Category Archives: Cork City Events

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 18 July 2024

1262a. Poster for Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2024.
1262a. Poster for Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2024.

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 18 July 2024

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2024

The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, which celebrates the life and activities of Cork born Mary Harris, known throughout the world as Mother Jones is now in its 13th Year. It is organised by the Cork Mother Jones Committee, a voluntary community group in Shandon each year. The programme of events from between 25-27 July are on the festival website, www.motherjonescork.com

According to James Nolan, spokesperson, the 2024 festival edition builds upon the 2023 edition: “The 2023 Spirit of Mother Jones festival was without doubt one of the very best we’ve had. Hundreds of people from all corners of Ireland and across the world visited Shandon, and many events had a capacity audience. Trade union leader Mick Lynch was an outstanding speaker. He attracted a huge attendance to the Firkin Theatre and was delighted to be back in the city of his father and the extended Lynch family. All the speakers, musicians, singers, choirs, and many participating for the first time ensured a lively three days. Even the traditional Irish whiskey toast to Mother Jones was packed. We are already looking forward to the 2024 festival”.    

The festival committee aims to make the festival always memorable. The festival and summer school will consist of talks, discussions, songs, music, films and documentaries. They will be interesting, challenging and relevant. A number of standout highlights for the 2024 festival include the visit to Cork of Kentucky based Carla Gover and her band Cornmaiz from high up in the Appalachian mountains where Mother Jones was highly regarded.

The Festival is proud to present the Irish Premiere of Kaiulani Lee’s documentary on Mother Jones Fight Like Hell – The testimony of Mother Jones. Years in the making, it is being shown throughout the USA and it will be shown for the very first time in Ireland at the Dance Cork Firkin Theatre on Thursday 25th at 4pm on the opening evening of the festival.

Later that evening also at the Firkin theatre, Dublin historian Liz Gillis and Anne Twomey of Cork’s Shandon Area History group will discuss what became of the revolutionary women after the Civil War. The Decade of Centenaries has finished but the festival has decided to continue to tell the story of the virtual disappearance of most of that rebel generation of those women. Anne Twomey will concentrate on the life of Cork’s Winters Hill born Margaret Goulding Buckley, an amazing woman.

Julianna Minihan will present a fascinating paper on the historical provision of water in Cork city 1760-1890 and how the rich people benefitted from private supplies of fresh water, while the poor suffered from an unsanitary supply for many years until the public authorities took over the provision of water. And of course there will be mention of whatever became of the lost Shandon Dunscombe Fountain.

Historian Jack Lane will tell the story of the All for Ireland League and Irish Land & Labour League which were uniquely Cork movements. He will also tell of North Cork born D.D Sheehan MP and his efforts to house the rural labourers. Over 40,000 rural cottages were constructed in little over a decade from 1906 onwards.

The General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Owen Reidy will give a landmark speech on “The Future World of Work and the Place of Trade Unions” while Cork historian Luke Dineen will discuss Big Jim Larkin and his Cork connections on the 150th Anniversary year of his birth.

Current human rights issues and environmental problem will be discussed. Writer and Journalist Walaa Sabah will tell the story of how the Palestinians are surviving the condition in GAZA at present.

An environmental round table featuring the younger generation of climate activists such as Niamh Guiry, Claudia Hihetah and Dearbhla Richardson will take place on Friday afternoon.

Professor John Barry of Queens University Belfast will earlier examine alternative pathways for society instead of the consumption model of modern society.

These are just some of almost 30 events which are forming the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School and they are all free and open to all in and around Shandon on the days and night of the festival. Thanks to the support of some Irish trade unions, the Cork City Council, Cathedral Credit Union and local businesses. Attendance at each event is on a first-come, first-seated basis, so booking is unnecessary.

Mary Harris was born in Cork in 1837 and was baptised by Fr John O’Mahony in the Cathedral of SS Mary’s & Anne on 1 August of that year. The Harris family lived through the Great Famine, which claimed thousands of lives in the slums of Cork City. They then survived the horrors of the coffin ships when the family emigrated to Toronto in the early 1850s.

