred on the bought or leased-out marshes, drainage, residences, streets, quays and bridges.
The first one was the building of residences on them. Buildings that were constructed overlooking quays had steps leading up to their front door in order to prevent channel water from flooding out the building. These types of houses can still be seen on the South Mall and on St. Patrick’s Street especially the entrance to the Chateau Bar today.
After 1690, the civic administration of the town especially the roll call of mayors and sheriffs suggest a new ruling class and their established Protestant church in the town. The names of old English merchant families disappear such as the Galways, Skiddys, Roches, Goulds, Meades Coppingers and Tirrys. After 1690, new surnames of merchantile families based in Cork are recorded, which included, Maylor, Winthrop, Tuckey, Lavitt, Pembroke, Brocklesby and Deane. Many of these names form street names adjacent St. Patrick’s Street.
9. French Church Street – The Huguenot Presence:
The area now marked by French Church Street became a significant area of development for the Huguenot congregation in Cork. This religious group were initially formed during the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century in Geneva, Switzerland, under the leadership of John Calvin. In the north of France in the late 1600s, this assembly was large in numbers and grew very powerful in having a say in how France should be run. The French King Louis XIV at the time, who had strong ties with the Roman Catholic Church was aware of this and reduced their civil rights and their rights in religious practices. Indeed, many Huguenots left France to find new areas to establish their religion especially in Irish locations.
By the mid 1700s in Cork, over three hundred Huguenots had established themselves in Cork city. Many of them worked as trade peoples especially in the textile industry and in the manufacture of linen and silk. The Huguenots were also involved in property development. One of the first Huguenot families to develop property was Joseph Lavitt whose family were primarily involved in overseas trade and sugar refining. Lavitt’s Quay was constructed in 1704 and echoes the Huguenot’s past presence in the area.
The areas of present day French Church Street, Carey’s Lane and Academy Street in the city centre today are located at the core of the Huguenot quarter with the name “French Church” also reflecting their involvement in townscape change in Cork in the early eighteenth century.
10. Cork Examiner Offices, Apollo Theatre and the Canova Casts:
The site of the former Cork Examiner Offices (founded in 1841) and the former early nineteenth century Apollo Theatre offers an insight into Cork Golden Cultural Age – the nineteenth century. In the second decade of the 1800s, the acquisition of the classical casts of Antonio Canova was an important contribution to the cultural status of Cork.
Circa 1810, Pope Pius VII was anxious to express his gratitude to the English people for the return to the Vatican Galleries of many masterpieces looted by Napoleon Bonaparte, Thus, the Pope commissioned Italian artist, Antonio Canova, to make a set of over one hundred casts from the classical collection in the Vatican.
In 1812, the casts were shipped to London as a gift to the Prince regent, later George IV. The Prince showed a lack of appreciation towards his papal acquisitions and they lay firstly in the London Custom House and then in the basement of his residence in Carleton Gardens. Lord Listowel of Convamore, Co. Cork, a patron of the arts and a friend of the prince suggested that they should be donated as a gift to the people of Cork. Agreeing, the Prince donated them to the Society of Fine Arts in the city, whose premises was located on the intersection of St. Patrick’s Street and Falkener’s Lane.
A contemporary account best tells the story of this event, more especially when it comes from a manuscript autobiographical sketch written by one of the greatest beneficiaries from the casts, Cork artist, Daniel Maclise:
” A former Theatre once supported by the Apollo Society of Amateur Actors was fixed upon as the most suitable place for the reception of the valuable collection of casts. It was situated in a principal street, Patrick Street, and the stage was screened off by a well-painted scene of the interior of a Greek temple. The pit was boarded over, the gallery was partitioned off. The boxes remained only as they were, and the statues were arranged around the Parterre with much taste on moveable pedestals under the Superintendence of a London gentleman who was sent over for the purpose, and whose name happened appropriately enough to be Corkaigne”.
11. SS. Peter and Paul’s Church:
For more than a hundred years, SS. Peter and Pauls’ Church has stood in a quiet street off Patrick Street named SS. Peter and Paul’s Place. The present building was opened on Friday, the 29th June 1866 and replaced an older church in decay. Plans the present day SS. Peter and Paul’s Church, were initially proposed in the 1820s. This project did not run according to plan and it was only on the arrival of a Fr. John Murphy to the Parish that the project was revitalised under his direction. Entrusted with obtaining architectural plans for the rebuilding of the old chapel, Bishop Murphy arranged an architectural competition. The outright winner was Edward Pugin, the son of eminent English architect, Augustus Welby Pugin.
Work on the new Cork church got underway straight-away. Since the new church had to be built near and west of the old one due to space restrictions in the inner city, the first problem encountered was the ground to build on. To resolve the issue, Pugin shortened some of his designs. The style of architecture chosen for the structure was gothic, with pointed or peaked arches on windows and doors. The gothic style conveys a sense of imposing height on the structure. On the 15th August 1859, the foundation stone of the SS. Peter and Paul’s Church was laid.
The financial cost was the next problem experienced by Fr. John Murphy and it was both the rich and poor classes that contributed to the church’s fund. Seven years after the first stone was laid, the present church was opened on Friday, the 29th June 1866. The Catholic Bishop of Cork, William Delaney, said the first mass and the church was dedicated and named after the Apostles Peter and Paul. The church comprises a central nave or wide aisle with two aisles. The walls are of red sandstone stone with dressings of limestone. The aisles are at either side of the nave, which is covered with a gable roof. The ridge of the roof of the Church is decorated by ornamental ironwork, partly gilt, terminated at the western gable by an ornamental cross with foliated arms.
The church is entered by the western doorway, which is recessed or in alcove position, having ornamented jambs. Over the doorway is the great western window of the Church, the upper portion of which is occupied with geometrical tracery and ornamented pillars.
The three altars, the grand and two side altars are objects of great beauty and interest. It was after a number of years that the grand altar was supplied. It was of the purest white statuary Carrara marble. The pavements surrounding the altar, and the steps, are all of white Italian vein marble, and highly polished. The entire flooring of the church consists of alternative pieces of white and black marble indicative of the Church of God containing white and black sheep. Even though, SS. Peter and Paul’s Church is hidden among the commercial buildings of the city centre, it is truly a masterpiece of architecture. It is still well frequented by Corkonians for mass and hopefully the church will stand for future generations to look at, admire and adore.