That Sense of Cork
Championing Cork: Cork Chamber of Cork, 1819-2019
Speech, Cllr Kieran McCarthy
Friday 8 November 2019
An Tanáiste, Dear distinguished guests, Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here this evening at such an important occasion. This book took 18 months – a year and a half – to compile, piece together and publish, and all of its roads led to this evening – the actual 200th anniversary date of the Chamber being established.
Eighteen months though is only a very small proportion of time of the 200 years of the Chamber’s history. But for me and all behind this book, this publication celebrates the nature, essence, energy, character and the power of knowledge and marks a group who came together and continue to champion Ireland’s southern capital and region. So for me this book is not just a history book but a toolkit where a cross section of a multitude of moves by the Chamber over the 200 years are documented and mapped.
Two hundred ago today, on a wintry evening a small group of gentlemen- not over a dozen in number – met at Shinkwin’s Rooms on St Patrick’s Street – a small two storey building not overly developed. Minutes were kept, a chair appointed and the rules of the new organisation were set out as their winter meetings progressed.
We are very lucky that those original minute books and 98 per cent of the minute books survive and are now minded in Cork City and County Archives as well as a vast majority of the minutes were written up in local newspapers such as the Cork Examiner. The Cork Examiner in our time is now completely digitised and completely readable online going back to 1841.
On the 8 November 1819, some of the merchants of the city were aware of the need for a Chamber. Dublin and Waterford already had their chamber for many years. The first members of the Cork Chamber don’t jump out of Cork history as highly recognisable figures. But they do come across though as people who cared about the city and region, as hard sloggers, and that they were acutely aware of the challenges of their time and of the acquisition of knowledge to resolve such challenges.
Policy papers didn’t get published straight away – their first forays into galvanising support was through hosting networking dinners, setting up a reading room where all the weekly newspapers of the day could be read, honouring notable Cork emigrants abroad such as Daniel Florence O’Leary, an aide de Camp in Simon Bolivar’s government in South America, honouring the Catholic Emancipator Daniel O’Connell and his diplomatic work in Westminster, and interviewing prospective candidates for membership of Westminster and asking them what their policies were.
So what has changed from those first policies- the dinners are ongoing, the Chamber still honours Corkmen abroad interestingly the Columbian Ambassador recently unveiled an info panel to Daniel Florence O’Leary at Elizabeth Fort recently. The chamber still asks questions of this city’s politicians of what are your policies- and our senior politicians now pass on questions to present day Westminster candidates.
Indeed probably the only aspect that has changed since those early policies is the ability to read 20 newspapers for free in one place– but one can argue that aspect that has been replaced by the glossy and always thought provoking Chamber Link, which always faces the viewer in every corner of the Chamber’s Summerhill North residences.
Awareness and The Power of Place:
I like to think that those members who signed up on the 8 November and in subsequent weeks were aware of their city, walked its streets, had ideas on where Cork needed to go. That their awareness had many facets.
They were aware of Cork’s economic position in Atlantic Europe, not just in Ireland, aware of competitiveness within that space – from Spain through France through the UK and through Ireland.
They were aware of its physical position in the middle of a marshland with a river – and from this the hard work required in reclaiming land on a swampland. I like to think they saw and reflected upon the multitudes of timber trunks being hand driven into the ground to create foundational material for the city’s array of different architectural styles.
They were aware of its place with an Empire, the relationship with Britain with barracks high upon a hill and across the County, and forts within the harbour area.
They were aware of the importance of its deep and sheltered Cork harbour for shipping.
They were aware of the shouts of dockers and noise from dropping anchors- the sea water causing masts to creak, and the hulls of timber ships knocking against its wall, as if to say, we are here, and the multitudes of informal international conversations happening just at the edge of a small city centre.
And they were aware of much unemployment and economic decline following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
The Power of Vision:
Within this framework of awareness, the new Chamber of Commerce etched out its own vision, which aimed to provide one of the voices in economic development highlight business and provide a networking platform. The process was slow at the start but gathered momentum in accordance with the enthusiasm and energy of its members in getting things done.
The Chamber though was one of several other voices two hundred years ago who also had a vision for Cork plus were responsible in creating the foundations of our modern city and region. They set threads of thought, which the Chamber followed in time.
The early nineteenth century Corkonian had a rich vision for their city and region, much of which still resonates quite strongly in our present day and the Cork of the future.
