A key to Cork’s educational past turns up after 100 years

Education may hold the key to our future but a key to Cork’s educational past has turned up a century after it was first turned.

The chance sighting of an Irish Examiner article about the celebration of 100 years of learning at the Crawford college in Cork has led to a unique piece of the building’s history being returned after quite a long journey.

Once home to the predecessor of Cork Institute of Technology, it was opened as the Crawford Municipal Technical Institute in January 1912 by Cork’s lord mayor, James Simcox.

His grandson, Canon James Simcox, has mainly lived in Glasgow since being ordained a priest in 1953 but friends from West Cork who read the article in January thought it unusual that the mayor of a century ago shared a name with their old parish priest.

“They sent me the cutting and the penny dropped about the key a short time later when I was speaking to my sister Ann in Dublin on the phone,” said Canon Simcox, 84.

A gold replica key was given to his grandfather to commemorate the 1912 opening. It passed to his father, who died in 1970, and James happened upon it in the family home 20 years ago after the death of his mother Dolly. She too was the child of a former lord mayor, Henry O’Shea, who succeeded James Simcox as Cork’s first citizen.

James had given the key to a step-cousin in England a decade ago. She had died 18 months ago but James contacted her daughter in England who agreed they should return it to Cork.

“I am happy for it to be passed back to the college. It’s a beautiful thing, in wonderful condition,” said Canon Simcox.

Crawford College of Art & Design has been in the building on Sharman Crawford St in the shadow of St Finbarre’s Cathedral since 1979 and principal Orla Flynn said they were delighted when they were told about the key.

“We had known there was a replica key presented to the mayor at the opening but nobody ever thought it might turn up like this.”

The replica key has the makers’ hallmark of Egans of Cork, and is inscribed: “Presented to the Rt Honourable James Simcox Lord Mayor of Cork by Arthur & H H Hill Architects. Jan. 16 1912.” It is engraved with the Cork coat of arms and is in its original velvet-lined black leather case.

The key is part of the Crawford 100 Exhibition which opens at Wandesford Quay Gallery on May 24, featuring works of past and present staff and archival material representing the many types of learning in the building over the past century.

The ceremonial robe worn by Lord Mayor Simcox in 1912 is also being presented to the college by Stephanie Walsh, whose father Stephen Barrett was the city’s lord mayor in 1960.

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