   By 1860, Mary had qualified as a teacher and was teaching in Monroe, Michigan. She later worked as a dressmaker and married George Jones, an iron moulder, and who was a member of the International Iron Moulders Union.

Mary went to Chicago where she resumed her dressmaking, established a little business. Again disaster struck when on 9 October 1871 the great fire of Chicago destroyed her premises. Little is known of Mary for a decade or more however it seems that she became very active in the growing Labour movement which was then organising for fair pay and decent working conditions in the factories, mills and mines of a rapidly industrialising North America.

   In 1890, the United Mine Workers union was formed; many of the tough union organisers were Irish and Mary too became an organiser. She was nearly sixty years old. As a woman operating in a rough male world of miners and mining pits, she was utterly fearless. She was outspoken and she cut an inspirational figure, being immaculately dressed in her long black dress, bonnet and carrying a handbag amidst the industrial debris of coal pits.

   Mary witnessed the terrible conditions under which thousands of men, women and young children worked. In this decade she helped miners to demand better pay and conditions in Alabama, West Virginia, Colorado and Pennsylvania. She had become known as “Mother Jones” to countless thousands of workers. In 1903, Mother Jones led the March of the Mill Children from Pennsylvania to New York, in which highlighted the exploitation of young children in the mines and factories in America.

Caption:

1262a. Poster for Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2024.

Cllr Kieran McCarthy’s July 2024 Historical Walking Tours:

All tours free, no booking required:

Friday 5 July, Cork Through the Ages, An Introduction to the Historical Development of Cork City; Historical walking tour; meet at the National Monument, Grand Parade, 6.30pm (free, two hours, no booking required).

Sunday 7 July 2024, The Northern Ridge – St Patrick’s Hill to MacCurtain Street; historical walking tour of the area around St Patrick’s Hill – Old Youghal Road to McCurtain Street; meet on the Green at Audley Place, top of St Patrick’s Hill, 6.30pm (free, two hours, no booking required).

Sunday 14 July 2024, Cork South Docklands; Discover the history of the city’s docks, historical walking tour, from quayside stories to the City Park Race Course and Albert Road; meet at Kennedy Park, Victoria Road, 6.30pm (free, two hours, no booking required).

Tuesday 16 July 2024, The Marina; historical walking tour; Discover the history of the city’s promenade, from forgotten artefacts to ruinous follies; meet at western end adjacent Shandon Boat Club, The Marina, 6.30pm (free, two hours, no booking required).

Wednesday 17 July 2024, Blackpool: Its History and Heritage, historical walking tour ; meet at square on St Mary’s Road, opp North Cathedral, 6.30pm, (free, two hours, no booking required).

Kieran’s Speech, Bessboro Commemoration, 23 June 2024

Dear Carmel, dear members of the committee, dear speakers, dear friends.

Many thanks for the invite to speak this afternoon.

I have a short reflection, which is all about the nature of story-telling.

By trade I am a story collector on Cork’s past and Ireland’s past

They say that stories have the power to stop someone, impress on someone, make one question, make one wonder, make one dream, make one remember, make one be curious, make one be disturbed, make one explore and make one to not forget – a whole series of emotions.

And in Cork history there are many stories over the years that have stopped me people, that make people wonder, that make them curious, that make them remember.

In the city library, I regularly take down local history books and learn about this locale or neighbourhood, and as you turn the pages on books on Blackrock for example…

you can read about for example the story of the old railway line (the third railway line to be built in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century),

You can read about The Marina (a former wall to keep ships out from the swamp and then a walkway created during the Great Famine)

You can read about Blackrock Pier (the home to over 2,000 people in a small fishing village in the nineteenth century),

You can read about Ringmahon House (and the story of the Murphy family and their brewing industry),

You can read about Ballinure Village (and the story of the O’Mahonys of the Mahon peninsula)

You can read about the features of the old Lakelands Estate (and the story of the philanthropy of the Crawford family and the surviving feature along the Joe McHugh Park),

And you can turn the page and read about this nineteenth century folly or fake castle and its original purpose and the house here of the Pike family of Bessboro house and their steamship industry and then you turn the page over…and for our story today, the ink disappears.