The Cork Harbour Commissioners, founded in the 1810s created a new custom house complete with bonded warehouses, built enlarged docks spaces at Lapp’s Quay and pushed the extension of the docks eastwards, all of which set up our modern day North and South Docks.
Two hundred years ago the Cork Steam ship Company also came into being which harnessed the age of steam engines and influenced the adoption of this new technology in emerging breweries and distilleries in the city, as well as the creation of a more effective pumped water supply – and in a few short years steam was harnessed to create a commuter system of railways lines feeding into the city and out into the wider region.
The Wide Street Commission aimed to clean up slum ridden areas and dereliction in the city centre and create new and enhanced drainage systems– their greatest achievement was to plan for a new street, which opened in 1824 called Great George’s Street, which was later renamed Washington Street. Indeed, if one walks the older historic streets of the old medieval core such as South Main Street and North Main Street, one can see a form of rough red brick, which once you see it once you can see how much rebuilding was pursued c. 1820 to c.1830 and how much dereliction was cleared.
The inspection methods of the Cork Butter Market reigned supreme but also their vision to create new routeways for their customers from Kerry and Limerick – to become known as the Butter Roads.
The Grand Jury of Cork comprising local landlords and magistrates complimented this work by lobbying Westminster to give funding towards bridge construction across County Cork’s river valleys – such as the Lee, Bandon and Blackwater.
The knock-on effect of the improvement of roads and bridges led to new mail coach systems established in County Cork.
Reading the minute book of Cork Corporation meetings, one can see their continued investment into re-gravelling streetscapes, taking down and replacing of inadequate bridges, dealing with the decaying fabric of the eighteenth century city and investment into a proper water supply scheme.
The Cork Society of Arts emerged in the 1810s and asked for philanthropic support for artists and sculptors. They also welcomed the Antonia Canova Sculpture Casts to the city– the society, which was informal and small in its initial set-up – within a few short decades led to the creation of the Cork School of Art and a municipal art gallery.
Emerging artists adorned the city with the images of the Coat of Arms and also a branding strategy emerged to reflect its history – one can see passing remarks in travelogues two hundred years ago to Cork being one of the “Venices of the North” – of Northern Europe – a reference to a glory age of democracy in Europe plus a direct reference to canals in eighteenth century Cork, which were filled in the 1780s due to mass over silting. It’s not a strong branding platform but flickers every now and again in narratives about the city in the present day.
There also political visions to end the penal laws and enact Catholic Emancipation.
There were also visions to provide new residential spaces for the growing Roman Catholic middle class –Mini mansion in places such as Blackrock and Ballintemple came into being.
The Cork Chamber of Commerce was born in the midst of all these visions – some of the institutions I have described merged with other bodies as time went on- some were done away with economic decline – some survived and evolved into stronger institutions – but the themes I have described the small Chamber took on with gusto as the decades progressed –
– docklands development, the need to harness new technologies, the need for enhanced commuter belt transport,
the need to mind and enhance the City’s appearance, the role of Cork Harbour in the city’s economic development, our relationship next to the UK,
networking and creating opportunities, diplomatic opportunity building, branding the city, breaking silos, working together – all define the core themes of the Chamber’s work over two hundred years.
– indeed in turning the pages of all the minute books over two hundred years – history repeats over and over again, some themes advanced and some themes have regressed but the Chamber and all its members through out the ages kept fighting for a better Cork – some times that road led forward, sometimes led back and sometimes it even split the membership – but in the overall scheme of 200 years – consistency of lobbying shines through.
The Power of People:
The minute books record names of people who stepped up to offer advice, to offer leadership and to lobby. Certainly reading between the lines of the minute books and chatting to members today listening and cultivating action has been very important to the Chamber survival for two hundred years – plus to also to ignite people’s passion for their city and region plus harnessing the concept of their openness, their skillsets, and knowledge.
So this evening we also remember the people connected with the Chamber for over two hundred years. Sometimes history can be just reduced to dates and figures – so in this book you will notice it contains the quotes of past speeches by Presidents and even letters from the general public.
On the aspect of people, I have no doubt there were moments in the early days when the founder members held firm on why they established the Chamber. Tonight, we remember their tenacity and vision.
I have no doubt there have been moments where the Chamber suffered the blows of members who left for various reasons or who passed away. Tonight, we remember past members and not just that we rejoice in the skills and talents of the present members – from the 15 original members to the over 1,000 members now.
