Category Archives: Cork History

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 13 June 2024

1257a. Sketch of King's Castle c.1600 from George Carew’s Pacata Hibernia (source: Cork City Library).
1257a. Sketch of King’s Castle c.1600 from George Carew’s Pacata Hibernia (source: Cork City Library).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 13 June 2024

Cork: A Potted History Selection

Cork: A Potted History is the title of my new local history book published by Amberly Press. The book is a walking trail, which can be physically pursued or you can simply follow it from your armchair. It takes a line from the city’s famous natural lake known just as The Lough across the former medieval core, ending in the historic north suburbs of Blackpool. This week is another section from the book.

The King’s Castle:

The Watergate complex, comprising Cork’s medieval port, docks and custom house, would have been impressive. The gate allowed controlled access into a private world of merchants and citizens – the masts of ships, vessels filled with goods and people, creaking as their wooden hulls knocked against the stone quays. Built between two marshy islands, in the middle of a walled town, its entrance was between the two castles – King’s Castle and Queen’s Castle. King’s and Queen’s Castles are signified in the city’s coat of arms with a ship travelling from one tower to another and the latin inscription, Statio Bene Fida Carinis, which means A Safe Harbour for Ships.

In the early seventeenth century the lower part of King’s Castle was converted in two – the county prison, and the upper floor used as the County Courthouse, respectively.

In 1680 a new purpose built court house was constructed. It was described as a plain, accommodating structure with grand jury rooms. In 1806 a further new courthouse was constructed on the site and was renamed King’s Old Castle. It consisted of a handsome parliament of Portland stone supported by fluted Doric columns resting on a rustic basement. The cost of building was £10,000.

After the erection of the new courthouse on great George’s Street these premises for no longer required for the County Court services. The building passed into the possession of William Fitzgibbon who established the Queens Old Castle. The name was a compliment to Queen Victoria who was then reigning.

  William Fitzgibbon was a native of Rathkeale County Limerick. His first drapery store was in Cork’s Mallow Lane, now Shandon Street, and proved a great success. After a few years he transferred the business to Great Georges Street and assembled bit by bit leaseholds and fee simple properties including the disused Cork Courthouse. In 1846 the new drapery warehouse was ready for occupation. It was the first fully equipped monster drapery warehouse in the United Kingdom. It was one of the most popular department stores in Cork.

In 1873 Mr Victor Beare Fitzgibbon of Queen’s Old Castle, Messrs. Alexander Grant and T Lyons, merged the three business into a limited liability company under the title of T Lyons and Co, Limited – and which was focussed on the Queen’s Old Castle warehouse. The three businesses formed the principal members of the directorate. They established a trade, which in point of magnitude and volume had never before been equalled in the annals of commercial enterprise in the South of Ireland. All three firms though continued their respective operations.

The Queen’s Old Castle survived the Burning of Cork in 1920. In 1928 renovation works were entrusted to the firm of Mr T Kelleher, Millerd Street with architectural drawings by Messrs Chillingworth and Levie. Amongst the changes the old shop front was completely removed as well as the heavy masonry piers that supported the Portland stone dork columns. Steelwork encased would close glass mirrors, substituted for the columns and occupied very little space.

There was further change in 1996 when Clarendon Properties bought the building. It closed for refurbishment and when it re-opened there were just two main tenants – catalogue retailer, Argos and Virgin Music Megastore. Both stores have since closed and a Dealz is the only business currently occupying the site.

St Peter’s Church:

Present day, St Peter’s Church, is the second church to be built on its present site overlooking North Main Street. The first church was built sometime in the early fourteenth century. In 1782, the church was taken down and in 1783, the present limestone walled church, was begun to be built. At a later stage, a new tower and spire were added to the basic rectangular plan. The new spire though had to be taken down due to the marshy ground that it was built on.

In recent years and in accordance to the aims of the pilot project of the Cork Historic Centre Action and the finance of Cork City Council and operational support of Cork Civic Trust, St Peter’s Church has been extensively renovated and opened as an arts exhibition centre.

One of the most interesting monuments on display in the church is the Deane monument. This monument, dating to 1710, was dedicated to the memory of Sir Matthew Deane and his wife and both are depicted on the monument, shown in solemn prayer on both sides of an altar tomb.

Now a deconsecrated space, a historic graveyard was attached to the medieval parish church of St Peter. The graveyard is in use as a public amenity space.

In 1750, Charles Smith in his History of Cork in 1750 recorded that some of the gravestones had ‘dates as old as the year 1500”.

Antiquarian John Windele records the discovery in 1838, of numerous tombstones belonging to the “olden era of this Church, forming the foundations of the building which preceded its present steeple. shows to what uses the ancient remains connected with this building have been converted”.

