4a. Challenges & Reclamation, Cork c.1690-c.1750

Penal Laws:

            The signing of the Treaty of Limerick in October 1691 marked final victory for the Williamite side over the Jacobite cause, or the political Roman Catholic cause. The Jacobite soldiers were expelled from Ireland, and 11,000 left from Cork, headed for France. This event became known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. One-seventh of the land was left in Catholic hands, the rest was confiscated and given to loyal Protestants. To safeguard its control Ireland, the Crown established a new system of legal controls, known as the Penal Laws. These laws were, in essence, a form of sectarian cleansing, designed to eliminate Catholicism as a political force. The measures included depriving Catholics access to educational facilities and public professions. The laws were aimed at suppressing Catholic worship too, but small masshouses were allowed to hold services in the city. One example of such a masshouse is the North Chapel, a simple, stone-walled church, the site of which is now occupied by SS. Mary and Anne’s North Cathedral. As the eighteenth century progressed, the Penal Laws were relaxed somewhat and public worship did resume, albeit under surveillance.

In the winter of 1690, the penal laws were just one concern of the Corporation of Cork and Cork citizens. The siege had left the walled town in ruins and it fell to the Corporation to rebuild it. However, the Williamite army had seized much of the town’s finance, so the focus of the town officials was to secure financial assistance. The Corporation was even obliged to give the Irish government bank (a precursor of the Irish Central Bank) the town seal as security against a loan. Indeed, after 1690, the civic administration of the town, especially the roll call of mayors and sheriffs, suggests a new ruling class. The names of old English merchant families, such as the Galways, Skiddys, Roches, Goulds, Meades Coppingers and Tirrys, disappear and the new surnames of merchantile families are recorded, including Maylor, Winthrop, Tuckey, Lavitt, Pembroke, Brocklesby and Deane. It was in the eighteenth century that Cork began to be generally referred to as a city.


Townscape Issues:

                For the Corporation, four main issues needed to be addressed in the city: the breaches in the wall; the increasing number of requests by citizens to build houses against the inner face of the wall; the construction of new quays against the outer face of the wall; and the rebuilding of the central core of the town, particularly the town walls. The decisions made in the 1690s by Cork Corporation not only encompassed short-term changes to the town layout but also long-term changes. These alterations eventually fashioned the city centre of Cork as we know it today.  

For nearly 500 years (1170s to 1690), the town wall had symbolised the urbanity of Cork and had given its citizens a distinct identity. But that was set to change as the process of modernisation began. In the first decade of the 1700s large portions of the town wall were dismantled, especially the eastern portion, the lower courses of which are now preserved in Bishop Lucey Park. Quays and bridges were built on the western edges of the town and on the marshes to the west and east. The new bridges connected up the adjacent marshy islands to the walled town. At this time, individuals of two other organizations emerged to work alongside the Corporation for the good of the city. Individual Huguenots and Quakers with an interest in property development set about reclaiming large areas of marshland to the west and east of the town, but unfortunately the records of how this reclamation was achieved were destroyed in the courthouse fire of 1891 and the City Hall fire of 1920. The north eastern marshes in particular became a significant area of development for the Huguenot congregation.



The Huguenots were initially formed during the Reformation in Geneva, Switzerland, under the leadership of John Calvin. In the north of France in the late 1600s, the assembly was large in number and grew very powerful as a political force. King Louis XIV, who had strong ties with the Roman Catholic Church, was aware of this and reduced their civil rights and their rights in religious practices. As a result, many Huguenots left France to find new areas to establish their religion, especially in Irish locations.

By the mid-1700s, over 300 Huguenots had established themselves in Cork city. Many worked as tradespeople, especially in the textile industry and in the manufacture of linen and silk. Several Huguenots were also involved in property development. One of the first Huguenot families to develop property was the Lavitts. Joseph Lavitt was primarily involved in overseas trade and sugar refining. Lavitt’s Quay was constructed in 1704 and echoes the Huguenot’s presence in the area. The areas of present-day French Church Street, Carey’s Lane and Academy Street in the city centre are located at the core of the Huguenot quarter, with the name French Church also reflecting their involvement in shaping the eighteenth-century city.