I have no doubt there have been moments in the multitudes of meetings where complex issues confounded and angered even the sharpest of members and later in time the Executive, but both members and the executive stood tall in the face of unfolding events. We remember all the past committee members and the executive for their dedication and vision.
I have no doubt that there have been moments in a break of a meeting – when a fellow member asked “is there anything wrong” to another member and a worry was shared -and in that quiet moment – the power of solidarity and friendship prevailed to soften the blows of life. We remember those guardians of empathy and the listening ear.
There have been moments when members knew that at a moment in time – they were the guardians of the city and region and the city’s DNA – an intangible quality of all things Cork – is also embedded into the members.
There have been moments whereby the Chief Executive and his staff felt they has changed something. In particular I would like to highlight the work of Michael Geary and Conor Healy for their respective visions.
Over the past two hundred years, there have been many moments, which this book aims to document. To be a guardian of Cork is no easy task as it filled with much ambition.
In my meetings this week, a member of the EU’s URBACT programme noted to me – you know Cork is all over our social media at the moment – there is so much happening in your city” – I replied – “yep, good, we’re not finished yet, you should see what else we are up to!”.
So tonight, we celebrate 200 years, we reflect on the two hundred years of its history and everyone associated with in the past, present and going forward. We sincerely thank the Chamber for the journey they have taken the city and region on, and we think about the journey going forward.
My sincere thanks to Chamber 200 Committee and Paula Cogan and to Conor, Katherine, Imelda of the Chamber, Robin O’Sullivan, as well as the Chamber Executive or their consistent positivity, ongoing energy and charting a vision my thanks as well to Kieran in the Irish Examiner for help and assistance with the old photographs, to Brian Magee, the City Archivist, and Cliodhna in Coolgrey for her design and patience.
Thank you for listening to me.
Independent Cllr Kieran McCarthy has highlighted that Cork City Council’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy must embrace practical projects and that there is a large role to play for communities in Cork in the achievement of any proposals. The recently published draft strategy aims to ensure a proper comprehension of the key risks and vulnerabilities of climate change and bring forward the implementation of climate resilient actions in a planned and proactive manner. It also aims to ensure that climate adaptation considerations are mainstreamed into all operations and functions of Cork City Council.
Cllr Kieran McCarthy noted: “At the initial debate between officials and councillors on the draft plan I articulated that practical climate adaptation community projects have a large part to play in achieving success for the proposal. For example, developing public parks and greening the city more can be achieved without an enormous amount of financial investment.
In addition, a climate change adaptation strategy should also help the council to connect the relative global Sustainable Development Goals as well as re-applying for the European Green Capital programme, which was one of my five strands in my recent local election manifesto. There are also plenty best practice climate change adaptation projects to draw upon in other cities in Atlantic Europe and several successful EU urban initiatives that can be viewed on the insightful EU URBACT, EU Interreg and within the EU’s Horizon’s 2020 programmes. I am also delighted that Cork City Council will engage with schools and our youth as part of this consultation process”.
A copy of the draft strategy may be inspected during the period from Tuesday 30 July 2019 to Friday 13 September 2019 (both dates inclusive) during normal business hours at Cork City Council, City Hall, Cork. The draft strategy is also available for inspection at all Council Public Libraries. The adaptation strategy may also be viewed on the Government Public Consultations Portal at www.corkcity.ie.
Submissions or observations Cork City Council’s Draft Climate Adaptation Strategy may be made by e-mail to email@example.com or via the online submission Portal on consult.corkcity.ie or in writing to Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, Strategic & Economic Development, Cork City Council, Cork City Hall.
January 2018, A Light in the Winter: Lord Mayor’s Tea Dance at Cork City Hall, with the Cork Pops Orchestra under the baton of Evelyn Grant, with Gerry Kelly, and singer Keth Hanley; next tea dance on 27 January 2019.
February 2018, What Lies Beneath: Archaeological discoveries on the proposed Event Centre site by Dr Maurice Hurley and his team are revealed at packed out public lectures; they unearth objects and housing dating to the 11th and 12th Century AD; there is an ongoing exhibition in Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald’s Park.
March 2018, Upon the Slopes of a City: Storm Emma creates a winter wonderland.
April 2018, A Safe Harbour: Cork Community Art Link do another fab display of the Cork Coat of Arms on the Grand Parade providing a brill entrance to Cork World Book Fest 2018.