Certainly, the site has undergone modification and possibly significant disturbance to underlying deposits. Burials within the church would have been substantially dislocated during the demolition works of 1782 and the construction of the present church.

During renovations to the church building during the 1990’s skeletal remains were uncovered beneath the floor.

Since 1975, Cork City Council has maintained the graveyard when it was then laid out as a park. There are thirteen headstones lining the northern boundary wall towards the back of the church. The headstones that are legible date to the eighteenth century. They are not in their original spot. The chest tomb of William Rogers (1686), also which remains in its original position in the graveyard.

Captions:

1257a. Sketch of King’s Castle c.1600 from George Carew’s Pacata Hibernia (source: Cork City Library).

1257b. Queen’s Old Castle, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

1257b. Queen’s Old Castle, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy).
1257b. Queen’s Old Castle, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

Kieran’s Our City Our Town 6 June 2024

1256a. South Gate Bridge by Nathaniel Grogan, c.1790 (source: Crawford Art Gallery).
1256a. South Gate Bridge by Nathaniel Grogan, c.1790 (source: Crawford Art Gallery).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 6 June 2024

Cork: A Potted History Selection

Cork: A Potted History is the title of my new local history book published by Amberely Press. The book is a walking trail, which can be physically pursued or you can simply follow it from your armchair. It takes a line from the city’s famous natural lake known just as The Lough across the former medieval core, ending in the historic north suburbs of Blackpool. This week is another section from the book.

What’s in a Painting? Nathaniel Grogan’s South Gate Bridge:

Archived in the collections of the Crawford Art Gallery is an evocative painting of South Gate Bridge in the closing decade of the eighteenth century by artist Nathaniel Grogan (c. 1740–1807). He discovered his talent as an artist as a young man, receiving some instruction from the artist John Butts. Grogan enlisted in the British army and went to America for a time. He returned to Cork and became known for his composition skills of drawings of the city and its environs.

  One of Grogan’s popular works is that of South and North Gate Bridges. The image presented is that of South Gate Bridge, which reveals quite a lot of the life and times in this corner of the city, especially in its focus on the bridge, the debtor’s prison and the fishing community.

It is said that the first South Gate Bridge was built sometime in the twelfth century AD as a timber-planked structure, giving access to a Hiberno Norse settlement or access to a well-settled marshland with inhabitants of Viking descendancy. When the Anglo-Normans established a fortified walled settlement and a trading centre in Cork around AD 1200, South Gate drawbridge formed one of the three entrances – North Gate drawbridge and Watergate portcullis being the others.

In May 1711, agreement was reached by the Corporation of Cork that North Gate Bridge would be rebuilt in stone, while in 1713 South Gate Bridge would be replaced with an arched stone structure. South Gate Bridge still stands today in the same form it did over 300 years ago, with the exception of a small bit of restructuring and re-strengthening in early 1994.

  In the painting, the Debtor’s Prison at South Gate Prison is very prominent, with its peaked roof and chimney piece at the left-hand side of the bridge. It is known the prison was built concurrent to the bridge in the 1710s. However, many of its records have been lost to time. What is known is that there were stern penalties if you owed money and could not pay the debt in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Ireland. The debtor was imprisoned until the money was paid. If they did not have enough money to pay the debt, then it was not unusual for the person to remain in the prison until they died there.

Debtors were not entitled to medical attention. Those who could not get their families to arrange payments of rent at the prison had to take the dampest and darkest cells. If payment was not made for food, they were given bread that was boiled in water three times a day. The practice of imprisoning debtors caused many calls for the reform of laws around debt. It was only in 1872 when the imprisonment aspect was removed by the Debtors Act (Ireland).

In the foreground of the painting there is a focus on fishermen. Records reveal that such fishermen lived around the Frenches Quay, Crosses Green and South Main Street areas. Several resided in the stepped lane known as Keyser’s Hill that runs from Frenches Quay to Barrack Street via Elizabeth Fort. Twentieth-century oral history records that the South Parish fishermen used sturdy open rowing boats, usually around 18 feet in length. The boats were heavy and required considerable strength to row.

Washington Street and the Wide Street Commissioners:

As the late eighteenth century progressed, the population increased and the Corporation of Cork came under pressure to improve the lot of the citizens. The medieval fabric of the city simply could not cope with the demands of the population. Fines were placed on illegal dumping and scavengers, and wheelbarrow men and street sweepers were appointed to keep the streets clean. Many of the buildings in the city were in need of much repair and certain lanes in the old medieval core needed to be reconstructed.