The city’s memory bubble on Blackrock does much remembering of bricks and mortars stories very well but when you dig down deeper into the social elements and talking about the realities of people’s lives – that’s where there are vast swathes of voices missing.

It has got better in more recent years when it comes to collecting oral history testimonies. The city’s memory bubble collection is very selective, and heavily influenced by Ireland’s memory bubble, which is very selective.

As a place Cork doesn’t do traumatic history re-telling, turbulent history re-telling, dark history re-telling, oppressive history re-telling, control history re-telling so to speak.

I was going to add doesn’t “do very well” to such a statement – but we don’t do it at all really– it’s not in mainstream school curricula, it’s not in mainstream oral history, it’s not in mainstream Irish history books, it’s not in mainstream history conferences, it’s not in mainstream history performances/ pageantry/ festivals/ heritage gatherings.

The recent reports from central government on topics such as industrial schools and Mother and Baby homes are an important step but only a step towards reconciliation of traumatic history and memory.

And so, the importance of the gathering here for the past ten years should never be underestimated. It is crucial for so many reasons.

This gathering is a beacon or a lighthouse to not only tell the stories of what happened here, to the tell the human experiences of what happened but also lead the calls to break the selectiveness of Cork and Irish history and completing the multitude of memory banks that are only partly explored – and to learn from all of that.

 It is said that if don’t know our past, we don’t know where we’re going or history can repeat itself if we don’t learn from the past.

However, if we don’t explore all of the past, if we don’t unlock all of the history – then the paths of our future will only be partly laid out and we will not learn even more effectively going forward.

Bessboro needs to be a place where the selectiveness of history is broken, the woven vines of stories and histories unwoven and laid out properly,

where questions are answered and more questions asked and more answers given and that not just Cork people learn from this tragic site but also the rest of Ireland as well.

This event today and other impressive voluntary work has been the stay of all those who have stayed with the Bessboro story for not just the past decade but before that as well for decades.

In essence the story here needs to be at least in mainstream school curricula, in mainstream oral history, in mainstream Irish history books, in mainstream history conferences, in mainstream history performances/ pageantry/ festivals/ heritage gatherings. Plus, Plus, Plus.

Above all I share the perspective that this site here in Bessboro needs to be a large ,scale memory site or park. In my head, I’d like to see the whole space as as a prominent commemoration site in our city and in our region.  And that’s my call to An Bord Pleanála – that when the planning process is finished and if it is a negative following on from Cork City Council’s planning department’s deliberations that An Bord Pleanála with the help of central government work with the developer to see what can be done to either directly purchase or CPO the lands for commemoration purposes.

–  And for this to be pursued for many reasons – yes as a sincere nod to those whose personal lives are woven to the Mother and Baby home story but also as a commemoration lighthouse of the journey Irish history and all its nuances still need to travel.

A memorial site with the Folly at the heart of it, where the stones represent the pieces of a puzzle that needs to be resolved and much, a folly as a place of discussion, hope, resilience, justice, human rights, dignity, voices, truth, survival, and inclusion – that the names of the babies accounted for and unaccounted for be detailed in bold, where seats, commemorative sculptures or pieces, healing spaces, thought provoking spaces, history re-telling spaces all exist– a space for all to come and reflect – and not just a Blackrock or commemoration City space – but a national and European site of reflection.

We need government, local government and societal intervention for this and all of us working together on this.

My sincere thanks again to all the team for organising this event for the past ten years and also all the daily work for justice to put the story here on the mainstream Irish history map so to speak.

I remain supportive as a local historian and Councillor in Cork City Council and remain conscious we all need to gather together even more to work through the history, heritage and memory of this particular site and through the other similar but precious sites as well.

