Cork City is one of the oldest cities in Ireland and has a rich archaeological record. The city’s unique character derives from the combination of its plan, topography, built fabric and its location on the River Lee at a point where it forms a number of waterways. It was built on estuarine islands in the marshy valley of the River Lee and gradually developed up the steep hills rising to the north and south. Even the name Cork is derived from the word marsh (Corcach) in Irish.
Butts View of Cork from 1760 (left), Pacata Hibernia (right)
There are few surviving ancient monuments, above ground in the city; however the buried archaeology of Cork embraces every era of Cork’s development. Archaeological excavation provides information on the origin, development and growth of the city as well as the daily lives of its past inhabitants.
A Selection of Artefacts
The earliest recorded settlement in Cork was a monastery founded by Saint Fin Barre in the seventh century. From historic sources it is evident that by the ninth century the Vikings were raiding Cork. It is possible that the Vikings may have settled in the area but this is not supported by archaeological evidence. However recent archaeological excavations during the Cork Main Drainage Scheme and on the South Main Street have contributed greatly to our knowledge of the late Viking period in Cork, known as the Hiberno-Norse period.
It is understood that the late eleventh and early twelfth century settlements in the city consisted of a series of raised clay platforms, surrounded by wooden fences on which houses were subsequently built. The Hiberno-Norse city was captured by the Anglo Normans in the late twelfth century and the city was subsequently fortified with stone walls.
Red Abbey Tower
Above ground there are only a few surviving medieval and early post-medieval structures such as Red Abbey Tower (fifteenth century) and Elizabeth Fort (early seventeenth century). However the survival of the medieval street pattern is evident within the modern streetscape of Cork. The North and South Main Streets together formed the central spine of the medieval city with laneways and plots running off at right angles to the city wall. These medieval laneways e.g. Cockpit Lane and Angel Lane are today indicated by illustrated bronze plaques.
Remnants of the City Wall
Cork’s pre-eminence as a trading centre and maritime merchant port in the 18th and 19th century created the most tangible industrial archaeology and historic remains still surviving in the contemporary city e.g. Butter Market in Shandon, Blackpool brewing industries and the Bonded Warehouse in the Port of Cork. Many of the buildings that housed the industries and the associated warehouses, grain-stores, malt-houses, etc have been demolished in recent years, some are derelict or ruinous, more are converted to new uses and a few have been sympathetically converted and refurbished.
The Development Plan for Cork City contains a number of policies for the protection of our archaeological Heritage. These include the preservation of archaeological remains in-situ, development on burial grounds, surveys and monitoring, Industrial Archaeology, sites of established archaeological interest and protection of Cork’s Historic Street Pattern.
Cork City’s archaeological Heritage is protected under the National Monuments Acts. The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) provides an updated list of all known monuments and places of archaeological interest and significance. In Cork these range from the City Wall to Skiddy’s Alms House and all the ground beneath the historic core and environs.
Key actions have been identified in the Heritage Plan to add to and build on the body of work already taking place around the city for the protection and enhancement of the Archaeology of Cork. A number of Archaeology Projects are currently underway.