  In 1765 a commission was established to deal with the problems facing the expanding city, especially in relation to the various health risks posed by inadequate facilities. Known as the Wide Street Commission, it was first set up in Dublin. In Cork, its primary job was to widen the medieval lanes and thereby eradicate some of the health problems stemming from them. They also planned to lay out new, wider streets for the benefit of the citizens.

Sixteen commissioners were appointed in 1765, but due to financial restrictions it was the early nineteenth century before they made an impact. At that time, streets such as South Terrace, Dunbar Street and Washington Street (then known as Great George’s Section of Holt’s Map of Cork (1832), showing Great George Street; opened in November 1824) were laid out, and streets such as Shandon Street were widened.

Samuel Lewis, in his section on Cork in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), describes the work of the commissioners: ‘The streets were created and repaired under the directions of the commissioners and nearly £6000 is annually expended in paving, cleansing, and improving them.’ The privilege of licensing vehicles of every description plying for hire within the city was also vested in these commissioners.

Lewis describes that the general appearance of the city, particularly since its extensive improvements, is ‘picturesque and cheerful’. He further outlines that “the principal streets are spacious and well paved; most of the houses are large and well built, chiefly of clay-slate fronted with roofing slate, which gives them a clean though sombre appearance; others are built of the beautiful grey limestone of the neighbourhood, and some are faced with cement; those in the new streets are principally of red brick”.

John Windele, in his Historical and Descriptive Notices of Cork (1849), describes a dense habitation prior to Great George’s Street: “The sight of this beautiful street a few years ago was occupied by some of the narrowest and filthiest lanes and alleys of the town and most densely inhabited by a squalid and impoverished population”.

Caption:

1256a. South Gate Bridge by Nathaniel Grogan, c.1790 (source: Crawford Art Gallery).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 16 May 2024

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 16 May 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – Daniel Corkery’s The Hidden Ireland

In recent weeks a conference on the life and work of Cork-born writer Daniel Corkery took place. His book, The Hidden Ireland, which was published one hundred years ago in 1924 at its heart was about rejuvenating a discussion on national identity and the place of the Irish language. Daniel was a frequent presenter giving public talks on aspect of the Irish language in Cork in the 1920s. He certainly added to the mix of debates on the culture of the emerging Irish Free State.

A great book by Patrick Maume, entitled Life that is Exile: Daniel Corkery and the Search for Irish Ireland (1993) outlines Daniel’s life. Daniel was born in Cork on 14 February 1878 and was one of five children. His father, William Corkery, represented the fifth generation of Corkery carpenters in Cork. Daniel’s early years were spent at the Presentation Brothers’ South Monastery where he became a scholarship and became a monitor. He was a senior pupil helping to supervise classes as an apprentice teacher. Daniel also suffered from a bone deformity, which left one leg shorter than the other and a stutter, which he cured by self-discipline.

Daniel’s cultural nationalism was deeply influenced by the works of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Robert Blatchford (1851-1943). John Ruskin was one of the greatest figures of the Victorian age, poet, artist, critic, social revolutionary and conservationist. It was Robert Blatchford’s journalistic experience of working-class life that turned Blatchford into a socialist.

Daniel became a social radical and was always more interested in cultural revival, consistently noting that social regeneration would follow. It was at this point that Corkery moved from a supporter of socialism and joined the Gaelic League in 1901. His view that the Irish language, which he associated with days of poverty and ignorance, began to change.  Daniel began to teach himself Irish initially to fulfil his romantic antiquarianism side and also discovered that the language survived in ways that he did not suspect.

By 1908, Daniel was now a fully-fledged national teacher. At this time, the Gaelic League struggled to survive with members dropping out. Daniel also feared that the League would transform into an active political mass movement and further financial resources would be drained. Hence Daniel, like many other members of the Gaelic League, gave up his spare time to teach classes two evenings a week without pay while knowing almost as little Irish. In 1907 he taught candidates for the first part of the five stage Fleming Companionship in learning the Irish Language. He was studying for the second stage and begun reading many books in Irish.

In the autumn of 1913 Daniel transferred to St Patrick’s National School in Montenotte. He taught the boys drawing, training them to use their eyes by getting them to describe what they had seen on the way to school. He organised a school hurling club, buying red and green jerseys. He taught the boys Irish after school hours. One of his pupils, Michael O’Donovan, who became the writer Frank O’Connor, saw him as a substitute father. Another, Seamus Murphy, the future Cork sculptor, got some sheets of paper and followed Corkery when he went off sketching while the boys played hurling. Daniel Corkery took an interest in him and later helped to get him into the school the Cork School of Art.

Patrick Maume’s book highlights that A Munster Twilight was Daniel’s first collection of short stories. The book was well received on its appearance in December 1916 because of its quiet, evocative style and its reverent handling of patriotic and religious themes. The publication of the Threshold of Quiet in 1917 confirmed his reputation amongst his literary peers.