May 2018, The Truth of History: A reconstruction at UCC of a fourth class cottage from the times of Ireland’s Great Famine laids bare the realities of everyday life for many people. It was built to coincide with Cork hosting the National Famine Commemoration at UCC.
June 2018, The Challenges of the Past: Charles, Prince of Wales, visits Cork. https://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speech/speech-hrh-prince-wales-civic-reception-cork-ireland
July 2018, Shaping a Region: US artist Tamsie Ringler begins pouring the molten ore for her River Lee iron casting sculpture at the National Sculpture Factory, Cork.
August 2018, The Beat of Community Life: Ballinlough Summer Festival organised by Ballinlough Youth Clubs at Ballinlough Community Centre reaches its tenth year; its Faery Park and Trail also grows in visitor numbers.
September 2018, On The Street Where You Live: Douglas Street AutumnFest brings businesses and residents together once again for a super afternoon of entertainment, laughter and chat. The ongoing project wins a 2018 national Pride of Place award later in December 2018; & a new mural by Kevin O’Brien and Alan Hurley of first City Librarian, James Wilkinson, who rebuilt the city’s library collections after the Burning of Cork, 1920.
October 2018, The Playful City: Cork’s Dragon of Shandon is led by a host of playful characters and the citizens of the city.
November 2018, Lest We Forget: Marking the centenary of Armistice day at the Fallen Soldier Memorial on the South Mall for the over 4,000 Corkmen killed in World War 1, led by Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Mick Finn.
December 2018, A City Rising: the Glow Festival on the Grand Parade & in Bishop Lucey Park attracts large numbers of citizens and visitors to Ireland’s southern capital.
With the end of the year drawing near, 2018, as the European Year of Cultural Heritage, also draws to a close. Around the country and indeed around Europe, a variety of different events and projects took place to mark the year and here in the County of Cork, a publication was undertaken to examine the county’s historic place within Europe, titled ‘Europe and the County of Cork: A Heritage Perspective’. The publication was launched on Monday 10th December by the Mayor of the County of Cork Cllr. Patrick Gerard Murphy.
A launch also took place at the European Committee of the Regions’ building in Brussels. The invite came from Committee members Cllr Kieran McCarthy (City) and Cllr Deirdre Forde (County) who deputised for the County Mayor for the launch. Cllr McCarthy outlined to the invitees, many of whom were from Ireland and several of whom who were from other member states, the role of the heritage officer scheme in Ireland and introduced County Cork heritage officer Conor Nelligan. Cllr McCarthy noted; “it is important to showcase the stories in the book – from the perspective of Cork’s role in the Atlantic region but also the role of many individuals in Cork’s rich past who influenced the course of European history. It is also an appropriate time to promote the Cork region especially in a time of Brexit”.
Drawing on the expertise of a range of different authors – Elena Turk, Connie Kelleher, Denis Power, Cal McCarthy, Tomás MacConmara, John Hegarty and Clare Heardman, who each provided a chapter and a selection of sites for the publication, the scope of the book is a wide one, covering archaeology, ecclesiastical heritage, maritime heritage, Revolution, Culture, Architecture and Natural Heritage. Community groups from around the county also submitted some wonderful examples of local connections with Europe, both through people and place, and one can easily glean from the pages how much of an influence Europe has had on Cork, but too, how Cork has had its influence on Europe over the many years.
At the Brussels launch the Deputy Mayor Cllr Deirdre Forde noted: “What we learn from the publication is the extraordinary influence that the European mainland has had in Cork over the centuries and millennia, but also, that County Cork as a place is unique, and it too, has played a very strong role in the shaping of Europe over the many years”.
Europe and the County of Cork: A Heritage Perspective’ has hit the bookshops and copies are also available to purchase for €10 at on Floor 3 of the County Hall. This publication will be of interest to any reader with an interest in Cork’s history and its place in Europe. For more information on this and other Heritage Initiatives visit the Heritage Website of Cork County Council (www.corkcoco.ie/arts-heritage) or contact the Heritage Unit on 021 4276891.
Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 20 September 2018
Irish Heart, Coventry Home
Irish Heart, Coventry Home is an exhibition, which is currently being exhibited in the new building foyer of Cork City Hall for the next three weeks. It is a project I have been involved with the last year in a small way offering heritage management support and advice on behalf of Cork City Council. The exhibition is curated by Ciaran Davis at the Coventry Irish Society. It is about Irish people who made Coventry their home between 1940 and 1970. It is based on the experiences of Irish people who have lived and worked in the city.
