Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 27 September 2012
“Docklands Historical Walking Tour, 6 October 2012”
My historical walking tour of Cork’s Docklands is one I’ve been designing for a while. It runs, Saturday 6 October (2pm from Shalom Park, in front of Bord Gais, free, two hours). Much of the story of Cork’s modern development is represented here. The history of the port, transport, technology, modern architecture, agriculture, sport, the urban edge with the river all provide an exciting cultural debate in teasing out how Cork as a place came into being. The origin of the current Docklands is a product of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
Ever since Viking age time over 1,000 years ago, boats of all different shapes and sizes have been coming in and out of Cork’s riverine and harbour region continuing a very long legacy of trade. Port trade was and still is the engine in Cork’s development. To complement the growth of the port, extensive reclamation of swampland took place as well as physical infrastructure quays, wharfs and warehouses. I’m a big fan of the different shapes of these wharfs, especially the timber ones that have survived since the 1870s. A myriad of timbers still prop up the wharves in our modern port area, protecting the city from the ebb and flow of the tide and also the river’s erosive qualities. The mixture of styles of buildings, which etch themselves into the skyline, also create a kind of drama to unravel on the landscape itself. Add in the tales of ships over the centuries connecting Cork to other places and a community of dockers, and one gets a site which has always looked in a sense beyond its horizons. Indeed, perhaps the theme that runs through the new walking tour is about connections and explores sites such as Jewtown, the National Sculpture Factory, the Docks, the old Park Racecourse, the early story of Fords and the former site of the Munster Agricultural Society. All these topics are all about connecting the city to wider themes of exportation and importation of goods, people and ideas into the city through the ages.
One hundred years ago, considerable tonnage could navigate the North Channel, as far as St. Patrick’s Bridge, and on the South Channel as far as Parliament Bridge. St. Patrick’s Bridge and Merchants’ Quay were the busiest areas, being almost lined daily with shipping. Near the extremity of the former on Penrose Quay was situated the splendid building of the Cork Steamship Company, whose boats loaded and discharged their alongside the quay.
In the late 1800s, the port of Cork was the leading commercial port of Ireland. The export of pickled pork, bacon, butter, corn, porter, and spirits was considerable. The manufactures of the city were brewing, distilling and coach-building, which were all carried on extensively. The imports in the late nineteenth century consisted of maize and wheat from various ports of Europe and America; timber, from Canada and the Baltic; fish, from Newfoundland and Labrador regions. Bark, valonia, shumac, brimstone, sweet oil, raisins, currants, lemons, oranges and other fruit, wine, salt, marble were imported from the Mediterranean; tallow, hemp, flaxseed from St. Petersburg, Rig and Archangel; sugar from the West Indies; tea from China, and coal and slate from Wales. Of the latter, corn and timber were imported in large numbers.
With such massive port traffic, there was silting up of what’s now the Tivoli channel. A wall called the Navigation Wall was constructed in 1763 to keep dredged silt behind. The wall was five feet across and about a mile in length. The completion of the wall led to a large tract of land behind the wall, stretching from the Marina west to Victoria Road, being left in a semi-flooded condition. In the decade of the 1840s, City engineer Edward Russell was commissioned to present plans for the reclamation of this land, some 230 acres. Russell’s plan proposed the extension and widening of the Navigation Wall creating the Marina Walk, to exclude tidal water entering the land. He proposed the construction of a reservoir (the present Atlantic Pond), and the erection of sluice gates to facilitate the drainage and exclusion of water.
The slobland was gradually reclaimed and became a park and was used as a racecourse from 1869 to 1917. In March 1869, Cork Corporation leased to Sir John Arnott & others the land for a term of five years and for the purpose of establishing a race course. In 1892, the City and County of Cork Agricultural Society leased space from Cork Corporation in the eastern section of the Cork Park, which became the Cork Showgrounds. In 1917 a sizeable portion of the park was sold to Henry Ford to manufacture Fordson Tractors. Both the latter have a depth of history and memories attached to them.
Before the above tour, don’t forget, this Friday 28 September, 6.30pm, a historical walking tour with me of the Cork Blackrock Railway Line in aid of the Irish Heart Foundation, leaving from Pier Head carpark, Blackrock, E.15 per person. In addition, on that day, the city and county historical societies exhibit their local histories in the Millennium Hall, Cork City Hall, 11am-7pm.
660a. Cork Docklands September 2012 (picture: Kieran McCarthy)