Before the Easter rising Daniel supported the Volunteers, but he saw no alternative to Sinn Féin’s political leadership and was surprised with many others with the advent of the Easter 1916 rising. After the rising the Gaelic League became a focus for separatist activity; language classes were full, and many league activists became prominent in Sinn Féin. At first Daniel feared the rise of Sinn Féin might swamp the cultural movement. His friend Terence MacSwiney urged him to write only in Irish. Daniel continued to write his stories in English, since he could not handle Irish idiom well enough to write them in Irish. He did begin writing occasional articles in Irish.

Daniel related his concerns to the new situation by the belief that the Gaelic League had prepared the way for Sinn Féin; his stories of the period present the War of Independence as a struggle to recover the Gaelic tradition. His beliefs were further reinforced by the presence of his friends and fellow Gaelic Leaguers such as Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney in Sinn Féin and the IRA. Their deaths Tomás shot in his home by a death squad, Terence dying on hunger strike in Brixton Prison affected Daniel deeply.

In 1918 Daniel resigned his teaching post after being passed over for the headmastership because of his political views. He became a travelling instructor in Irish and Woodwork for the Cork County Technical Instruction Committee. His literary reputation led to the offer of a Sinn Féin candidacy in the 1918 General Election. Daniel felt that he was not suited to political life and he declined the nomination.

During the War of Independence Daniel was disqualified from fighting by his lameness. He remained in Cork writing to the papers in support of the Republicans and continuing to work as a travelling teacher while he wrote The Hidden Ireland. The book, written in 1924, laments the destruction of Gaelic civilisation, where the poet had a recognised place in society.

Kieran’s Upcoming Walking Tour:

Saturday, 18 May, Ballinlough – Standing Stones, Quarries and Suburban Growth; meet at Ballintemple Graveyard, Temple Hill, 11am (free, two hours, no booking required).

Caption:

1253a. Portrait of Daniel Corkery, c.1920 (picture: Cork City Library).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 9 May 2024

1252a. New memorial to Seán O'Donoghue, Ballygiblin, Mitchelstown (picture: Kieran McCarthy).
1252a. New memorial to Seán O’Donoghue, Ballygiblin, Mitchelstown (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 9 May 2024

Ballygiblin Memorial to Seán O’Donoghue

A new memorial has been unveiled in Ballygiblin, Mitchelstown to the memory of Seán O’Donoghue (1898-1922), Commandant of the Cork No.1 Brigade, 1st Battalion who was deeply involved in the Irish War of Independence in Cork City.

The associated memorial booklet is now on sale in book shops in Mitchelstown. The text compiled by the memorial committee outlines that baptised as John, Seán was born in Gurteenabowl, Mitchelstown in 1898. He was the 5th child born to his parents William & Nano (nee O’Mahony) O’Donoghue.

On completion of his education, he was employed in the warehouse of Messrs Dwyer, Cork and he lived with his aunt in Roches Buildings. Seán was a member of the Gaelic League, the Lee GAA Club and the Lee Rowing Club. At an early age he joined A Company, 1st Battalion, Cork No 1 Brigade, becoming Quartermaster of the company. He was subsequently promoted to Quartermaster of the Cork Brigade. At the beginning of 1921, he was appointed Commandant of the 1st Battalion.

A loyal and courageous officer, Seán was involved in several engagements with the Black and Tans in Cork and at the signing of the Treaty, he took the Republican side in the Civil War. 

On the afternoon of Saturday, 11 December, the day after Martial Law had been declared, in the south of Ireland, Sean O’Donoghue received word that a party of Auxillaries travelling in two lorries would depart Victoria Barracks that night at 8pm. The report also mentioned the possibility that Captain Campbell Kelly, a British Army intelligence officer based at Victoria Barracks who was known to torture IRA prisoners, would be travelling with them.

The IRA considered Captain Kelly a major threat and were anxious to eliminate him. Armed with this information, O’Donoghue decided to act. Though time was short he managed to muster the following Volunteers: Michael Baylor, Seán Healy, Michael Kenny, Augustine O’Leary and James O’Mahony. He also sent word to Anne Barry to have the grenades ready. As darkness fell, she took them from her home and hid them in the front garden of a house owned by the Lennox family at Mount View on the Ballyhooly Road.

            Under the cover of darkness, the men took up their positions behind the wall between Balmoral Terrace and the houses at the corner of Dillon’s Cross. Michael Kenny took up position at Harrington Square, on the opposite side of the road to the ambush party and within braking distance of the ambush position.