Lord Mayor Cllr Kieran McCarthy’s Outgoing Speech, AGM, 21 June 2024

Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Kieran McCarthy & Lady Mayoress of Cork Marcelline Bonneau, 2023/24
Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Kieran McCarthy & Lady Mayoress of Cork Marcelline Bonneau, 2023/24

A Return to a Safe Harbour

Dear colleagues, Dear Chief Executive,

As outgoing Lord Mayor of Cork, a very warm welcome to the historic 1936 Council Chamber. A very warm welcome to those who have been re-elected and to those who this is your first time being an elected member of Cork City Council.

We also remember those who retired and those who didn’t make it back through the recent gruelling local elections.

And of course, one of the core parts of our AGM is to appoint our Council chair or the Lord Mayor.

And it will fall to me very shortly to take names of candidates interested in becoming Lord Mayor of Cork for the following year and to pass this eighteenth century chain of history to its next guardian so to speak.

I have but three very short reflections before we proceed.

Firstly, dear colleagues let us rejoice that the democratic process is very much alive in Cork.

My dear colleagues you have not only walked 1000s of kilometres in your quest or pilgrimage to take one of the 31 seats. You have gone to suburbia and into the inner city, and knocked on 1,000s of doors.

You have sacrificed your personal lives in a quest to be in the service of the people of Cork in local government.

It is also important to reflect on that pilgrimage that the process is not as easy as just walking and knocking on doors.

You must have belief in your message. It is a leap of faith. You have been tested. You had to be fit physically and more importantly emotionally.

You met people who befriended you straight away. You met people who closed the door in your face. You met people who had their own message.

You met people who are happy, who are sad, who are very angry, who shout in your face, who don’t want to talk, who are struggling in life, who seek a listener, who seek a chance, who are soaring in life, who buried a loved one, an hour before you called, a mother who just put their child to sleep, people who will ask you in for tea.

You encountered opinionated people and people who have no opinion,

people who are the salt of the earth, people who are guardian angels,

people who you perhaps wept for in your private moments,

people who you laughed with, people who invited you into their house to chat about this and that.

You have met survivors. You have met people who have given up on life. You met people who are lighthouses. Plus many more.

You are a pilgrim of sorts.

All of the conversations, debates and empathy with 1,000s of constituents or citizens and that personal connection piece makes Irish democracy one that is very important.

You have not only rang doorbells and physically pressed the flesh so to speak but deep dived down into citizen life listening to their concerns and now being able through your election as an elected member to bring these concerns into the historic Council Chamber here and to the wider City Hall.

We should never take democracy for granted especially in the world we live in today and that in some parts of the world there is no democracy.

A sincere thanks to all those who voted two weeks ago.

We as local politicians saw another part of the democratic process close up when it comes to counting the votes on ballot papers. The solid count process we have in Ireland and what we have witnessed in Cork is one to be heralded, be proud of and one where great credit is due to the Office of Corporate Affairs and the Office of Franchise in Cork.

And so my first message this evening is a nod on the importance of the canvass pilgrimage of sorts, the democratic process and one of thanks to you, our Council staff and especially to the citizens of our historic city who came out to support our recent local election and its democratic processes.

My second message to you concerns my year as Lord Mayor. Fifty-two weeks ago, the elected Council of the last Council term entrusted me with leadership of the Council.

That has been a really deep honour and it is one thing writing about Cork history, it is another being a part of it. Indeed, it is very difficult to sum up my experiences in a few sentences.

Looking at the diary since the last Cork City Council AGM in late June last year I have been engaged with over 1,600 events. On average there have been about 30-40 events a week depending on the season.

The days have been long and the diary has been very demanding but to get to explore Cork and many of its stories has been very fulfilling. One day can feel like three days when there are so many diary events to juggle!

One hour one could be at a presentation of cheques, or the presentation of certs, and the next you journey on and could be praising someone for their sporting achievement or helping open a new business, meeting an ambassador or giving a talk at one of Cork’s 118 schools or giving a tour of the Lord Mayor’s Office to various community groups.

All of these events look forward and build a sense of identity for Cork’s future. Some events have been varied ranging from a one person engagement to thousands of people. And of course, many of you popped up in the story boards as well to offer support.

