Cork 1916: A Year Examined is the title of my new book, just published by Irish History Press. The co-author is author Suzanne Kirwan. The publication is our contribution to the 1916 commemoration debate. It takes the year 1916 from the point of view that there were multiple conversations to be heard during the year – a kaleidoscope of ideas which provided the context and framework for revolution – everyday life being one – some led Cork citizens to connect with the Republican mantra at the time and others to just maintain existence, survive and struggle with the bleakness of a national and local economy.
Entering the Cork Examiner on 1 January and progressing page by page one discovers key nuggets about the nature of Cork society, the soul of Ireland’s southern capital, the ongoing conversations about maintaining a contemporary status of being one of Ireland‘s distinguished port cities, and all the advantages and problems that run with that. January 1916 begins with the aftermath of a winter storm – buildings were windswept and damaged, transport networks such as the City’s tramways were indented – as such there was nothing the Corporation of Cork and the citizens could do but sit it out and wait; much was out of their hands; the storm was something bigger than themselves. Indeed, the thread ‘much was out of their hands’ permeated throughout Irish society at this time – pervaded Cork society at this time. Cork’s place in international and local affairs made the city wait in an almost blurred and funnelled view – that the city’s future at this moment in time was governed by imperial and national factors – the storm of an Empire crossed multiple blurred lines of thought as such. Hence, this book publishes a cross-section of the more important everyday life themes, which emerged during the year. We publish verbatim what was in the Cork newspaper. For us, many of the articles we have chosen should and will resonate with the contemporary public and themes within the media today.
The Cork Examiner on 1 August 1916 celebrated its 75th anniversary and a proud tradition of “influencing public opinion” and offering “fairness” as they noted in their editorial on the day. Censorship was in operation and was defined by Westminster’s Defence against the Realm Act. Indeed, it is only when this act is written about that the Volunteers in Cork under Tómás McCurtain are spoken about, the miscommunication in keeping Cork Volunteers in Cork during Easter Week 1916 and the scale of such structures such as the internment camps. The output of the newspaper is biased. However still and all it is very interesting to explore the knock on effect of what became public news and what did not but lingered in personal archives in correspondence between volunteer leaders and soldiers. How does one interpret what was meant for the public realm or not? Whose story and history is it? Hence it is difficult to realise how much was given by Westminster to the press to publish – therefore questions need to be asked of the press coverage what is real and what is not real, true, half true or false? what news stories can you take at face value or not?
Despite, the rationing of food and materials, the pulses of society in Cork retained it as an ambitious place. By the early twentieth century, the population of the city was 75,000 – the middle classes living in the expanding suburbs whilst the majority, the working classes lived in slum conditions. Unemployment and emigration were high. Unemployment, requests for wage increases, Union interventions, the role of employers and the needs of rate-payers reverberate in the pages throughout the year. The debates of the Cork industrial Association pops up in discourse throughout the pages of the paper, their efforts culminating in the large scale announcement of Ford Tractor and Car manufacturing coming to Cork in 1917. The Cork Harbour Board revelled in this announcement as well as plans for the physical rejuvenation of its quays.
But perhaps above all what we have attempted to create with this book, is to construct a sounding board of sorts – that for all the voices within this book about ideas about Cork and its role in the seminal year of 1916, there are also many voices on the role of the ambitious city in Ireland and further afield to questions of poverty that have never been completely solved or overly discussed. Many of the topics on housing, fair wage, political partnerships and similar ambitions still rage across our newspapers. There is much to learn from this time – not just on the political side but that life itself in any city keeps moving and that society needs to grow and evolve with it – and that even from a dark time in Ireland’s past, there is much to learn about the diverse framework of historical events and how they shape ourselves and our future.
The book Cork 1916, A Year Examined (2016) by Kieran McCarthy & Suzanne Kirwan is available in any good bookshops in the city or on Amazon.
864a. Front cover of Cork 1916, A Year Examined by Kieran McCarthy & Suzanne Kirwan
864b. St Patrick’s Street, c.1910 (source: Cork City Museum)