Michael Kenny wore a mackintosh overcoat, scarf and cap to give the impression that he was an off-duty British soldier. His task was to act as a lookout and to slow down the lorries as they approached the ambush position. At approximately 8pm, the two lorries, each containing 13 Auxillaries, left the barracks and drove towards Dillon’s Cross. As the leading lorry approached Harrington Square, Michael Kenny stepped out to the edge of the footpath, put up his hand and signalled the driver to stop. As he slowed down, the second lorry passed, Kenny gave the signal to the men behind the wall. He then made his escape to the IRA hideout in Rathcooney.

At the signal the ambush stood up and hurled bombs at their target. As the bombs exploded, they each drew their revolvers and fired at the Auxillaries, before making their escape. Seán O’Donoghue and James O’Mahony made their way to the Delaney farm at Dublin Hill. Seán was carrying the unused bombs and he hid these on the Delaney land. The two men split up and went on the run.

This ambush heralded a night of arson and terror for the citizens of Cork, culminating in the burning of a large part of the city centre.

The turbulence behind the Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty sides took a darker turn when across February, March and April 1922, the IRA, particularly Anti-Treaty elements, began to seize sizable amounts of weapons from evacuating British forces. The steamship Upnor was a small British Army stores carrier of about 500 tonnes deadweight. She was loading at the ordnance stores on Rocky Island with arms and ammunition from the recently disbanded Royal Irish Constabulary for Plymouth when Seán O’Donoghue and his comrades of the 1st Brigade, 1st Southern Division of the IRA got to hear of it.

A well organised and executed operation followed. On 29 March, the Upnor sailed. This was reported by intelligence sources in Cobh and the plan swung into action. The Admiralty tug Warrior, crewed mostly by local men was at the Deepwater Quay in Cobh. Her master was enticed ashore and Captain Jeremiah Collins, a master mariner, IRA officers – Seán O’Donoghue, Dan Donovan, Michael Murphy and Seán O’ Hearty boarded with some volunteers and took the ship to sea some hours after the Upnor.

By means of a ruse, they caused the Upnor to heave to and even though the Upnor‘s master was suspicious, he let them come alongside. Sean O’Donoghue and his contingent boarded and captured the ship and she was brought to Ballycotton at 4am on 30 March. Meanwhile a large number of lorries and cars had been commandeered and brought to Ballycotton. The town had been sealed off and when the Upnor arrived, she was quickly unloaded and her contents dispersed inland.

On 28 September 1922, a party of Irish Free Government’s National Army forces consisting of one officer and ten soldiers had been operating in the Carrignavar, Whitechurch and White’s Cross districts, carrying out searches. At approximately 3.45pm when they reached a point some two miles beyond Dublin Hill, Blackpool, and about a mile from the place where the motors were seized, they were ambushed by Seán O’Donoghue and his comrades, who were in occupation of strong positions and poured a hail of bullets in the direction of the National Army troops, who were forced to halt their cars and alight, proceeding to engage with Seán and company. A brief fight was sufficient to rout them and the soldiers pursued them across country for a considerable distance.

Sadly, Seán O’Donoghue was located, removed from the Delaney family home and killed by the Free State Government troops in a field nearby. His body was brought to Cork by the troops.

A Celtic cross memorial now stands near the Delaney family home at Dublin Hill, Cork. Commadant Seán O’Donoghue’s name is inscribed on this memorial. The new Ballygiblin memorial also recognises Seán’s contribution to the Irish War of Independence and the tragedy of the ensuing Irish Civil War.

Caption:

1252a. New memorial to Seán O’Donoghue, Ballygiblin, Mitchelstown (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

Kieran’s May 2024 Tours

Saturday, 18 May 2024, Ballinlough – Knights, Quarries and Suburban Growth; meet at Ballintemple Graveyard, Temple Hill, 11am (free, two hours)

With 360 acres, Ballinlough is the second largest of the seven townlands forming the Mahon Peninsula. The area has a deeper history dating back to Bronze Age Ireland. In fact it is probably the only urban area in the country to still have a standing stone still standing in it for over 5,000 years. My walk will highlight this heritage along with tales of big houses such as Beaumont and the associated quarry, rural life in nineteenth century Ballinlough and the development of its twentieth century suburban history.

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 2 May 2024

1251a. Philip Monahan, Commissioner of the County Borough of Cork (picture: Cork City Library).
1251a. Philip Monahan, Commissioner of the County Borough of Cork (picture: Cork City Library).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 2 May 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – Cork Corporation is Dissolved

On 31 October 1924, a deliberation on the performance of the duties of Cork Corporation was delivered to Cork Corporation. Following on from the nine-day inquiry by Mr Nicholas O’Dwyer, Chief Engineering Inspector Local Government Department, the result was dissolution.

