“Got Cork” – Adventures in the Southern Capital
Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Kieran McCarthy,
23 June 2023
The Diary Entry:
Dear colleagues, [dear TDs, senators], dear Chief Executive, dear family, dear Lady Mayoress, dear Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends;
Cork 1863 – A letter is dispatched to the UK to a young architect letting him know he was successful with his design proposal for a new cathedral.
William Burges, the newly appointed architect of a new St Finbarr’s Cathedral, immediately and proudly remarked in his diary, “Got Cork” and with that embarked on a remarkable piece of building work, a voyage of discovery into the origins of Cork history. He created an iconic structure relevant for his time and forged a structure as it was seen at the time as [quote] “worthy of the name cathedral” [end quote].
And proudly I can write in my diary this evening also “Got Cork”.
Mar sin ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo fíor buiochas do mo mholtóir Comhairleoir Des Cahill agus do mo thaiceoir, Comhairleoir Terry Shannon, an bheirt iar-Ard Mhearaí Chorcaí, agus a chomhghleacaithe daor as do mhuinín a chur ionam, agus as bronntanas dom an noiméad seo “Got Cork”.
Many thanks dear colleagues for your trust in me here this evening.
Such a term “Got Cork” has always stayed with me through many years since my first reading of them.
And this diary entry by William Burges leads to many questions on what it is to “Got Cork”.
William was tasked to be a guardian of a key part of the city’s heritage – to carry out a project, with multiple roles – some of which included remembering and representing a legacy, projecting and re-animating the origins story of the city’s patron Saint Finbarr.
He built upon past legacies of former churches, He assembled striking architectural designs in a historic medieval style. He managed a team, and most interestingly conducted archaeological excavations and move skeletons and burials because the new cathedral was twice the size of the church it was replacing.
Whereas this evening, you are not entrusting me to build a Cathedral or to move graves [I hope not, but I cannot confirm I have read all of the terms and conditions with the role!].
But we are, I feel, in our own political cathedral where “Got Cork” takes on new meanings– we are in a space of guardianship, representation and inheritance.
In our ancient ceremony of handing over the chain at our annual general meeting this evening from Cllr Forde to myself – that strong sense of guardianship is ever present. There is a guardianship over the chain as an object of high symbolism – firstly a gold medallion with the city’s coat of arms and its Latin inscription Statio Bene Fida Carinis or translated A Safe Harbour for Ships,
Secondly a portcullis showcasing the ancient water gate of the medieval walled town of Cork thirdly the SS chain links symbolising sacredness and guardianship, and lastly the medallion inscription where 1787 marks its creation.
There is the guardianship of how this chain links the past to our present, almost seamlessly – that one could argue that the chain links are not just physical links but if it could speak it has seen the highs and lows of Cork history from boom to bust and vice versa. The chain has been a witness to it all in its over 230-year history;
…to the creation of the term of Lord Mayor in 1901 with Daniel Hegarty to the tragedies of office holders such as Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney and then woven into a myriad of personal connections by those who have engaged with office holders.
…and then there is the guardianship on how its essence the chain projects the city into the future as debated during the recent boundary expansion scheme. That of all the elements of those contentious debates, which emerged a few short years ago was that the chain and its societal connection meant much to the people of Cork.
And indeed, when you mix the guardianship elements of the past, present and future, one gets a strong mix of high emotion and a deep attachment to the title of Lord Mayor of Cork.
A Personal Journey:
And for someone like me, it’s not lost on me what this chain means.
I was the child on the annual Lord Mayor school visits who felt a deep attachment to the essence of the chain and its connection to the sense of place and pride in Cork– something that made me feel proud, made me connect to my city, driven by proud parents and teachers of Cork. Thanks Mum and Dad, and to my sister Deirdre and my brother Aidan for everything.
I was someone who likened the Lord Mayor’s visit to a form of Christmas and that they had some sort of super powers and that the medallion of the chain was an actual key to a rich box of stories and papers of my city. I look forward to seeing it later.
I was the child who wanted to be Lord Mayor when I grew up
I was the teenager who pursued civic education projects of former Lord Mayors– someone who began to research and photograph the city – its buildings and public spaces – and someone who consumed history books written about the city.
I became a someone who has studied and written on the high and lows of Cork history across time encountering mayors and Lord Mayors like ghosts walking across my research of historic books and newspapers;
A someone who created walking tours, a someone who wrote books on this historic city, and ultimately an epic voyage that has led me straight into this hallowed political gladiatorial space to meet and work with you good people,
to work with different Lord Mayors of differing political hues and interests, to learn more about how this city ticks and develops,
to work in the European Committee of the Regions and now this journey has come to this enormous moment this evening.
So, what my 11 year old self engaged with 35 years ago has brought me on a voyage of epic personal proportions where “Got Cork” has a very high emotional value.
A House of Democracy:
But perhaps it is my journey since I joined the Council in 2009 that has been the most enriching.
I have had wow factor memories, deeply worrying memories and very proud memories.
I have been very fortunate to work with colleagues who care deeply about Cork’s communities – its essence and people, who represent its people and neighbourhoods, where every meeting is a chance to make a difference. In my time, some evenings we have won incredible things for this city and during other evenings, we remain pushing forward inch by inch, or stuck, or we have gone back to the drawing board, but we have always remained true to a forward-looking path.
Indeed, in the past four years of this Council as a significant house of democracy, we have achieved so much.
In this Council term alone, we have gone through many challenges – the expansion of the city’s boundaries, which feels like years and years ago, brought us many nights of debates.
