Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 18 September 2014
“Notes on a Park”
Finding myself sitting in Fitzgerald’s Park, creating a walking tour for culture night is engaging (Friday, 19 September, 5pm, at park stage, free). I observe my fellow but unknown companions, a woman reading a book while her young child plays with an imagined friend in the area by the Michael Collins statue, a man doing yoga by the river. In the distance two men sit on a bench by the pond chatting about aspects of life and children use the trees and bushes to create an imagined play world. Passing the Cork Museum there is the avid tourist with a map in her hand, entering to explore the wonders of Cork’s past.
On reflection the tourist’s map does not show the imaginary landscapes created in the mind of the people in the park. Indeed, the tourist’s map does not tell the real truth about the place. The reality is completely different. I recall reading once that maps are supposed to be an accepted part of everyday life and are a graphic representation of space. Maps have symbols – line spacings representing the lie of the land, perhaps the everydayness of a place – topography, water, road lengths, junctions, spot heights. In reality, those spacings are much different. Looking at a map of Fitzgerald’s Park, you never get that sense of sacredness, tranquillity, people coming and going, change and continuity, the whispered conversations to the outburst of laughter – a living place created by the human experience.
On my visit, I walk on, acknowledge and chat to a colleague about his research and travels in New Zealand. The pond with its Fr. Mathew Memorial fountain is imposing as the ducks hypnotically paddle around in a circle. My mind conjures up a memory, the trips with my parents, sister and brother to Fitzgerald’s Park, a haven of rest for many Corkonians and a familiar place of my childhood. Indeed, now growing older, thinking about jumping on the Shaky Bridge, feeding the birds in the pond and falling in, playing on the swings and slides and watching the world go by could be metaphors for time turning, a type of enjoying the moment but growing up and moving on. I have no doubt that I’m not the only Corkonian who has taken time out to appreciate the sacred composure of Fitzgerald’s Park and to use it to solve some of life’s problems.
With engaging with the historical development of the city, part of the process involves dealing with the familiar places like Fitzgerald’s Park that people know but also unravelling the narrative of the forgotten. Cork has many forgotten places that exist adjacent to well known cityscapes. Exploring these angles, I find that the notion of Cork as a city has always been reinvented. Exploring the architecture of Fitzgerald’s Park, there are elements that Cork has always been a cosmopolitan city within Western European culture, always staying in touch with aspects of modernisation, its history in a sense creating a worthy former European Capital of Culture. Looking at the physical landscape of the Park, there are clues to a forgotten and not so familiar past. The entrance pillars on the Mardyke, the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion, the museum, the fountain in the middle of the central pond dedicated to Fr Mathew and timber posts eroding in the river were once part of one of Cork’s greatest historical events, the Cork International Exhibitions of 1902 and 1903. Just like the magical spell of Fitzgerald’s Park, the Mardyke exhibitions were spaces of power. Revered, imagined and real spaces were created. They were marketing strategies where the past, present and future merged, Aesthetics of architecture, colour, decoration and lighting were all added to the sense of spectacle and in a tone of moral and educational improvement. The entire event was the mastermind of Cork Lord Mayor Edward Fitzgerald, after which the park got it name.
The wandering of my mind is broken by the crying of a child passing pining for an ice cream. It’s time to ramble on again. Passing by the famous swings and slides, they look so small to me now, as the parents and guardians nearby sit on the benches. Some stare into mid space, others chat and laughing, others shout and perhaps others remember their youthful spell within the Park. High above, the imposing Shaky Bridge stands as a testament of strength as a mother leaves her screaming children loose to jump on this great Cork institution. The River Lee, like the park’s pond, is hypnotic as it flows steadily towards the city centre past the familiar, forgotten, real and imagined spaces of one of Cork’s greatest landmarks Fitzgerald’s Park.
Other tour: I will also conduct a tour of the city side of the old line on Saturday evening, 20 September starting at 6.30pm (free) at the entrance on The Marina side adjacent the Main Drainage station of the Amenity Walk (as part of Cork Harbour Open Day). The Cork Blackrock and Passage Railway, which opened in 1850, was among the first of the Irish suburban railway projects. Sir John Benjamin MacNeill, the engineer of the Cork Blackrock and Passage Railway, was appointed engineer-in-chief of many projects in Ireland including plans for 800 miles of railway.
760a. Summer rays, Fitzgerald’s Park (picture: Kieran McCarthy)