The Cork Examiner describes that at a meeting of the Committee of the whole Council was to be held at 12noon in the Courthouse, and as the Town Clerk was on his way to it he was met by Mr Philip Monahan, who handed him the order of the Minister, which at its heart noted that the duties of the Council of the County Borough of Cork are not being duly and effectually discharged by them”. When the Town Clerk arrived in the Bar room, where members of the Council had assembled for the meeting, he informed them that “a moment ago a sealed order, dissolving the Council”, was handed to him by the Commissioner appointed by the Local Government Department.

The property and the several powers and duties of the Council of the County Borough of Cork were to be transferred to Philip Monahan of Drogheda, in County Louth, whom was appointed to perform the duties of the Council. He was to be known and referred to as the Commissioner of the County Borough of Cork. Philip was the Mayor of Drogheda. When the Kerry County Council was dissolved he took over its duties, and had since the dissolution of the West Cork Board of Public Assistance, been acting as Commissioner in their stead as well.

On 7 November 1924 at a special meeting of the members of the Cork Corporation held in the City Courthouse, the Lord Mayor presided and a statement was unanimously adopted and directed to be handed to the press.

The Lord Mayor and members of the Cork Corporation desired to note their strong public protest against the recent order of the Local Government Board dissolving the Borough Council of Cork as being entirely “undeserved and uncalled for and being an insult and an indignity put upon this ancient Municipality”.

The Lord Mayor wished to highlight that at the inquiry, no case of corruption was preferred or proved, no case of extravagant expenditure was proved, no ease of wilful neglect of public business proved, and “no charge was made of neglect, or refusal, to comply with, official suggestions or orders, in fact no suggestion or order of the Local Government Board was ever disregarded or disobeyed”.

The Lord Mayor continued that Members of the Corporation carried on the public business and provided for the essential civic services efficiently and regularly during times of great difficulty and danger and they protested against, and resented, “as being entirely undeserved and unfair the order of the Local Government Board dissolving the Corporation”.

The Lord Mayor highlighted that for several years past the Corporation had been warned and directed not to undertake any works, which would entail the spending of sums of money, except for the most urgent purposes; he noted: “This tied the hands of the Corporation, and prevented them from carrying out various improvements”.

The Lord Mayor wished topoint out that three very important matters, closely connected with the welfare of the city in the future, which had been and were under careful consideration, “with a view to safeguarding the interests of the citizens in the best possible manner”.

Firstly, the appointment of a new City Engineer was in train. Secondly plans and specifications for the erection of the new City Hall had been prepared and passed, and advertisements were widely issued inviting tenders for the erection of the new Municipal Buildings.

Thirdly tenders had been received and were under consideration for some time for an improved water supply, by mechanical sand filtration to supply six million gallons of water per day for the citizens. The cost was about £40,000. That very important work had been delayed in consequence of the continued illness of Mr Delany, the late City Engineer. After inspection it was found that over three miles of old corroded water mains were required to be replaced by new pipes, without delay, as they contaminated the water supply.

The members of the Corporation considered it a retrograde movement that matters of the importance and magnitude of these should be dealt with without the voice of the ratepayers being heard through their elected representatives. They noted: “We are of the opinion that the proper course is not being adopted by leaving these matters in the hands of one gentleman – who is a stranger to the city – and cannot be aware of the requirements which may arise. It certainly is not Government by the people, which is so properly advocated nowadays”.

On 11 November Philip Monahan took up his duties. In the course of an interview with a representative of the Cork Examiner, Mr Monahan observed that for the ensuing weeks he preferred to be a listener rather than a speaker; “My knowledge of Cork problems is superficial, and it will be some time before 1 can discuss them with advantage to your readers. On the question of the dissolution of the Corporation, I can only say that no ono regrets the necessity for it more than the Minister of Local Government. From my reading of the Inspector’s report on his inquiry I feel that in normal times such drastic action might not have been taken. Times, however, are not normal in Cork. The Black and Tan burnings, the depressing effect on trade of the prolonged strike, the loss of trade occasioned by the destruction of the Mallow bridge, have caused a serious shortage of money in Cork homes”

Caption:

1251a. Philip Monahan, Commissioner of the County Borough of Cork (picture: Cork City Library).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 25 April 2024

1250a. Portrait of Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán French, 1924 (picture: Cork City Council).
1250a. Portrait of Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán French, 1924 (picture: Cork City Council).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 25 April 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – The Lord Mayor is Interviewed

On 21 August 1924 in the Council Chamber of the Cork Corporation, Mr Nicholas O’Dwyer, Chief Engineering Inspector Local Government Department, opened a sworn inquiry into the performance of the duties of Cork Corporation.

