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The Architecture of 18th and 19th Century Cork

Architecturally, Cork is very much a city of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The majority of the buildings on the principal streets and many of the churches and public buildings date from that period. A small number of architects contributed enormously to the architecture of Cork during that century. The Pain brothers, James and George R., designed a number of public buildings in the first half of the century, with the works of G. R. Pain including the interior of St. Anne’s Cathedral, or Shandon Steeple,[1] St Patrick's Church, and Holy Trinity Church. With J. Pain he also designed the old County Gaol (now part of University College Cork (33)) and the County and City Courthouse. Sir Thomas Deane designed the Commercial Buildings (now the Imperial Hotel) and Queen's College, which later became University College Cork. Kearns Deane designed St Mary's Church on Pope's Quay and the Cork Savings Bank on Lapp's Quay. In the second half of the nineteenth century Sir John Benson was very influential leaving his mark on Cork with his designs for St Patrick's Bridge, the Athenaeum (later the old Opera House), the English Market, St Vincent's Church and others. Notable contributions were also made by William Burges, the designer of Saint Fin Barre's Cathedral, and E. W. Pugin who designed SS Peter and Paul's Church.

St Anne’s Cathedral or Shandon Steeple (4) is located on the city’s north side. Completed in 1722, the materials used included red sandstone from the original Shandon Castle and white limestone from the Franciscan Abbey located on the North Mall nearby. Cork's topography is made up of a series of alternative east-west limestone and sandstone strata. The limestone elevations of the Steeple face 'limestone country' to the south and west while the northern and eastern facades face traditional 'sandstone country'. The colours of these materials have for long been recognised as the colours of Cork and even reflective of the character of its people as the traditional doggerel goes:

'Partly coloured like its people,
Red and white stands Shandon steeple.''

 Figure 1: St. Anne's Cathedral/Shandon Steeple

St. Anne's Cathedral/Shandon Steeple

Another well-known city landmark dates from this era. The English Market (5) was opened in 1788 and is a much-loved Cork institution. Traditionally the Market served the 'English' or foreign community from its eastern Prince’s Street entrance and the native Irish from the western or Grand Parade entrance. Traditionally serving the less well off section of Cork society, the English Market has seen a revival in interest from the cosmopolitan tourist and immigrant community and also from Corkonians. The Market today represents an alternative to the mass produced and impersonal style of supermarket shopping with organic and local produce sold directly by the producer from open stalls.  It is a vibrant part of Cork's life, almost a city within a city.

 Figure 2: The English Market[2]

English Market

Since the sixth/seventh century, a succession of churches stood on the site of the early monastery founded by St. Finbarre. The present St. Finbarre’s Cathedral (6) was the unanimous result of an architectural competition.[3] Designed by William Burgess it was consecrated in 1870.

Figure 3: St. Finbarre's Cathedral

St. Finbarre's Cathedral

[1] A weather vane in the form of a 4m long gilded fish stands at the highest point and is commonly known amongst Cork people as the 'goldy fish'. The symbol was chosen due to the then importance of the salmon industry on the River Lee. The famous 'Shandon Bells' are housed in the tower and first rang out over the City on December 7th, 1752. The bells are a popular attraction for tourists and visitors who play out various tunes on them. The sound of Shandon Bells has always been synonymous with celebration in the City. The tower's famous four faced clock is 'known as the 'Four Faced Liar' so named for the fact that the minute hands on the east and west sides gain on the north and south faces however the clocks all reach agreement on the hour.

[2] The Prince’s Street Market was reconstructed to the design of Sir John Benson in 1862 but was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1980 and again in 1986. Refurbishment works were carried out to the Prince’s Street portion during the 1980s in a manner faithful to Benson's design and on the Grand Parade section during the 1990s.

[3] The spires were not completed until 1879. The view of the west or front façade is dominated by a rose window and the main spires while the gilded angel or 'goldy angel' sits atop a smaller eastern spire. Tradition has it that if the angel should ever fall, the end of the world is nigh.