History Trail, The Mardyke Area

Introduction:

An impressive historical quadrant of the city, this area showcases the best of eighteenth century Cork, from the flat Mardyke walk to the architectural splendour of the Mardyke Parade. Splice in buildings such as the former mayoral residence and old distillery buildings and they all add up to a strong sense of history and identity.

The Mardyke:

Between 1720 and 1730, the area around the Mardyke was marshland and known generally as the West marshes.  However, in 1719, a large section of land was bought by the town clerk Edward Webber who decided to build a raised walkway across the marshes as the step to reclaiming them. Edward Webber, himself was a descendant of a Dutch merchant. Consequently, he named his raised walkway after a promenade in Amsterdam called the ‘Meer-Dyke’, which means an embankment to protect the land from the sea.  

In addition to constructing the walk Webber also built a tea house of red bricks which was the first of its kind in Cork. Fruit gardens and pathways of gravel were put down along with stone seats for the convenience of the public. The publicity of Webber’s tea house grew and soon it became a place, which people of high social status met. After the death of Edward in 1735, his tea house and gardens continued to prosper for over two centuries but eventually closed in the mid 1940’s.

Between 1795 and 1850, the gardens and tea house were used as a summer residence for the Lord Mayor of Cork. At one stage people were employed to build an elegant pond and to take care of his grounds. In the early 1830’s people again started to use the walk. The renewed interest by the public led the Corporation to make the promenade more attractive by erecting a slate covered bandstand.

About 1845, the house which is presently the Municipal Museum was built by a prominent Cork family, the Beamishes. This family as well as William Crawford are also responsible for the setting up of Cork’s most famous distillery, Beamish and Crawford alot earlier in 1772. In 1867, the nuns of the Bons Secours (Sisters of Good Help) moved from their small overpopulated house on the Dyke parade and occupied the Beamish house. In those days, the majority of ill people were looked after in their homes or on the street as hospital care was very rare.

Map of Mardyke, 1801 (source: Cork City Library)
Map of Mardyke, 1801 (source: Cork City Library)

Cork Exhibition & Fitzgerald’s Park:

From May to November 1902, Cork City played host to one of the most significant events in its entire history – the International Exhibition of Manufactures, Arts, Products and Industries. It spanned a 44-acre site not far from the city centre encompassing an area on the Mardyke that now includes the Cork Cricket Club, the Sunday’s Well Boating and Tennis Club, Fitzgerald Park, and University’s Sports Arena. The exhibition grounds were elaborately laid out and had several large exhibiting halls and pavilions as well as an assortment of smaller buildings including tea houses, restaurants and kiosks.  Irish and foreign exhibitors, some from ‘exotic’ locations such as China, Russia, and Turkey, filled these halls and pavilions with exhibits and demonstrations for all to see. The exhibition was visited by over a million people.

At the end of the Cork International Exhibition in 1903 in the Mardyke, the organisers wished to give the grounds to the people of Cork as a place of recreation. A decision was taken to name the new public space after Edward Fitzgerald, the organiser of the Exhibition and Lord Mayor of Cork from 1901 to 1903. A general Park Committee was agreed upon and established by the Exhibition committee.

In March 1906, it was agreed to vest the Park and the Shrubberies House in the Corporation of Cork and Fitzgerald’s Park was born. Check out Cork City Museum, the former Exhibition Shrubberies House and also the park is the City’s official sculpture collection, home to a large collection in particular of Cork sculptor, Seamus Murphy.

Sketch of Cork International Exhibition, 1903 (source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen)
Sketch of Cork International Exhibition, 1903 (source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen)
Map of Fitzgerald's Park, Cork c.1910 (source: Kieran McCarthy)
Map of Fitzgerald’s Park, Cork c.1910 (source: Kieran McCarthy)

Daly’s Bridge:

Built in 1927, Daly’s Bridge spans a section of the river which is surrounded by greenery. One has Fitzgerald’s Park on the south side and several landscaped gardens on the north side. Prior to 1926, it had been suggested many times that a footbridge should be built in the locality in order to enhance the area. It was therefore decided by the Corporation to go halves on building a bridge with a Mr James Daly who was a butter merchant in the city.

A decision was made to construct a suspension bridge which would be supported at intervals across the river with the aid of anchored cables. A pedestrian walkway consisting of timber planks was also constructed. The building contract was awarded to a London based steel company owned by a Mr. David Rowell. Another major feature of Daly’s Bridge is its nickname. It is more commonly known as the “Shaky” Bridge. It attained the name due to the fact that a large number of people used the bridge to go to and from Gaelic matches in the Mardyke. Consequently the bridge would shake with the masses of people walking across it.