On 28 August, the Lord Mayor, Councillor Seán French was examined.  The Cork Examiner describes that he took umbrage against the line of general questioning given by the inquiry to that date, much of which he deemed outside of the scope of the inquiry itself. He deemed that the witnesses, who had given their evidence and made complaints about the workings of the Corporation, had been asked rather pointed questions by the inquiry.

The Lord Mayor continued to say on behalf of his colleagues and himself that they desired to have published as broadly as possible the evidence. If there was the slightest question against the honour of those members of the Corporation, individually or collectively, he wished for the inquiry to produce that evidence.

The Lord Mayor wished to draw attention to a proposal he made in public after his election as Lord Mayor. At a meeting of the Cork Catholic Young Men’s Society, he suggested that a serious attempt should be made to educate the citizens in local civics and to instil into them an interest in local bodies. That to his mind this was the greatest drawback in public administration not only in Cork, but all over Ireland; “The citizens not alone in Cork, but throughout the country in general, did not give sufficient attention to civic affairs, and if they did so he was sure that their services would lead towards one way and that was towards better administration if that were possible”.

The Lord Mayor continued to note that in 1920 a Departmental Committee within Cork Corporation was elected under Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain to go into the question of the work in each department with the view of “effecting economies”. Lord Mayor MacCurtain had but three months in office before death. The committee continued during the short lifetime of Terence MacSwiney.

Lord Mayor French added that in late 1920 it was only under circumstances of great difficulty that the members of the Corporation were able to approach the Municipal Buildings or City Hall. He describes that the premises were continually raided by British forces and documents were taken, and every department of the Corporation was generally upset; “There was also a considerable risk to individual members of the Corporation in their giving of their full time to the work of that body…Lord Mayor McCurtain was murdered in March, during the period in which the Corporation should strike its half-year’s rates. They would admit that that period would seriously affect quick administration, but it altogether delayed the adoption of the estimates for fully a month or two months. Unfortunately, during the next period that they were to strike their rates, a similar thing or circumstances occurred”.

The Lord Mayor also outlined that in December 1920 when the City Hall was burned with all its documents, the Corporation was completely paralysed and every department in it.

In July 1921, at the re-election of his predecessor in office in the courthouse, Donal Óg O’Callaghan, the building was surrounded by military and police. On that occasion, fourteen members of the Corporation were arrested and interned; He noted; “They were useful members out of a total body of fifty-six members, and deducting them with the members who could not come and a few others who had something else to do, a position of great embarrassment was presented”. The Lord Mayor described that the position was so bad that it was with difficulty a quorum of three could be obtained for meetings of some of the Committees; “Within a month or two we became definitely aware that the Councillors who had been arrested would not be released and that meant the electing of other members in their places, and then time had to be devoted to the education of new members in their duties”.

As regards the  question of rates, the Lord Mayor noted they were “honesty set” for the benefit of the city; “The work of the Corporation was in defence of the people who contributed the bulk of the rates – it was pure democratic control – and if they were honest to these people, who would return them again, they could not turn around and say to the people of Cork that they wero deliberately dishonest in condoning dishonesty”. The rates income, he contended, were showing a downward income tendency, and in this conundrum, he pointed out the difficulties, which confronted the Corporation with regard to income and service provision itself.

The Lord Mayor alluded to statements that it had been suggested that the high rates were responsible for the non-building of premised and houses in Cork. The Lord Mayor implored upon the inquiry to walk through the city centre and see that many buildings despite getting compensation had not begun work; “If the inspector had walked along St Patrick’s Street since he came to Cork he would find that during the three years that had passed since the premises in that area had been destroyed, very little progress had been made in the rebuilding of those premises”.

Alluding to the condition of the streets, the Lord Mayor held that they compared favourably, with those of any city in Ireland; “The Corporation would block-pave every lane and alley in Cork if they could. The men in that particular department were doing eachof them a mile and a half of street per man, and I hold that that was too much for any man”.

To be continued…

Caption:

1250a. Portrait of Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Seán French, 1924 (picture: Cork City Council).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 18 April 2024

1249a. Nicholas O'Dwyer, c.1924 (source: National Library, Dublin).

1249a. Nicholas O’Dwyer, c.1924 (source: National Library, Dublin).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 18 April 2024

Making an Irish Free State City – The Cork Corporation Inquiry

On 21 August 1924 in the Council Chamber of the Cork Corporation, Mr Nicholas O’Dwyer, Chief Engineering Inspector Local Government Department, opened a sworn inquiry into the performance of the duties of Cork Corporation.

Limerick born Nicholas O’Dwyer (1895-1956) studied engineering at University College, Dublin, graduating in 1916, and followed a post-graduate course from 1916 to 1917. He was involved in the independence struggle, in which he played an active role as brigade engineer and battalion commander in the East Limerick Brigade. On 8 February 1921 he was appointed an engineering inspector in the pre-Truce Department of Local Government. On 1 July 1922 joined the staff of the new Ministry of Local Government with the same rank.