However, across all of the events the common denominator has always been Cork. There are thousands of people in Cork engaged in not only its life and its story but enhancing its life and story. Every hour of everyday someone is doing something great for Cork and its communities.

Much of it goes without being seen but the office of Lord Mayor’s gets to what I call “deep dive” down into many stories and moments. In our city such stories matter or indeed such moments need to be cherished.

The sense of togetherness, stories and moments in Cork I have promoted and spoken at length about all year.  

In particular I have harnessed the city’s coat of arms as a message – the two towers and the ship in between and the Latin inscription – Statio Bene Fida Carinis – or translated “a safe harbour for ships”. Whereas the element of shipping has almost moved from the city’s quays, the inscription could also be re-interpreted as a connection to people – that the city is also a safe harbour for people and community life. This is its greatest story and one the City needs to mind, keep vibrant, and for all of us in this historic and innovative city to keep working on.

But during this second message of the importance of stories and togetherness it also falls to me tosincerely thank the Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr Colette Finn for her expertise, support, positiveness and I would like to wish her well for the future,

the Lady Mayoress Marcelline for her patience, support and love, and for her charity work, singing and dancing and all round community building with different groups,

and to my parents, and siblings and wider family members for their support and love.

A sincere thanks to Finbarr Archer, Nicola O’Sullivan, Rose Fahy and Caroline Martin in the Lord Mayor’s office as well as the team in Corporate Affairs ably led by Paul Moynihan with support by Alma Murnane and Nuala Stewart – without such a team the office would not run effectively as it does but it is filled with people – a team – that really cares about the role of the office in our city and all the nuances attached to such a role

and also a sincere thanks to you Chief Executive Anne [Doherty], for your friendship, partnership, curation of activities, story board creation, support and advice over the past year. And I am very conscious that this is your last AGM, so many thanks for all your work.

My dear friends, let me conclude with my third message and if I am going to go down as the singing Lord Mayor let me end my Mayoralty where I started with a verse by Rogers and Hammerstein, which in its own way became a different kind of anthem during the year,

Oh, what a beautiful morning,

oh, what a beautiful day,

I got a beautiful feeling everything’s going Cork’s way,

eh, Oh what a beautiful Day.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Ends.

Kieran’s Lord Mayor’s Echo Column, 8 June 2024

Over 1,600 moments to Cherish!

Dear reader, as you read this it’s my last Lord Mayor’s column. A full year has passed in my Mayoralty term. Time does indeed fly.  In the next fortnight I hand over the Mayoralty chain to the next incumbent. This is a tradition that has been ongoing for centuries and just like receiving it I look forward to passing it onwards. The chain may be rooted in tradition and history but my experience the last 52 weeks is that the essence of the chain is that it looks forward.

The Forward Looking Chain:

As Lord Mayor it has been a great honour and just looking at the diary since the last Cork City Council AGM in late June last year I have been engaged with over 1,600 events. On average there have been about 30-40 events a week depending on the season. The days have been long and the diary has been very demanding but to get to explore Cork and all its stories has been very fulfilling. One day can feel like three days when there are so many diary events to juggle.

One hour one could be at presentation of cheques, or the presentation of certs, and the next you journey on and could be praising someone for their sporting achievement or helping open a new business, or giving a talk at one of Cork’s great schools or giving a tour of the Lord Mayor’s Office to various community groups.

All of these events look forward and build a sense of identity for Cork’s future. Some events have been varied ranging from a one person engagement to thousands of people. However, the common denominator has always been Cork. There are thousands of people in Cork engaging in its life and story. Everyday someone is doing something great for Cork and its communities. Much of it goes without being seen but the office of Lord Mayor’s gets to what I call “deep dive” down into the stories and moments. In our city such stories matter or indeed such moments to be cherished.