Many Irish people emigrated to Coventry from Cork and they have contributed richly to the culture, economy and character of the city. These links were celebrated in 1958, when Cork and Coventry were twinned with each other. The exhibition has travelled to Cork to celebrate the enduring relationship that exists between the two cities. During the Second World War, many Irish men and women came to work in Coventry’s factories and hospitals. After the war, Irish migrants were among those who came to help with the city’s reconstruction following the devastation caused by air raids. Their labour was vital, not just in construction and industry but in education, civic life and the newly established National Health Service. By 1961 there were 19,416 Irish-born people in Coventry and they formed 6% of the city’s population, which made them the largest ethnic minority in the city.
The majority of Irish people who migrated to Coventry after the Second World War were usually young people who came from Roman Catholic, working class, rural backgrounds and the majority were women. They often stayed with family members already in Coventry who paid for their ticket and helped them find employment. Men usually arrived alone and found work by applying to adverts in newspapers or through speaking to fellow Irish people. Irish people were employed in a variety of jobs, working on the buses and in hospitals, factories and schools. They were involved in the building of the ring road, housing estates and the new cathedral, supporting the city’s post-war recovery and contributing to its economy. The money that Irish migrants sent home was relied on by families who remained in Ireland. Between 1939 and 1969 the Irish economy received almost £3 billion in remittances from Irish workers.
As people settled in the city, they opened social clubs and pubs, which became vital community spaces. Irish people arriving in Coventry often headed straight to the clubs where they learnt where to find work or accommodation. A few venues even had their own lodgings. Some landlords promoted Irish welfare and held charity nights or lent money to people who were struggling. Many of the clubs were established in the 1950s, which coincided with the rise of the Irish showbands, who were renowned for their high-energy performances. In the 1960s, singers such as Joe Dolan and Brendan Bowyer toured Coventry and were popular with the Coventry-Irish community. By 1967, the Banba Club had a membership of over 1000 and on a Saturday night, an average of 650 people would come through the club’s doors. There were also people in the community who vowed never to drink alcohol. In 1964 some of them set up the Coventry branch of the Pioneer Association, an organisation originally set up in Ireland. They held dances, sporting events and dinners at the Pioneer Hall in Coventry. Few of the Irish clubs remain in the city, but their legacy endures because many Irish people met their future spouses at the dances
A number of Irish sports clubs were established in Coventry, offering sports such as hurling, Gaelic football and camogie – a sport similar to hurling played by women. Priests and other members of the community helped to set up these teams because they were concerned that young people were forgetting their Irish roots. There was sometimes competition between the clubs to recruit the best Irish sportspeople in Coventry. Gradually, the teams expanded and some purchased clubhouses where they could socialise after matches. Players often brought their families to watch the games and their children sometimes went on to represent the same team. The clubs held exhibition games featuring Irish teams. In 1966 St Finbarr’s Sports and Social Club held a hurling match between Galway and Meath, which was watched by around 10,000 spectators. The clubs initially ran male-only teams, but in 1971 a group of women established their own camogie team in Coventry.
Most Irish people who came to Coventry belonged to the Roman Catholic faith. A smaller number of Protestants also migrated, and for both groups religion played an integral role in their lives. Irish Protestants often joined pre-existing parishes, but the higher number of Irish Catholics meant that new churches needed to be built. In 1913 there were two Catholic churches in Coventry. By 1983 this had grown to 17, many supported by donations from the community. In the 1950s and 1960s a number of Catholic schools were also built to accommodate the expanding Irish Catholic population. For many Irish migrants it was important that church attendance was continued by the next generation. Couples got married in local churches and their children received their first sacraments in the same parishes.
To learn more (and to contribute to the project) Irish Heart, Coventry Home is currently on display in the foyer of the new building in Cork City Hall. The curator Ciaran Davis from Coventry Irish Society will be present at the space for Cork Culture Night, Friday 21 September.
964a. Irish Heart, Coventry Home exhibition at Herbert Gallery, Coventry in March 2018 (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
964b. Coventry Irish Society stalwarts Simon McCarthy and Kay Forrest with Cllr Kieran McCarthy at the launch of Irish Heart, Coventry Home last March 2018 (source: Coventry Irish Society)
964c. Irish Emigrant Travel Permit Card between Britain and Ireland, 1946 (source: Coventry Irish Society)