In 2019 in a special booklet to mark the boundary expansion of the city the Council commissioned poet Theo Dorgan to reflect on the winds of change and the related challenges and visions. He wrote:
“Great changes are coming, the worst of the old ways are dust in the wind and the new energies are crackling with light and variousness of daring thought and music. Go on, said one of my brothers, give us a mad vision of Cork in the coming years. That’s Easy I said, it will be the Athens of a new republic, the dream city where a noble past will give birth to a glorious future. He looked at me and said, would you ever cop yourself on. Fair enough I said – getting a bit carried away…but all the same though. What if”.
Again, a sense of “Got Cork” but little did we know what was ahead of us.
We pushed forward through the significant challenges of Covid. We created an online digital platform to enable us to interact. We created a strong Climate Action team. We established a strong Women’s Caucus. We hosted a strong and rich commemoration programme. We passed an ambitious development plan. We found new ways forward to serve in more ambitious ways our respective local electoral areas or neighbourhoods, to placing a focus on our City of Welcomes paradigm, and much much more.
We kept the Council’s work on the road.
This has been due in no small part to your dedication dear colleagues and our strong Executive led by our CE Ann Doherty.
At this juncture I would like in particular like to thank our former Lord Mayors of this Council Cllr Dr John Sheehan, Cllr Joe Kavanagh, Cllr Colm Kelleher and the outgoing Lord Mayor, Cllr Deirdre Forde for leading us through days ranging from “is this our life now sitting 2 metres away from people” to re-opening the city sprinkling it with hope, positivity and charm, to beginning our journey on the development plan, to championing the rebooting of business and community life” and much much more.
We kept this house of democracy going – the importance of guardianship, democracy and representation never wavered.
I am reminded of the words of Tomás MacCurtain in his Lord Mayoralty speech in late January 1920 where he noted:
[quote]: “I expect from the members of the new Corporation a sacrifice of time and a sacrifice, perhaps, of personal interest…that no self-interest would be put before the interest of the community at large”.
And in our time to each member of this chamber you have made sacrifices to your personal lives to make sure this chamber forges paths forwards through its multitude of its work programmes.
The Hope for Tomorrow:
And so now as we face into the last final 12 months of this Council, there is still much to do. There is much work to finish and much work to start.
And when I say all of that I am very conscious that our citizens and their voices and requests must continue to be listened to, new ideas forged and implemented, and need to be the bedrock of Cork’s DNA building into the future.
In our City, democracy matters. It is renewed every time we have a meeting. It will be renewed with the impending local elections next year.
Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney in his book Principles of Freedom spoke about people gifted with certain powers of soul and body. That it is of vital importance to the individual and the community that one be given a full opportunity to place a value on developing one’s talent, and [quote] “to fill one’s place in the world worthily” [end quote].
He also wrote about the citizen and a hope for tomorrow. As he noted:
“The citizen will fight for that ideal in obscurity, little heeded – in the open, misunderstood; in humble places, still undaunted; in high places, seizing every vantage point, never crushed, never silent, never despairing, cheering a few comrades with hope for tomorrow. And should these few sink in the struggle the greatness of the ideal is proven in the last hour”.
And in a similar vain Eamon de Valera opening this City Hall building and our chamber on 8 September 1936. Addressing the masses, he noted:
“I am sure the people will not shrink from the work that is necessary so that the efforts of the past are not to be in vain. The people of this city have clung tenaciously to their nationality with courage and hope even in the darkest hours. Surely that courage and that hope will not sway them now when the dawn is at hand”.
We will have myriads of meetings ahead of us in our final year where the “hope for tomorrow” can make sure our citizens are the front and centre of our priorities such as reducing homelessness, making sure our construction of our new social housing projects keeps on track, as well as keeping our affordable housing programmes on track, to making sure we are put on a firm footing to be Climate Neutral as part of the EU led Horizon Mission,
We need to keep adding to sustainable mobility plans; we need to keep enhancing the offering of the city centre; we need to make sure we keep creating new amenities, and we need to continue to make sure our communities are future proofed by weaving them with the sustainable development goals and the WHO Healthy Cities project. The list is a long one.
And then we need to sprinkle all those priorities with the energy and ambition that a second city brings or what I call Ireland’s southern capital and one gets an exciting future for our city by the Lee.
Cork City Council is on the frontline in building the future of communities in Cork. The Council is a story builder, a strategy builder, and a capacity builder.
In addition, one would be hard pressed to find a community within the city’s boundaries and in its outliers that doesn’t have a strong sense of place and identity – where building community capacity, family nest building, ambition and creating opportunities matter, and when compiled create a very strong Cork Inc.
Without doubt my Lord Mayoralty will champion these many priorities but in particular I would like to offer a voice to many of our citizens through my theme of Building our Communities Together and through a pet project I will be calling the Voices of Cork. My interests in heritage, history and education will be at the heart of this project.
So, at our Annual Meeting this evening, we continue to carry with hope, with confidence, with passion, with wit, with leadership, and all of that bound to the city’s hopes and dreams, which burn brightly for the future. This great city keeps moving and the tests of our time demand continuous action.
And so this evening I can proudly inscribe in my diary “Got Cork” with its multitude of meanings that we all continue to explore, engage and push forward with.
To conclude, I am also reminded of the words of two famous composers, Rogers and Hammerstein who once penned the most beautiful lyrics.
“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I got a wonderful feeling, everything is going my way,
eh, O what a beautiful day”.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh arís ar an onóir seo.