A Safe Harbour for People:

The essence of forward looking support and togetherness runs deep in our city. At the start of my term of office, I wrote about my theme of Building Communities Together. The sense of togetherness and the stories in Cork I have promoted and spoken at length about all year.   In particular I have harnessed the city’s coat of arms as a message – the two towers and the ship in between and the Latin inscription – Statio Bene Fida Carinis – or translated a safe harbour for ships. Whereas the element of shipping has almost moved from the city’s quays, the inscription could also be re-interpreted as a connection to people – that the city is also a safe harbour for people and community life. This is its greatest story and one the City needs to keep vibrant and to keep working on.

Objects of the Future:

The sense of pride in this city is one that should not be taken for granted but as city we need to keep working on.  In my tour of the Lord Mayor’s office I intentionally showcased a number of historical objects from the eighteenth century to the present day. I usually began showing the four silver maces from 1738 whose craftmanship was done by French Huguenots. For me the attention to detail in the craftwork was an important link to the work of community groups and championing of detail in supporting people.

With the admiral’s hat I could link the tradition of the throwing of the dart and that maritime tradition to the idea that there is still much to discover about Cork and its communities in the various corners of our city and region.

The gold key, which Éamon de Valera used to formally open City Hall in September 1936, I used a metaphor that there is still much to unlock in our communities in Cork. The portraits I have used to link to the tragic stories of former and martyred Lord Mayors Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney. The current historic building is dedicated to their memory. Their memory though is filled with ideas of democracy and building hope for the future, which are elements the city also needs for its future.

Future Re-Interpretations:

In another room, I showcase all of the pictures of the previous Lord Mayor’s and remind visitors that all has back stories and interests in Cork’s future and all came from a variety of contexts and backgrounds, which is also an important part of Cork’s future DNA. I added a modern section during my term of office – from the international deaf flag to pictures of the Pride Parade, the women’s caucus of Cork City Council to Mary Crilly of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre receiving the Freedom of the City in 2022. Such latter topics are also essential to Cork’s future but to also remind the visitor of the city’s must recent important stories.

One of the last images I finish with is a vibrant and colourful piece presented to the office by artist Jason O’Gorman, which is a re-interpretation of the City’s coat of arms. It is a reminder that there is an onus on all Corkonians to create a vibrant and colourful future and for all of us to work together on that.

Thank You:

Sincere thanks to Lady Mayoress Marcelline Bonneau and Finbarr Archer, Nicola O’Sullivan, Rose Fahy and Caroline Martin in the Lord Mayor’s office as well as the team in Corporate Affairs ably led by Paul Moynihan, and Chief Executive Anne Doherty, for their partnership, curation of activities, story board creation, support and advice over the past year.

Kieran’s Our City Our Town 6 June 2024

1256a. South Gate Bridge by Nathaniel Grogan, c.1790 (source: Crawford Art Gallery).
1256a. South Gate Bridge by Nathaniel Grogan, c.1790 (source: Crawford Art Gallery).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 6 June 2024

Cork: A Potted History Selection

Cork: A Potted History is the title of my new local history book published by Amberely Press. The book is a walking trail, which can be physically pursued or you can simply follow it from your armchair. It takes a line from the city’s famous natural lake known just as The Lough across the former medieval core, ending in the historic north suburbs of Blackpool. This week is another section from the book.

What’s in a Painting? Nathaniel Grogan’s South Gate Bridge:

Archived in the collections of the Crawford Art Gallery is an evocative painting of South Gate Bridge in the closing decade of the eighteenth century by artist Nathaniel Grogan (c. 1740–1807). He discovered his talent as an artist as a young man, receiving some instruction from the artist John Butts. Grogan enlisted in the British army and went to America for a time. He returned to Cork and became known for his composition skills of drawings of the city and its environs.

  One of Grogan’s popular works is that of South and North Gate Bridges. The image presented is that of South Gate Bridge, which reveals quite a lot of the life and times in this corner of the city, especially in its focus on the bridge, the debtor’s prison and the fishing community.