Daly's Bridge, Cork, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
Daly’s Bridge, Cork, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)

Sunday’s Well Boating and Tennis Club:

Sunday’s Well Boating and Tennis Club was founded in 1899, shortly after a successful July “Sunday’s Well Regatta and Water Carnival” had been held on the Lee. The Club was formed by some of the regatta committee organisers, who were boating and tennis enthusiasts from the locality. The committee then leased a plot of ground off the Mardyke Walk alongside the river and that is the ground which the Club occupies today. As a club, Sunday’s Well is fortunate in that it can boast of having a comprehensive range of annals dating from its foundation right up to present times. It was uniquely linked with the Cork International Exhibition of 1902/03, principally because it lent its grounds to the Exhibition, and the present clubhouse was built by the Exhibition Committee for visiting dignitaries, which included King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

In 1904, the Club took possession of the clubhouse. Sunday’s Well had, in addition to its magnificent new clubhouse, five excellently laid out and perfectly manicured grass courts. These set in peaceful and beautiful surroundings thus became the pride of the country. Throughout the summer, the courts were constantly used from morning to night, except on band promenade days, which were held regularly during the summer months in front of the clubhouse.

Cork Cricket Club, c.1900 (source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen)
Sunday’s Well Boating and Tennis Club, c.1900 (source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen)

Cork Cricket Club:

Founded in 1849 as the Cork Cricket Club, the County was added to it in 1874. In its 140-year history, the Mardyke has hosted 13 international fixtures, the first in 1902 against a London County team featuring WG Grace, Australian captain, Bill Murdoch and future England Captain, JHT Douglas, and the most recent in 2002 against an MCC side over three days. Test players such as Graham Gouch, Nasir Hussain, Peter Such, Derek Pringle and John Stephenson have all graced the Mardyke over recent decades.  

One of the significant changes to club teams was during World War I. Touring teams did not come but there was plenty of cricketing activity as there were large numbers of naval and military personnel based in the area. In 1922 when Ireland became Independent the military departed and the club became more dependent on local leagues, annual inter-provincials against Leinster and visits from teams such as Trinity College and Na Shulers (an Irish Touring Club).

Cork Cricket Club, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
Cork Cricket Club(source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen)

Mercy Hospital:

The Mercy Hospital was once the site of the old Mansion House. The visitor can see the remains of the old House today if you visit the Mercy Hospital. The Stone Porch and entrance is still standing; so is the magnificent mahogany staircase and one can view the beautiful Frescoed Ceilings on the upper floors. The Mansion House was built in 1767 for a cost of £3,793 with large and expensive dining and sitting rooms. It was designed by the Italian architect Davis Dukart. In the dining room was a full length figure of William III in armour. For years there were grumblings in the Corporation of Cork about the expense of keeping up the Mansion House as a mayoral residence. In March 1842 the bill was £1,000 for repairs and furnishing to make it fit for an official residence.

On 21 June 1844, the Mansion House began a new chapter in its history when the Corporation granted a 75-year lease of the building to two Cork Priests, Rev Michael O’Sullivan and Rev Michael Scully, who created St Vincent’s Seminary at the house. The link to education and charity grew at the site and on St Patrick’s Day, 1857, the Sisters of Mercy embarked on creating the Mercy Hospital at the site. Forty beds were ready on the first day but only six patients were admitted on the first day. Today the hospital has 314 beds and employs approximately 1,000 staff. It provides an array of inpatient, day patient and outpatient services.

Mercy Hospital, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)

Mercy Hospital, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)

Lee Maltings:

The house at the junction of the North Mall and Wise’s Hill was the residence of the distiller Francis Wise, after whose family the hill is named. It is a detached five-bay three-storey former house, built c. 1800, now in use as a university building. The building retains interesting features and materials, such as the timber sliding sash windows, wrought-iron lamp bracket arch, and interior fittings. The North Mall distillery was established on Reilly’s Marsh around 1779, and by 1802 the Wise brothers were running the firm. Whiskey production was another significant industry in Cork from the late eighteenth century.

Across the river channel, the complex of buildings known as the Lee Maltings, now the home of the Tyndall National Institute, forms one of the most significant surviving industrial sites in Cork city dating back to the eighteenth century. They were the largest water-powered flour and corn milling installation to become established on the north channel of the River Lee, and was also the last flour mills within the city to rely solely on water for milling.

George Boole House also looms directly across the steel lattice St Vincent’s Bridge (1875). In 1854, Queen’s College Cork appointed the eminent professor George Boole. He lived for a time on Batchelor’s Quay. A native of Lincoln in England, from an early stage in his life, he possessed an interest in mathematics. In 1844, Boole was awarded a gold medal by the Royal Society and developeda new branch of mathematics known as Boolean algebra. It became the basis of the modern digital computer science, Boole is regarded in hindsight as a founder of the field of computer science.

Lee Maltings, Cork, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
Lee Maltings, Cork, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)