Fort to be a star attraction in Cork’s ‘cathedral quarter’

The ramparts of a medieval fort which offer unrivalled views over Cork City will be open to the public within weeks after the State handed the historic building back to the city yesterday.

The news was confirmed after the Lord Mayor, Cllr Catherine Clancy, accepted on behalf of the city care of Elizabeth Fort from the minister of state with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), Brian Hayes.

The city council’s tourism unit, Team, will advertise soon for operators to manage the facility.

Admission will be free for the first few months, with decisions on opening hours yet to be finalised, according to Team spokesman Damien O’Mahony.

He said they hope to lodge a formal funding application with Fáilte Ireland in May to help develop a €3m interpretive centre within its walls as part of a three-year development plan for the fort, located off Barrack St.

The structure and its restored ramparts will be open by the end of February, with schools being invited for tours of the site.

It is hoped the fortified structure, one of the finest examples of a 17th-century star fort in this country, will host food markets and theatrical and musical performances in its courtyard.

There are plans to recreate a medieval laneway peopled by re-enactors to the rear of the building, and the interpretive centre will outline the history of Cork City. This will help position the fort as a tourism hub in what Team has dubbed the “cathedral quarter”, and act as a catalyst for regeneration of the Barrack St area.

“Situated at the heart of a cluster of existing attractions, which include the Honan Chapel in UCC, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the Red Abbey, Christchurch on South Main St, the remnants of the old city wall in the Peace Park and the English Market, the fort will act as a hub for this wonderful grouping of tourism attractions,” said Mr O’Mahony.

“This will also be about telling a lot of individual stories. The Duke of Wellington has a connection to this fort, Cromwell had a connection, but it was also a holding centre for prisoners bound for penal colonies, and a lot of those stories will be told.”

Elizabeth Fort was built in 1601 by Sir George Carew just outside the ancient city walls, and was substantially renovated in 1624.

It has links to several major historical events over the last four centuries, including the Reformation, Cromwell’s suppression of Irish resistance, the Jacobite Wars, the transportation of Irish prisoners to the English colonies, the War of Independence, and the Civil War.

After many decades as a Garda station and Garda education centre, which have closed, the OPW has now transferred care of the fort to the city council.

Mr Hayes, who visited the fort two years ago to view the final stages of the €4m renovation project on the ramparts, said he was pleased to finally hand back to the people of Cork what has been theirs for 400 years.

“Much of the history of this country and city are within its walls. It will provide a unique visitor experience,” he said.

Sinn Féin Cllr Chris O’Leary welcomed the handover but criticised the closure of the Garda station.

“A public Garda office or a community Garda presence should be maintained in the fort,” he said.

But local independent Cllr Mick Finn, who was a member of the voluntary Elizabeth Fort Heritage Group, which ran Sunday markets on the grounds, said it was great, “after many false dawns”, to see the official handover.

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