St Patrick’s Street has shaped Cork’s history

IT was burned and rebuilt, dug up and revamped.

It has hosted some of our nation’s largest mass gatherings, rallies by some of history’s greatest political and social figures, and still echoes today to the sounds of some of a city’s greatest characters.

Now, a detailed and sweeping history of Cork’s iconic St Patrick’s Street has been published.

Author Antóin O’Callaghan said in many ways, the story of St Patrick’s Street is the story of Cork.

“St Patrick’s Street is the centre and the heart of Cork city,” he writes.

“It is a legacy in brick and stone which succeeding generations mould and shape in keeping with their own time before passing it on again.

“Thus shaped, St Patrick’s Street is a repository of memory, culture and tradition and is itself an icon of Cork.”

The street was developed in the 1780s when the city was expanding beyond the old medieval walled core into the marshlands.

A channel of the river Lee which ran where the street is today was arched over, and what had been the Long Quay became St Patrick’s Street.

Mr O’Callaghan works as a production engineer with RTÉ Cork and is history graduate of UCC. He said seeking an answer to why the street was so-called was one of the reasons be began to study its history. But the research prompted more questions than it answered, he said.

His book, Cork’s St Patrick’s Street: A History, has now been published in the 90th anniversary of the burning of Cork in 1920.

Mr O’Callaghan said its reconstruction within seven years is nearly more important than the burning itself, giving an insight into Cork society at the time.

He considers the street, known affectionately to generations as Pana, from a number of historical perspectives, including its place and identity and the people who shaped it and gave it its identity and legacy.

Leaders from Michael Collins to Fr Theobold Mathew drew tens of thousands on to the street for rallies.

Charles Steward Parnell, MP for Cork, made his famous statement, “no man can fix the boundary of a nation” on the street.

And it is also the street where three pioneers of modern commercial retailing cut their teeth – Arnott’s founder John Arnott, Roches Stores founder William Roche, and Dunnes Stores founder Ben Dunne.

One of the street’s forgotten pioneers is William Thompson, one of history’s greatest socialist thinkers and a forerunner to Karl Marx, who was raised on St Patrick’s Street.

Mr O’Callaghan also deals with the street’s controversial revamp, designed by Catalan architect Beth Gali, completed in 2004, and its future, but also charts an older controversy around the design of St Patrick’s Bridge.

Recent developments, such as Owen O’Callaghan’s Opera Lane, and Dunne’s Stores revamp, are also considered.

* Cork’s St Patrick’s Street: A History, pictured right, by Antóin O’Callaghan is published by Collins Press, priced €29.99.

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