There is a better way to know the history of a city than just reading about it in books; it is about unfolding it little by little, while you cross the streets, visit the most well-known monuments, or get lost in the city while reading the street names looking for the right path to somewhere.
That is the way in which I am learning about the history of Cork, at the same time getting to know its streets, monuments and characteristic locations. It is like knowing a new friend, who every day reveals a new piece of information about himself to you. After listening or reading a street name I try to find out more about the historic figures through searches in the library, on Internet and thanks to small talk with the Corkonians.
Initial steps around Kent Station
My initial contact with the city was when I arrived, carrying a lot of luggage, to Kent Station, and I walked along MacCurtain Street. From the small hostel in Montenotte where I stayed, I had a fantastic view of the city; since I stayed there a couple of days, I used to cross this street, which contains emblematic buildings, like The Everyman Palace Theatre. At this point I learnt who Lord Thomas Mac Curtain was; he was one of the most relevant figures in Cork during the war of independence. He was born on Ballyknockane, in county Cork, he was a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. He commanded the Irish volunteers during the 1916 Rising in Dublin.
Strolling around the city centre
After taking a long stroll around the city centre and the river Lee’s banks, I arrived at the imposing façade of the city council and found myself in Terence MacSwiney Quay, another name linked to the Irish revolutionary period, as I later found out.
Lord Mayor Terence Mac Swiney was elected Mayor of Cork after Mac Curtain’s death. He was also a member of the Irish Volunteers and a writer of dramas and poems, besides writing the political tract entitled ´The Principles of Freedom´, whose preface begins with these beautiful words:
The end of freedom is to realize the salvation and happiness of all people, to make the world and not any selfish to corner of it to dwells peaceful and beautiful dwelling pleases for all people.
After visiting the interesting English Market, following the commercial route by the stores in St. Patrick´s Street, I reached the imposing National Monument, located in the confluence with Grand Parade St. This monument, designed by DJ. Coakley, holds the remarkable statues of Wolfe Tone, Michel Dwyer, Thomas Davis, Peter Or’ Neill Crowley and ‘Mother Erin’ and commemorates the rebellions in 1798, 1803 and 1867. It was erected after the destruction of the yellow horse of Georges II.
Along the city, it is still possible to feel the echo of the recent commemorations of the 100 years from 1916 when the Easter Rebellion took place. It is not easy to ignore the paintings in the streets of the main figures of the Rising, books published with the occasion of the centenary and fliers and posters that can be found all around the city.
Popular green space of Fitzgerald Park
The following step was visiting the popular Fitzgerald Park, which was originally built to hold the Cork exhibition in 1902-03 and spans approximately eighteen acres. It was named after Lord Edward Fitzgerald, an Irish aristocrat passionate about travelling who enrolled in the revolutionary movement−United Irishmen− at the end of XVIII century and was Mayor of Cork at the beginning of XIX century.
Former prison of Cork City Gaol
Cork City Gaol contains the living memory of the revolutionary period in Ireland’s history given that many of the famous revolutionaries, such as Constance Markievicz and Frank O’Connor, dwelled in its cells. During the hunger strike that took place all over the country against the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1920), more than 100 prisoners supported the strike in prison. Nowadays, drawings from the prisoners can still be seen on its walls.
After spending some time in the city, it is just a matter of time before you read or listen to something referring to the Fenians. The Fenians was an Irish nationalist movement which emerged in the United States with the outstanding figure of John O’Mahony. It is undeniable that the group of Fenians, established in the City of Cork during the XIX century, was precursor of the Clan na Gael and played a decisive role in the subsequent Rising of early XX century.
Vibrant north side of Cork: the Blackpool working-class suburb
My walking tour continues at the stage in which I look for the book by Kieran MacCarthy, Secret Cork, trying to know more about the places linked to Irish rebellion; along my path to the Blackpool library, there is a street named Great William O’Brien Street. The name of William O’Brien is now on the spotlight. William O’Brien was born at Bank Place in Mallow, County Cork. He shaped his political ideas with the Fenian movement and had a great talent as a journalist and writer; he was appointed as an editor of the journal The United Irishman and he had a conciliatory approach to attaining Irish Home Rule. He was in prison for his association with the Irish Parliamentary Party (ICC).
Collins Barracks Military Museum and back to Kent Station
The Military Detention Barracks is the last spot in this trip through the history and along the streets of Cork. This was also the destination for many men involved in Irish rebellion, like Thomas Kent. His origins are from Castlelyons, Co Cork; he was an Irish nationalist who was executed by a firing squad on May 1916. Cork’s station was named after him; and this way we reach the exact starting point, Kent’s station.
Every city has a story to tell that waits for whoever wants to listen; sometimes it is enough to pay attention to details, listening and feeling to discover what is the story behind the walls, the buildings, paths and street plaques. I am not particularly interested in rebellion, it is just that every step I took in Cork seemed to direct me to the same place, sometime around the late 1800s and the beginning of 1900s, when Irish people had to confront the evidence that they would have to fight to get their independence.
by Gabriela Díaz
McCarthy, Kieran. Secret Cork. Amberley Publishing. 2017
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