By Kevin O’Brien
If you’ve ever walked casually around Cork city, chances are you’ve seen something that’s out of place and belonging to another time - a ‘ghost’ sign.
Here are just a few of the city’s best examples.
Arnott’s Porter, Shandon St
Cork and its locals have long had a fondness for stout. Arnott’s Porter was produced in St Fin Barre’s Brewery and was a direct competitor of the larger Lady’s Well Brewery, of Murphy’s Stout fame, until the end of the 1900s. When the owner Sir John Arnott died, Murphy’s purchased Arnott’s brewery.
Most people will be more familiar with Arnott’s other business interests at the time - he established the famous Arnott’s department stores.
He was also elected Lord Mayor of Cork on three occasions, 1859, 1860 and 1861, and purchased The Irish Times shortly before his death. This ad for Arnott’s Porter serves as a tribute of sorts to the life of the Cork entrepreneur.
Assembly Rooms, South Mall
Outraged that an ex-priest named Gavazzi had been refused permission to give a sermon in the Opera House due to his anti-Catholic tone, a group of protestants decided to build a new hall in the city. It was intended to be used by all citizens, but quickly became known as the ‘Protestant Hall’.
It was the venue for prominent speakers, as well as opera and theatre productions and also has the claim of having shown the first motion picture in Cork in 1896. In 1911, the venue became the first dedicated cinema in the city and was called ‘The Picture Palace’.
The cinema closed in 1964 and the site has had various uses ever since. Though the interior was gutted and renovated in the 70’s, the beautiful façade remains intact.
Catholic Young Men’s Society, Castle Street/North Main Street
The organisation was founded in Limerick in 1849 by a local priest, Father Richard Baptist O’Brien, and coincided with the end of the famine.
For decades, the Cork branch (foundation date unknown) offered the young men of the city a place free from alcohol to socialise over a game of snooker or darts, or in other words, to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Many members may have been more interested in the social aspect rather than the religious objectives, but either way, the society had over 100 clubs in Ireland at its peak in the 1950s. Today, 17 remain.
While the Cork branch on the corner of Castle Street and North Main Street is no more, the lettering on the facade of the building remains a prominent feature of one of the oldest streets in Cork.
The Hive Iron Works, Washington Street/Hanover Street
This sign is barely visible on the facade of this uniquely triangular-shaped building, but in the 19th century this was one of the most important iron works in Cork and Munster.
The foundry was in existence here from 1816 onwards, producing marine steam engines, agricultural equipment and household goods throughout the 19th century.
Decorative architectural castings were also produced at this site, some of which can still be seen around the city today. Some of these show the words ’Hive Foundry Cork’.
The Hive Iron Works closed in 1935. The building was taken over by the Hanover Shoe Company who were also big employers in the city until they were hit by recession in the 60s and forced to close.
Cork City Library 1792, Pembroke St/South Mall
These days, coffee shops, restaurants and bars are known to pay thousands upon thousands of euros to decorate their business with stylish features such as this one, but here is a splendid original.
In 1792, a library opened to the people of Cork on Pembroke Street, though high subscription rates ensured it was mainly used by the middle-classes.
It stayed in operation until 1941, providing knowledge and learning to those who could afford it.
All that remains of the library is this classically designed entrance, featuring the year of its foundation surrounded by a laurel wreath, and flanked by two decorative owls on either side.
Today, a coffee shop occupies the building.
’Cure Your Corns with Mayne’s Corn Silk’, Pembroke St
This sign is placed high on a gable wall of a building in Pembroke Street. It’s made of intricate mosaic tiling and reads ‘Chemist and Druggist Established 1845’. At some point, it was painted over with the words, ‘Cure Your Corns with Mayne’s Corn Silk’.
Nowadays, the building has a themed wine bar, honouring its history as a chemists for over 120 years. This sign is a great example of how Cork has retained its character from years gone by.
Pavilion Cinema, Patrick’s St
Opened in 1921, the Pavilion Cinema was one of the oldest picture houses in Cork and was the first to be equipped with sound. The First ‘talkie’ to be screened here was Al Jolson‘s The Singing Fool in August 1929.
The cinema also had a restaurant which was a very popular spot for Corkonians, but spiralling costs of running the eatery saw it close in 1985. 4 years later, the cinema followed and also shut its doors.
The last film to be shown was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the premises has been used since by retailers such as HMV and Golden Discs.
William Clarke, Lavitts Quay
William Clarke and Son were a major tobacco manufacturer founded in Cork in 1830 and serving Ireland and Britain. In 1924, the company was bought out by a British tobacco company who moved the business to Dublin.
In Cork, this intricate white and black mosaic sign stands out against the red brick building and signals back to Cork’s history as a merchant City. Despite its age it sits comfortably along the quayside, nestled in amongst newer modern structures.
The building today has a conservation protection order, meaning it should stand proudly on the quay for years yet.
Woodford and Bourne, Patricks St
This is one of the most distinctive buildings in cork city centre and has a history that also makes it stand out. It was the store that the well-off in the city would go to purchase fine wines and spirits as well as teas, spices and other elegant food items at the time.
The company itself can be traced back to the mid 18th century and was operating out of these premises until as recently as the 1980’s. At this time, it was converted into a fast food outlet called Mandy’s for a brief spell before MacDonald’s moved in.
Interestingly enough, the company records also show that in 1932 the apartment above the business was rented to one of the most famous figures from the War of Independence, General Tom Barry.
Brass Foundry and Copper Works, Oliver Plunkett Street
This business, owned by Pulvertaft and Sons, provided a number of services such as gas fitting, engineering works and a motor garage.
Some sources suggest that the business provided parts for the first Cork-built Ford motor cars that were produced at the Ford car factory in the Marina. The same source says they were also making 18 pounder shells for the British government during World War One.
A sign of the business’s success can be seen in how they exhibited their brass works and engineering products throughout Europe and America.
Robert Pulvertaft, who ran the company, died in 1922. Two years earlier he was a candidate in the local elections but failed to win a seat in the city’s corporation.
His son Willie, who inherited the business, sold it after a difficult period in 1942. It had been in the family for over a hundred years.
Today a sport shop operates at the site, but the plaster relief sign reminds us of its past.
Beamish and Crawford, South Main Street.
The Beamish brewery, founded in 1792, was once the largest in Ireland until it was passed out by Guinness in the 1830s.
The site is set to be redeveloped as an events centre in the coming years, though the iconic tudor ‘Counting House’ will be preserved.
In 2008 Heineken International purchased Beamish and announced shortly afterwards that the old brewery would be closed and production of Beamish stout would be moved across the river to the Heineken brewery.
In 2009, around the time of its closure, a touching documentary called ‘My Beamish Boy’ revealed the fondness and affection felt towards the brewery by the former workers.
Beamish was very much a part of the fabric of Cork for centuries, not just for those that worked there, but for their families and the wider community in the city.
So there you have it - slices of Cork’s commercial and social history are embodied still in its ghostly signs.
Let us know of any similar ghostly reminders you spot on your travels round your own town or city.