Under his chairmanship Nicholas O’Dwyer conducted the inquiry into Dublin Corporation across March and April 1924. Such a story and the dissolution of that Corporation has been written about in depth by UCC scholar Dr Aodh Quinlivan. Aodh has also penned a book on the Cork inquiry.

Amongst those present at the Cork inquiry in August 1924 were – The Lord Mayor, Councillor Seán French and members of the Cork Progressive Association. The Cork Examiner in opening the proceedings, notes that Nicholas O’Dwyer read his instructions, which were “to conduct an inquiry into the performance of their duties by the County Borough Council of Cork”. He then dealt with the procedure to be followed at the inquiry. Any ratepayer or representatives of the ratepayers who desired to give evidence would get a full opportunity of doing so. It was his intention to grant an adjournment so that each side would be enabled to prepare its case for presentation at the inquiry. Presentations would also be examined on oath.

Mr Donegan, solicitor for the Cork Progressive Association, asked if the inquiry included evidence of neglect of duty of members of the Corporation. Nicholas O’Dwyer replied that the inquiry would deal with every function of the members of the Corporation.

Mr Barry St J Galvin, City Law Agent, represented the Corporation of Cork. He noted that the perspective the Corporation took was that if they could reasonably believe there would be an “impartial, bona-fide” inquiry, nobody would welcome it more than the Corporation. They believed that the record of their work and the manner in which it was carried out compared very favourably with any Corporation that had managed the affairs of Cork in unbroken sequence since the twelfth century.

Mr Galvin highlighted that certain individuals in Cork had “openly boasted for twelve months back that they would put the Corporation out of office”, and that promises had been given by the Government,“or a highly-placed individual in the Government, that the Corporation was to go out of office”. On behalf of the Corporation, he protested in the strongest manner possible against what they regarded as the “tyrannous action or the Government in deciding in advance to do away with the Corporation of Cork…we were ashamed and humiliated that the Progressive tail was able to wag the Government to the extent that this inquiry should be called”.

Mr Galvin continued that the officials of the Corporation would be at Inspector Nicholas O’Dwyer’s disposal and the records would be before him. Evidence would also be produced to show that “the Corporation had done its work fairly and honestly, and if certain action were taken, it would be for the people of Cork to judge”.

Mr Donegan said he was surprised at the remarks of Mr Galvin. He highlighted that he represented the Cork Progressive Association, whose membership included the merchants and ratepayers of the city, and the vast majority of the ratepayers of Cork welcomed the inquiry. 

Mr Donegan noted that he was seriously concerned with what might be described as the maladministration of the affairs of the city by the present Corporation. He outlined that the Association would put forward as the ‘acid test’ the recent report of the auditor of the Local Government Department, which showed that every department under the control of the Corporation appeared to have been worked on “very reckless and extravagant lines”. He continued “No department showed a profit, but every department a loss. Members of the Cork Progressive Association who would come forward, not in a spirit of antagonism to members of the Corporation, or anyone else, but as public spirited citizens anxious to do a public duty”.

Mr Donegan, on behalf of his members, desired to draw attention to such matters as the disgraceful condition of the roads and the state of the streets, the lack of attention to them and heavy expense that had to be borne in connection with them. He argued that the principal streets were laid with wood pavement at considerable expense, but the condition of those streets had been allowed to deteriorate owing to no supervision or proper attention being devoted to them; “We require a treatment of creosote and sand every two years in order to protect them from the ravages of the weather, and if they got such treatment they would last for a considerable number of years and at a small cost. They have not been so treated, and they were developing pot holes”.

Mr Donegan outlined that he would also critique the extravagant way in which several departments of the Corporation were carried out. One “reckless point of extravagance” he raised was in connection with the burning of the Municipal Buildings and the Carnegie Library by the Black and Tans; “The walls of those handsome and massive buildings wero left standing, and those buildings could have been reinstated, but he was instructed that the massive that constituted the main front wall of the Municipal Buildings was broken up, and workmen wore employed for a considerable time at such work at great expense to the city, though such demolition was wholly unnecessary”.

The Nicholas O’Dwyer inquiry met for nine days with a number of councillors and commercial merchants being interviewed. To be continued…

Caption:

1249a. Nicholas O’Dwyer, c.1924 (source: National Library, Dublin).

Kieran’s April Tours:

Sunday 21 April, Douglas and its History, historical walking tour; meet in the carpark of Douglas Community Centre, 1.30pm (free, duration: two hours, no booking required, circuit of village, finishes nearby).