Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 23 September 2021

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 23 September 2021

Journeys to a Truce: The City Engineer’s Perspective

Cork Corporation’s Reconstruction Committee’s six-month report was an important one to release in September 1921. It was over nine months since the Burning of Cork. Politically there was pressure to move the reconstruction on but there was also the headache of who brings all the physical thinking and oversees the actual construction. Last week, the column mentioned the addendum document to the six month report and Joseph Delany, the City Engineer, who outlined that without plans being submitted, the rebuilding ran the risk of building heights and respective architectural design being out of sync with neighbouring rebuilds.

In truth there was so many moving parts for Joseph. In an earlier report, penned by him, in January 1921, he argued that several features of the restoration problem were complex. The problem had its opportunities and its difficulties. Due to the unprecedented nature of the rebuild, from the outset, he called for a special administration facilitation and “diversion from the ordinary lines of procedure by which building operations are usually regulated”. He noted of the need for a public spirit: “The desired improvements can only be achieved by the parties concerned adopting a sound policy of public spirit in the public interest. The proprietors of the lately destroyed property will, I have no doubt, appreciate their obligations to assist, both individually and collectively, the civic authorities and with their architects and advisors in making the work of restoration and the improvements incidental there to a success”.

Arriving to Cork Corporation in 1903, Joseph amassed nineteen years experience within the organisation. Joseph was also interested in Irish industrial and language movements, in the country’s national well-being, its educational advancement and in economic reform.

Joseph’s back story reveals a learned man. W.T. Pike in his Contemporary biographies’, published in Cork and County Cork in the Twentieth Century by Richard J. Hodges in 1911 reveals that Joseph (1872-1942) was educated at St Vincent’s College, Castleknock, Dublin. He continued his studies at Art School, Clonmel and there he was awarded the Mayor’s Prize in “Science and Art Subjects”. He also attended the City of Dublin Technical Institute, and the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where he was awarded “School Prize in Art Subjects”.

Joseph trained as engineer and architect by indentured pupilage under well-known Dublin architect Walter Glynn Doolin. Joseph became a certified surveyor under the London Metropolitan Building Act, combined with private study in the engineering courses of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and of the Institute of Municipal and County Engineers. He was awarded a travelling studentship of the Agricultural Association of Ireland in 1897 and was medallist in architecture in the National Art Competition, South Kensington Science and Art Department in 1898.

Joseph believed in networking and learning from other engineers and architects. He was Honorary Auditor at Royal Institute of Architects, Ireland in 1900 and Honorary Secretary Castleknock College Union, 1901-10. He was member of the Committee of the Irish Roads Congress and member of the Joint Committee on Waterworks Regulations, London. He was also a Member of the Society of Engineers, London, the Institution of Municipal and County Engineers, England, the Royal Institute of Architects, Ireland, the Royal Sanitary Institute, London, the Architectural Association of Ireland, and the Royal Institute of Public Health. He also published technical contributions to engineering and architectural magazines and penned a book called “A Memoir of Walter Glynn Doolin”, which was dedicated to his mentor Walter.

Joseph served on the temporary Civil Staff of the Royal Engineers and was Assistant City Architect in Dublin, for five years. In 1903, he was then appointed City Engineer of Cork. On taking up the Cork post he immediately set about improving the water supply system and reducing the abnormally high rate of water wastage in the city.

However, one of the many legacies Joseph left Cork City came from a visit to the US on an inquiry into American methods of municipal engineering and architectural practice, and an inspection of public works of civic utility. There he learned about the remodelling of American towns and cities to meet the modern requirements of their everyday life and that this was a common feature of civic pride in America. 

In his January 1921 report, apart from his report covering the Burning of Cork, Joseph outlines in a few pages the need for Cork to have a town plan noting that “town planning should be considered advantageous in Cork, with a view to the future improvement and better shaping of the city”. He called for this work to be investigated by specially appointed commissioners, consisting of prominent citizens and commercial and professional life, together with representatives of municipal councils. Planning ahead was crucial he argued; “The schemes produced, and in many cases accomplished, have resulted in the complete re-casting of the plans of cities, with consequent improved public convenience, and enhanced amenity of environment”.

Joseph detailed that clear foresight was very essential to the future development of Cork City, and the preparation of a town plan by a town planning competition or otherwise, as was pursued in Dublin after the Easter Rising of 1916, would result in useful suggestive proposals for the future betterment of the city. Although Joseph moved on from Cork in 1924, he did influence the creation of a Cork Town Planning Association – a group who two years later in 1926 produced Cork: A Civic Survey – technically Cork’s first town plan or guide at any rate.

Joseph resigned in 1924 from Cork Corporation because of illness brought about by pressure of the reconstruction work. He is said to have retired from Cork to Clonmel. From circa 1926 until 1936 he kept an office at 97, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. He died at Clonmel in 1942.


1118a. Joseph F Delany, City Engineer, c.1911 in W.T. Pike’s “Contemporary Biographies”, published in Cork and County Cork in the Twentieth Century (1911) by Richard J. Hodges.