It is said that the first South Gate Bridge was built sometime in the twelfth century AD as a timber-planked structure, giving access to a Hiberno Norse settlement or access to a well-settled marshland with inhabitants of Viking descendancy. When the Anglo-Normans established a fortified walled settlement and a trading centre in Cork around AD 1200, South Gate drawbridge formed one of the three entrances – North Gate drawbridge and Watergate portcullis being the others.

In May 1711, agreement was reached by the Corporation of Cork that North Gate Bridge would be rebuilt in stone, while in 1713 South Gate Bridge would be replaced with an arched stone structure. South Gate Bridge still stands today in the same form it did over 300 years ago, with the exception of a small bit of restructuring and re-strengthening in early 1994.

  In the painting, the Debtor’s Prison at South Gate Prison is very prominent, with its peaked roof and chimney piece at the left-hand side of the bridge. It is known the prison was built concurrent to the bridge in the 1710s. However, many of its records have been lost to time. What is known is that there were stern penalties if you owed money and could not pay the debt in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland. The debtor was imprisoned until the money was paid. If they did not have enough money to pay the debt, then it was not unusual for the person to remain in the prison until they died there.

Debtors were not entitled to medical attention. Those who could not get their families to arrange payments of rent at the prison had to take the dampest and darkest cells. If payment was not made for food, they were given bread that was boiled in water three times a day. The practice of imprisoning debtors caused many calls for the reform of laws around debt. It was only in 1872 when the imprisonment aspect was removed by the Debtors Act (Ireland).

In the foreground of the painting there is a focus on fishermen. Records reveal that such fishermen lived around the Frenches Quay, Crosses Green and South Main Street areas. Several resided in the stepped lane known as Keyser’s Hill that runs from Frenches Quay to Barrack Street via Elizabeth Fort. Twentieth-century oral history records that the South Parish fishermen used sturdy open rowing boats, usually around 18 feet in length. The boats were heavy and required considerable strength to row.

Washington Street and the Wide Street Commissioners:

As the late eighteenth century progressed, the population increased and the Corporation of Cork came under pressure to improve the lot of the citizens. The medieval fabric of the city simply could not cope with the demands of the population. Fines were placed on illegal dumping and scavengers, and wheelbarrow men and street sweepers were appointed to keep the streets clean. Many of the buildings in the city were in need of much repair and certain lanes in the old medieval core needed to be reconstructed.

  In 1765 a commission was established to deal with the problems facing the expanding city, especially in relation to the various health risks posed by inadequate facilities. Known as the Wide Street Commission, it was first set up in Dublin. In Cork, its primary job was to widen the medieval lanes and thereby eradicate some of the health problems stemming from them. They also planned to lay out new, wider streets for the benefit of the citizens.

Sixteen commissioners were appointed in 1765, but due to financial restrictions it was the early nineteenth century before they made an impact. At that time, streets such as South Terrace, Dunbar Street and Washington Street (then known as Great George’s Section of Holt’s Map of Cork (1832), showing Great George Street; opened in November 1824) were laid out, and streets such as Shandon Street were widened.

Samuel Lewis, in his section on Cork in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), describes the work of the commissioners: ‘The streets were created and repaired under the directions of the commissioners and nearly £6000 is annually expended in paving, cleansing, and improving them.’ The privilege of licensing vehicles of every description plying for hire within the city was also vested in these commissioners.

Lewis describes that the general appearance of the city, particularly since its extensive improvements, is ‘picturesque and cheerful’. He further outlines that “the principal streets are spacious and well paved; most of the houses are large and well built, chiefly of clay-slate fronted with roofing slate, which gives them a clean though sombre appearance; others are built of the beautiful grey limestone of the neighbourhood, and some are faced with cement; those in the new streets are principally of red brick”.

John Windele, in his Historical and Descriptive Notices of Cork (1849), describes a dense habitation prior to Great George’s Street: “The sight of this beautiful street a few years ago was occupied by some of the narrowest and filthiest lanes and alleys of the town and most densely inhabited by a squalid and impoverished population”.

Caption:

1256a. South Gate Bridge by Nathaniel Grogan, c.1790 (source: Crawford Art Gallery).