We unashamedly love our city. Most who come to know and love it will still struggle to say what it is exactly that inspires that affection. In truth its many many things, its people, their outlook, their wit, their indefatigable spirit, their openness. All very difficult things to explain. Its landscape, topography and architecture all play a part too and is much easier to explain. Its buildings and street layout speak to many influences -British in places, traditional Irish too but also significant French, Dutch and Portuguese flavours. The city centre is an island and so the river, quays, bridges and tides all add to a unique character.
The single most significant influence on the streetscape of Cork was the reconstruction of Patrick Street in the 1920’s.
On the night of 11th and into the morning of the 12th of December 1920 a very large part of the centre of the city was razed by British Crown Forces. The para-military police force, known as The Auxiliaries were made up of demobilized British WW1 officers, were based in what is now Collins Barracks just north of the city centre.
Tension was high in the city in the preceding weeks. In an Irish Republican Army ambush west of the city just weeks earlier 17 Auxiliaries were killed. The War of Independence was at its height and Cork was its epicenter. The cities two previous Mayors had been murdered and died on hunger strike respectively its sitting Mayor would would escaped a similar fate by being smuggled out of the city on a Freight ship bound for New York.
Britain was losing its control in Ireland. In Cork, its writ ran not far beyond its barrack gates. In an attempt to regain some control the British Government declared Martial Law in Cork city and County and declared a night-time curfew. In the days and hours before the fire the Police and Army clashed with IRA units across the city including a unit of UCC students. The city was a powder keg and when IRA ambushed them again on the evening of December 11th this time practically at the gates of their barracks killing one and wounding 11 more the city braced itself for the inevitable.
Over the next several hours K Battalion of the Police Auxiliary Division(Auxies) descended the streets from barracks burning, bombing and looting Dillon’s Cross, St. Luke's, modern day McCurtain Street, Patrick Street and Anglesea Street.
The cities Firemen who sought to save the city were attacked by the police with gunfire and grenades injuring many. Next morning the city woke to a smoldering ruin. Fire brigade units from Dublin who traveled overnight to help with the blaze described what they encountered as on a par with destruction of O’Connell Street in 1916 after a week of artillery fire.
After initially blaming the citizens for starting the fires the British Government eventually accepted their forces were responsible and paid compensation. The Patrick Street we know today is a product of that extensive rebuilding.
Below is a selection of images of Cork depicting scenes of the city prior to, immediately after and in some cases those same streetscapes today.