Model School to model court in Cork city

FOR 125 years, the Model School situated on Anglesea St in Cork was — as its name suggests — a model for primary education, seeing thousands of children of various religious denominations and social backgrounds go through its doors.

It was not just a model for a new approach to education but one designed to make its architectural form fit its function.

“To each schoolroom are attached large, airy sheds, with spacious playgrounds and every necessary accommodation,” wrote the Illustrated London News in 1865.

The Courts Service hopes to build on that legacy of excellence and make the newly imagined complex a model for courtrooms nationwide. From today, it becomes part of the criminal justice system, with a different kind of inmate where district and circuit court criminal cases for the city and greater Cork area will be heard.

Costing €34m, it is one of seven courthouses being built or revamped around the country under a €135m public-private partnership programme with construction firm BAM. 

The seven projects are sited in Cork, Limerick, Letterkenny, Waterford, Wexford, Mullingar, and Drogheda. They represent the largest single investment in regional court structures in the history of the State and, according to the Courts Service, they will bring world-class court facilities to each city and town.

The reconstruction of the Anglesea St complex involved a major refurbishment of the existing building to include six courtrooms and custody cells. It began in July 2015 and was originally due to be completed by December last but was held up until April because of a shortage of skilled tradespeople due to the upturn in the construction industry.

A light, modern addition is more than five times bigger than the old building but, being deliberately set apart, does not overwhelm it. Shane Kerrisk of Wilson Architecture describes it as “a zinc-clad, lightweight structure, with substantial glazing that sits free of the Model School structure and impacts as little as possible on the fabric of the Model School walls”.

“The lightness of the structure is to serve as direct contrast with the solidity of the Model School and the new stone mass of the new facility behind, allowing old and new come together, in a manner that respects both designs,” he says.

The original design was a homage to Italian architecture. Construction of the Cork Model School began in January 1864, and it opened its doors on September 11 the following year. 

In his book, Secret Cork, historian Kieran McCarthy reveals that, among the attending students that day were 45 infants (aged three to seven), 61 boys, and a similar number of girls. Records show that its highest number of pupils reached more than 450. “These records show that pupils of varying social classes and denominations were among the students,” he writes.

The registers and roll books record the attendance of a small number of pupils of the Jewish faith, whose families arrived in Cork, mainly between 1890 and 1910. Past pupils include former lord mayor Gerald Goldberg. Another past pupil was the former tánaiste Peter Barry.

The striking Italiante building served a number of purposes since its construction. It also facilitated a maritime school, which included four classrooms and its 18m tower was used as an observatory.

The school closed in 1990 and was converted to a district court, opening in that capacity in 1994.

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