The property supplement to a recent issue of the Irish Examiner contained a piece by Tommy Barker about the sale of Monkstown Castle House — ‘House of the week’ (June 8) — home of the late Charlie Hennessey and Abby Scott.
It set me thinking about the many, many citizens of Cork who have contributed their talents to making Cork the city it is today and whose names, unfortunately, are so often forgotten. It reminded me of the fate of the knitted map of Cork created for the year the city was the European Capital of Culture, knitted by hundreds of enthusiastic, concerned needle-workers. It was supposed to be on display “somewhere suitable” when completed. I wonder what has happened to it?
It also got me thinking about the thoughtful suggestions of concerned citizens when it came to naming the new Mary Elmes Bridge connecting Merchants’ Quay and St Patrick’s Quay. What a wonderful choice the city council made. However, when I read the list of names suggested for the new bridge, I was struck by the absence of so many names of artists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, nuns/brothers, sportsmen/women — not to mind the outstanding politicians who have served the city.
Tommy Barker’s article sent me searching for Declan Hassett’s charming book Make ‘em Laugh for information about Charlie Hennessy and that book, of course, led me to remembering the theatrical greats who have contributed so much to this city by the Lee — among them, Father O’Flynn of the Loft, James Stack, James N Healy, Dan Donovan, and Joan Denise Moriarty.
Her name, of course, led me to ballet and to her incredibly supportive colleagues in that endeavour, Aloys Fleischmann and artist/set designer, Pat Murray. This chain of thought led me to wondering why Cork City Library chose to name its music library the Rory Gallagher Library? As a musician, I naturally appreciate Rory’s remarkable talent, and am delighted that the Paul St Plaza contains his statue.
But where is the statue/public building/street/park commemorating Aloys Fleischmann?.
Without that indefatigable artist/composer/teacher/citizen/academic/Corkonian-to-the-core — and the concerned citizens/politicians who supported him — Cork, indeed Ireland, would be a poorer place. There would be no Seán O’Riada and Mise Éire, no Micheál Ó Súilleabháin or World Music Centre in UL, no Cork International Choral Festival, and music education in Ireland would not be in the state of rude health it is in today, Cork led the way and Ireland followed.
Prof Fleischmann, Bernard Curtis, director of Cork School of Music, and Pilib Ó Laoghaire were the instigators of the Choral Festival — the first such on the island of Ireland, and the result of their foresight is obvious in the number of choirs and choral festivals that have followed. Similarly, Cork was the first place in Ireland to have a youth orchestra, founded in 1958, with one of Prof Fleischmann’s graduates, Micheál Ó Ceallacháin at the helm.
I could, naturally, go on and on about the achievements of Fleischmann’s successors, but there are so many other outstanding Corkonians who deserve to be remembered in a tangible way for their contributions to the life of this city. I think with envy of the dozens of statues dotted around Dublin, statues honouring the memory of patriots, artists, writers, poets, sculptors and, lately, two statues of Luke Kelly — and compare this with the paucity of similar statues/busts in Cork. Apart from the two busts of MacCurtain and MacSwiney outside City Hall and the wonderful bust of Michael Collins in Fitzgerald Park I cannot think of another citizen so honoured. Oh yes, we have statues of Christy Ring and Jack Charlton, but where are the statues of Daniel Corkery, Frank O’Connor, Seán Ó Faoláin, Seán Ó Riordáin, Seán Ó Tuama, Séamus Murphy, Charles Lynch, Joan Denise Moriarty, and, and, and ... ? To quote from the Gilbert and Sullivan masterpiece, The Mikado: “the task of filling up the blanks I’d rather leave to you”.
I started these musings, prompted by Tommy Barker’s memories of a Corkonian who contributed so very much to the artistic and cultural life of Cork, as did that other great solicitor on the Mall, Gerald Goldberg, and I end up wondering whether the latest generation of Cork public servants have the courage and sense of pride in their city to match that of earlier generations?
Dr DF Townsend
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on June 21, 2019.