To the west of the crumbling walled town, members of Cork’s Quaker Community also reclaimed and developed large areas of the marshy islands. This community had been in Cork since 1655, but it was only in the early 1700s that they were granted the right to develop their own lands. The Quaker movement began in Northern England c.1650 and developed out of religious and political conflict. Also known as the Religious Society of Friends, they were a breakaway group from main-stream Protestantism. They focused on the use of the bible within a specified group discipline. In the beginning, the movement found support among radical Baptist members of Oliver Cromwell’s army. Due to the large amount of campaigning and travelling by Cromwell’s Model Army, their ideas spread rapidly. When Cromwell was established as Lord Protector of Ireland in 1653, it was not long before the ideas of the Quaker movement spread into Ireland. However, during Cromwell’s protectorate there was a change in philosophy within the movement and many chose to give up the use of violence and follow a code of peace.

One of the first Quaker pioneers involved in the development of the western marshes was Joseph Pike, who purchased marshland in 1696, now the area of Grattan Street. Another key player was John Haman, a respected linen merchant who also owned land in the northern suburbs. Minor players consisted of the Devonshire family, the Sleigh family and the Fenn family (Fenn’s Quay today marks their land). In the eastern marshes, a Quaker by the name of Captain Dunscombe bought land, now the area of the multi-storey car park on the Grand Parade and part of present-day Oliver Plunkett Street.


Reclamation Developments:

In general, four main developments occurred on the bought or leased-out marshes. The first was the building of residences there. Buildings constructed overlooking quays had steps leading up to their front door in order to prevent channel water from flooding the building. This feature can still be seen on the South Mall and on St Patrick’s Street today.

The second development was the construction of streets or roads adjacent to these houses. In Renaissance style, these were wide thoroughfares with minor streets running off them at right angles. Thirdly, quays were constructed at the edge of the developed marshes, giving access to the islands themselves. On what is now the South Mall, a quay known as The Mall became the principal promenade of the gentry classes. Fourthly, several unnamed arched stone bridges were also built connecting the marshes to each other and to the adjacent hillsides. The drawbridges of South Gate Bridge and North Gate Bridge were taken down in c.1712 and replaced by arched stone bridges. The new South Gate and North Gate Bridges, along with many other bridges, are shown on John Carty’s 1726 map of Cork.


Culture & Society:

                The year 1714 saw the accession of George I to the throne and a period of prosperity for the Protestant Ascendancy. In basic terms, high-profile Protestants held a monopoly in Irish politics, society and economy. This led to the development of new class structures within the city: the poor still lacked basic facilities and access to education, while the rich lived comfortable lives with a wealth of pleasurable and cultural diversions. The upper merchant classes adopted a grand style in all aspects of their lives. The Royal Cork Yacht Club, founded in 1720 and the oldest yacht club in Britain and Ireland, typified the leisurely life of the rich. The effects of this distinctly unbalanced social hierarchy could be seen in all aspects of life in the city.

In 1715 work began on a new North Gate Gaol, as well as the Green-Coat Hospital and School in the area of Shandon. The school was initiated by Rev. Dr Henry Maule, but was financially subscribed to by wealthy businessmen, especially one Thomas Newenham, a Quaker. St. Anne’s Shandon, one of Cork’s prominent landmarks, was constructed in 1722 under the direction of the Protestant Bishop, Peter Browne. Adjacent to St. Anne’s is Skiddy’s almshouse, which was founded in 1717 at the behest of the Skiddy family to help the destitute. The almshouse, which is now used as a residential home for the elderly and is well worth a visit to view the edifice, was built with an arcade of semi-circular arches. A corn market was constructed in 1719 overlooking a square that was located on filled-in portion of a channel of the River Lee. Unfortunately, the name of this square is not recorded, but it was located on what is now Corn Market Street. Over the centuries, the square grew to be the traditional central market area of the city. It would have been thronged with dealers and customers, purchasing anything from a needle to an anchor. Several stalls still operate here today.

