Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 25 August 2016
Walks Through History
National Heritage Week is nearing its end (20th – 28th August). I have two more tours to finish out the week. The first on the Friar’s Walk area is on this Friday 26 August 2016 – meet at Red Abbey tower, Mary Street, 7pm (free, duration: two hours). The second is on this Saturday 27 August and explores the local history of The Mardyke, Fitzgerald’s Park & the Cork International Exhibition – meet at band stand, 2pm (free, duration: two hours)
The first of the walks is a new walking tour for me which begins on Red Abbey square to explore the area’s medieval origins. This small corner of the city alone can boast a medieval friary tower, the eighteenth century South Chapel, Nano Nagle’s burial ground, St Nicolas Church and all that in a 50 metre radius. Climbing up to Barrack Street, to the seventeenth century Elizabeth Fort and its adjacent barracks Cat Barracks brings the real story of the importance of protecting the old walled town and harbour of Cork. However there are many interesting sites in this area, which should really make the list of the must see historic monuments in Cork. Tracking through the adjacent Evergreen Buildings and Industry Place to St Stephen’s Place brings the walker to the former site of St Stephen’s Church, a leper colony established on the southside in medieval times, mirroring a similar colony in what is now the Mayfield area. By the early eighteenth century the old church had been replaced by a hospital and Blue Coat School for the Protestant merchant classes. The arched entrance is now bricked up, beyond which are the contemporary back gardens of housing. Nearby an old eighteenth century Anabaptist graveyard lurks under a locked and overgrown basketball court.
The legacy of the Cork Improved Dwellings Company is ever present. Established in 1860 through a shareholding idiom, one could speculate and invest, and get a return whilst at the same time providing an escape for many impoverished families from slum ridden areas of the city. The company eventually built almost 420 houses – Prosperity Square & surrounds, Rathmore Terrace on St Patrick’s Hill and Hibernian Buildings on Albert Road became their flagship projects. This company managed its housing stock till 1961, when the company was liquidated when it sold off its shares to a local investor – through Mr Swanton, a solicitor in town. If anyone has more detail on this I would to hear it.
Another and a very interesting particular venture was opened in 1863, that of a large tower and formal gardens owned by Michael Callanan, a city merchant. The idea for such a project grew out of Callanan inspiration by the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, which he visited in 1851. A high limestone tower would be the central point of Callanan’s proposal. The estimated cost of the scheme was £50,000. Ornamental gardens were designed and the tall tower was constructed approximately, 25 to 30 metres in height, which assumed the shape of a medieval tall castle. With over one hundred steps to the top and crennellated at the top, the tower provided panoramic views of the city.
Once the initial gardens and tower were in place, Callanan attempted to attract the finances of others by glorifying his project by placing large advertisements in local street directories and newspapers. In 1871, an account in a city of Cork directory outlined Callanan’s several attractions around the tower – seven acres of “pleasure grounds”, a new and spacious concert hall in construction, space for athletic sports, gymnastics, and olympic games, archery and cricket, a racket court and ball alley. An extensive racecourse was proposed to be laid down in lawn grass and to be afforded a level run of nearly half-a-mile.
Callanan stated that it was his attention to occasionally produce pyrotechnic displays and to devise entertainments, which would introduce as he noted “some of the choicest resources of the Polytechnic Art”. Regarding refreshments, the leading feature in this department consisted of ‘XX’ and ‘XXX’ porter from the old and celebrated firm of Beamish and Crawford. Wines, ales, and spirits were deemed of the best quality. Tea and coffee, fruits were supplied during the season.
In the 1871 advertisement, Callanan, sought to remind citizens that the tower was erected by him for the sole benefit of the sick poor of the city. Entrance prices to the Tower Gardens are unknown and all classes of people were welcomed. For the satisfaction of all parties, an arrangement was made by placing a Protestant and a Roman Catholic relief box at the entrance of the tower, accessible only to the officers of the respective communities.
However, by Guy’s street directory of Cork in 1875-6, the tower gardens were vacant and closed. Numerous references to it during court cases listed in the Cork Examiner detail it as a place, which attracted too much undesirable drinking sessions and sexual behaviour. As a result, much of the facilities and buildings were taken down apart from the viewing tower. Today, the tower is still a prominent landmark on the south side of the city and forms a backdrop to the gardens behind Tower Street. The formal gardens are long gone and what remains is the external shell of the tower with over a dozen windows to be seen.
Come on the tours!
858a. Callanan’s Tower as presented in Fulton’s Cork Street Directory 1871 (source: Cork City Library)
858b. Callanan’s Tower, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy)