Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 24 February 2022
Journeys to a Free State: Challenges of Commercial Life
There were plenty concerns for Cork society in early 1922. In early February, the 39th annual report of the Cork Incorporated Chamber of Shipping and Commerce – and one of two Chambers of Commerce in the city at the time – was published in the Cork Examiner. Reflecting on the previous twelve months, the Chamber report describes that during 1921 they hosted fifteen meetings of the Chamber’s central council and several meetings of subcommittees dealing with special subjects were held. John Crosbie was the elected president and the Vice President for 1921 was Braham E Sutton.
Social and political unrest were key characteristics of their 1921 report, which details the practical paralysis of business. In the early part of the year, large areas were cut off from communication with Cork by rail owing to the shutting down of portions of the railway system by the military authorities and through the closing down of the Cork and Bandon, and Cork-Macroom railway lines, due to industrial strikes in late 1921. In June 1921 the Cork, Blackrock and Passage Railway was closed by the military and was shut down for nearly four weeks. The transport situation was much alleviated after the proclamation of the Truce in July 1921.
During 1921 the topic of the transhipment of the mails to the south of Ireland was one of the most repeated campaigns by the Chamber’s council. They continued to point out that the delivery of cross channel letters to Cork at 1pm daily rendered it impossible to reply to them for the next outgoing mail at 2pm the same day. A Belfast incoming mail delivery system of cross channel mail had been accelerated to 10am. No solution was forthcoming for Cork.
The Chamber’s council identified that firstly an acceleration of 40 minutes in the delivery of mail could be affected by firstly a quicker transfer at Holyhead and Kingstown. The delay at Holyhead had been due largely to the examination of luggage there. Secondly the Great Southern and Western Railway could run a special engine with the South of Ireland train from Kingstown to Kingsbridge at an extra cost of £450 per annum to the post office. Representatives of the Great Southern and Western Railway Company promised to bring the matters affecting their mail system before their directors but by early 1922, everyone was still waiting for that outcome.
In general, though, the Chamber’s council expressed ongoing and strong disapproval of the postmaster general’s increased postal charges on the ground. This was also coupled with a late morning delivery of local letters and the curtailment of Sunday mail facilities. They also championed the acceleration of the Fishguard and the Rosslare mails service.
The aftermath of the Burning of Cork was still felt in early 1922. However, in the early part of 1921, the Chamber lobbied for the General Strickland enquiry into the Burning of Cork in December 1920 be published. In a letter by the Council’s Honorary Secretary, Christian Danckert, to UK Prime Minister Lloyd George in February 1921 the Chamber noted: “We learn from the newspapers that it was considered by the Cabinet some weeks ago, and we are at a loss to understand why no indication of its contents has as yet been allowed to transpire. Seeing that property and the value of millions of pounds is in question, the very existence of the city as a commercial community may be said to be at stake. The Council think it lamentable that the unfortunate victims of this terrible calamity should be left in suspense week after week. Nor is interest in the matter confined to Cork, seeing that London underwriters are also concerned for large amounts of compensation. One would suppose the common feelings of humanity would prompt those in authority over this unhappy country to allay the lacerating anxiety, both public and private, which for more than a month has been allowed to prevail. No other means being available to us, my council now addresses this enquiry to you in the hope that I will obtain a response more adequate than the bold acknowledgement, which was thought sufficient for previous communications to the Chief Secretary on this terrible subject”.
Early in 1921, the Chamber’s council created a conference of the owners of property affected by the Burning of Cork. A special committee consisting of representatives of the firms affected and members of the council was formed. This committee held several meetings, collected valuable evidence regarding the origin of the burnings, took up the question with the server insurance companies involved, and obtain special legal advice on the various aspects of the question. They deemed that the preliminary work of that committee would be of much assistance from the final claims for reparation in connection of the Irish settlement come to be adjusted. The council specifically called for Cork claims to be presented separately from these of the other parts of Ireland – due to the extent of “exceptionally aggravating circumstances” and the “convincing evidence of the origin of these fires”.
The Chamber’s council was also involved in a campaign for the establishment of a proper cattle market for Cork. Such a campaign had been ongoing for a quarter of a century. They supported the work of the County of Cork Committee of Agriculture. The proposal was to establish a Cork central cattle market to serve as a clearing ground for the south of Ireland.
A committee was appointed to explore the question and they reported back that their preference was for the site occupied by the corn and Haymarket behind City Hall. However, with City Hall in ruins and its compensation still not sorted the report of the committee was stalled, and ultimately did not come to fruition.
The Chamber’s council was also active in strongly protesting the continuance of the embargo on Eastbourne vessels calling at Cork Harbour. Irish passengers and mails, instead of being landed at Cork harbour, were taken onto English ports and sent back again to Ireland. The embargo was lifted at the end of 1921.
1139a. Postcard of Parnell Bridge, Cork City Hall & Cork Carnegie Library, c.1900, pre the Burning of Cork, from Cork City Through Time (2012) by Dan Breen & Kieran McCarthy.