In 1719 a large section of marshy land, now the area of Fitzgerald’s Park, was bought by the town clerk, Edward Webber. Webber, a Dutchman, decided to build a raised walkway across some undeveloped marshy islands, at his own expense. This consisted of a bank walled on both sides and filled in. He named it after a famous promenade in Amsterdam, the Meer-Dyke, which translates roughly as an embankment to protect the land from the sea. While constructing the walk, Webber also built a tea house of red bricks, the first of its kind in Cork. Fruit gardens, pathways of gravel and stone seats were put down. The fame of Webber’s tea house spread and soon it became a fashionable meeting place for the wealthy. After Webber’s death in 1735, his tea house and gardens continued to prosper until they closed down in the mid-1740s. James Morrison, who was mayor of Cork in 1784, bought of the tea house and gardens and had the grounds professionally planned by a gardener. The house is now occupied by the Sacred Heart College and the beautiful eighteenth-century gardens are a living memory of Cork’s past.



Under the supervision of Protestant Bishop of Cork, Peter Browne, several churches were reconstructed in the 1720s. These included St Peter’s and Christ Church, the Church of St. Nicholas and St. FinBarre’s Cathedral. A new church, St. Paul’s, was constructed in 1723 to provide ecclesiastical services to the many sailors passing through Cork. St. Paul’s Church still exists today, adjacent to Paul St Shopping Centre, but is now unoccupied. After its construction, ships used to dock at Lavitt’s Quay and also at Custom House Quay, now Emmett Place. In 1720, the town’s custom house had been relocated from lower St. Patrick’s Street to what is now the premises of the Crawford Art Gallery. Part of the 1720 structure is still visible on Emmett Place, adjacent to Cork Opera House. In the grounds of St. Paul’s Church, one can see a large number of sailors’ graves. In 1723, Edward Brockelsby, mayor of the city, granted free burials to all foreign sailors.

The church is simple in style, borrowing largely from the Grecian style. It possesses a pitched roof, is rectangular in plan with random rubble masonry and has no major features externally. Its interior, however, makes up for the absence of exterior adornment. The stuccowork on the ceiling is reputed to be the work of Italian prisoners of war who were captured in Ireland during the Napoleonic Wars. There is an accomplished stained-glass window, depicting the Last Supper. In the vestry are the old wooden stocks, once used to hold criminals while a crowd pelted them with rotten food. St Paul’s Church is now closed to the public for the foreseeable future and is under the protection of Cork Civic Trust.


Cork 1750:

By the mid-eighteenth century, Cork was a prosperous, wealthy city. In 1732, Edward Lloyd, an English travel writer, wrote that the population of the city was 40,000 and that the shops were ‘neatly fitted and sorted with rich goods’. In addition, there were a lot of new buildings being constructed and many others being reconstructed. Lloyd detailed that the city had a large export trade with almost 59,000 barrels of beef exported from Cork per annum -  half the full total for Ireland. In 1736, Jonathan Swift visited Cork. A stern defender of Ireland, he urged Irish people to support native industries. During his stay in Cork, the Corporation presented him with the freedom of the city.

A report by two unnamed touring Englishmen in 1748 noted that the economy of Cork was booming and that provisions of all kinds available at reasonable prices. These included meat, fish, fowl, fruits such as strawberries, and tubers. The main fish sold in the market was salmon, turbot and crayfish. The main trading exports comprised beef, hides, butter and tallow (animal fat), which were been sent to all parts of the known world. The gentlemen mention that during the previous slaughtering season, between mid-August and Christmas 1747, a total of 90,000 black cattle were killed. Restrictions on exports such as wool were easily circumvented through illegal blackmarket trading. Their closing remarks on Cork are very interesting – they noted Cork people had no recognizable accent, which points to a great mix of nationalities residing and trading in the city.