Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 30 June 2022
Launch of Shandon Heritage Audio Trail
A self-guided audio tour of the Shandon historic quarter has been launched by Shandon Area Renewal Association (SARA) SARA is an advocacy group representing the residents and businesses in the Shandon Area. Their Tidy Towns committee does Trojan work keeping the area not only tidy but welcoming to all who live in and visit the area.
The new audio tour takes approximately an hour. Through it you will learn about the history and the life of the area and see where the many historical characters, born and reared in the area, lived. You will also hear the voices of locals who speak about the area’s history and their relationship to it. The tour is comprised of twenty three audio tracks, with associated waypoints. Each track is specific to each waypoint. Log onto walkingshandon.ie to access the tour. The project is supported By Cork City Council and Cathedral Credit Union.
One could do the tour from your sofa but the Shandon area makes for a great area for walking and exploring. The starting point is at the Cornmarket Street side of the Shandon Footbridge. Then one climbs the hill to one of the first stops – Maldron Hotel, formerly the North Infirmary.
There are conflicting historical reports of the infirmary’s origins sometime between 1720 and 1744. Cork historians have argued that that the first infirmary was constructed in 1720 and then a rebooting of sorts of the infirmary in 1744. The latter reboot was supported by a musical society who appropriated their surplus funds for its support.By the 1840s the original infirmary had been considerably enlarged. In 1842, there were admitted 558 patients, and 17,630 externs. It was attended by two physicians and two surgeons. From 1867 onwards the Daughters of Charity cared for thousands and thousands of patients.
The infirmary’s history is peppered with tales of hardship and examples of perseverance to maintain a place of care for the sick in the impoverished northside of Cork during the 1700s and 1800s. The battles to fend off threats of closure were faced, and won. Crises were overcome because the management committees could depend on voluntary funding. Indeed, the hospital flourished and expanded, thanks to the pennies of the people of Cork. However, in 1987 due to National Health Cuts the hospital closed resulting in 205 redundancies. Despite vocal and physical protests from far and wide, there was to be no last minute reprieve. The doors were finally closed on 27 November 1987. Ten years later the building’s next host was the Shandon Court Hotel (now the Maldron Hotel).
Close by is the next stop on the audio trail, which is the Mother Jones plaque. The Cork Mother Jones Commemorative committee was established in 2012 to mark the 175th anniversary of the birth of Mary Harris / Mother Jones in Cork. After a highly successful festival marking that anniversary it was decided to make the festival an annual event marking the life and legacy of Mother Jones. The Commemorative Committee, in conjunction with Cork City Council also commissioned Cork Sculptor Mike Wilkins to create a limestone plaque to honour Mother Jones in the Shandon area of the city, near her birthplace. This plaque was erected near the famous Cork Butter Market and was unveiled on 1 August 2012.
Although famous in other parts of the world, especially in the United States of America where she was once labelled “the most dangerous woman in America”, Cork born Mary Jones (née Harris) – or Mother Jones as she is perhaps more widely known – was virtually unknown and not recognised yet in her native city. The festivals and activities of the commemoration committee have changed that and now the name of Mother Jones is better known in Cork and beyond.
Mary’s parents were Ellen Cotter, a native of Inchigeela and Richard Harris from Cork city. Few details of her early life in Cork have been uncovered to date, though it is thought by some that she was born on Blarney Street and may have attended the North Presentation Schools nearby. She and her family emigrated to Canada soon after the Famine, probably in the early 1850s. Later in the United States, after tragic deaths of her husband George Jones and their four children, she became involved in the struggle for basic rights for workers and children’s rights, leading from the front, often in a militant fashion.
Mary is best known for her fiery speeches against the exploitation of miners; she was utterly fearless, travelling all over America to defend workers and their families. Mother Jones was one of the best and most active union organizers ever seen in America. She became a legend among the coalminers of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Nearby to the plaque to Mary Jones plaque is the historic façade of the Cork Butter Market. By the mid 1800s, the Cork butter market had enlarged to such an extent that there was a large need for expansion of the premises. In 1849, an elaborate roman temple style portico, designed by Sir John Benson, was added to the front of the butter market. In the late 1800s, there was a distinct decline in the economic fortunes of the city. The profits of the export provision trade of agricultural products such as butter and beef declined.
In 1858, 428,000 firkins of butter were being exported per annum and by 1891, this was reduced to 170,000 firkins. Competitive European prices out-competed the prices set by the butter market at Cork. Eventually, the Cork butter Market closed in 1924. In recent decades, a butter museum, which is well worth visiting has opened up next to the craft centre in the Tony O’Reilly Centre. The old Butter Exchange is currently the subject of a planning application proposal for its interior conversion into an innovation/ start up hub.
To celebrate and mark the stories above and the multitude of other stories including the 300th anniversary of St Anne’s Church Shandon, and the launch of the self-guided walking tour, one of my walking tours for July takes on the local history of Shandon. See all the information on my three tours for July below.
Kieran’s July Tours:
Saturday 2 July 2022, Shandon Historical Walking Tour; explore Cork’s most historic quarter; meet at North Main Street/ Adelaide Street Square, opp Cork Volunteer Centre, 2pm (free, duration: two hours, no booking required).
Friday evening, 8 July 2022, The Lough and its Curiosities; historical walking tour; meet at green area at northern green of The Lough, entrance of Lough Road to The Lough, Lough Church end; 6.45pm (free, duration: two hours)
Saturday 16 July 2022, The Battle of Douglas, An Irish Civil War Story, historical walking tour with Kieran, from carpark and entrance to Old Railway Line, Harty’s Quay, Rochestown; 2pm, (free, 2 hours, finishes near Rochestown Road).
1157a. St Anne’s Church Shandon with members of the Shandon Area Renewal Association 14 June 2022 (picture: Kieran McCarthy).