Cork’s newest bridge is to be named after Mary Elmes, dubbed Ireland’s Oskar Schindler, following public involvement in the process.
City councillors voted 17-12 to name the proposed €3.5m pedestrian and cycling bridge over the north channel of the River Lee, linking Merchant’s Quay to St Patrick’s Quay, after Ms Elmes, who is credited with saving the lives of hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust.
Born in Cork in 1908 and raised in Ballintemple on the southside of the city, Ms Elmes, helped an estimated children escape almost certain death in concentration camps by hiding them in the boot of her car.
She was one of five historic figures shortlisted following an invitation from the city council to the public to suggest names.
It is the first time this process has been used to name a piece of public infrastructure.
A total of 92 submissions were received and a long-list of 35 names emerged, with suggestions including Rory Gallagher Bridge, Merchant’s Bridge, The Provisional Republic Army Crossing, The Rebel’s Bridge, Share Bridge, The Corkonians Bridge, Legends Bridge, the Myrtle Allen Bridge, and Boole Bridge.
The longlist was considered by the council’s party whips, who in turn recommended a five-name shortlist: Ms Elmes — Cork-born US labour rights activist Mary Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones; Irish Red Cross advocate Leslie Price de Barra; legendary ballet dancer and teacher Joan Denise Moriarty, and republican volunteer Donnchadh de Barra — to full council for agreed naming process and vote.
Councillors spent just over 45-minutes debating the names before voting.
Fianna Fáil councillor John Sheehan repeated his call for the bridge to be named after a woman, with Mother Jones his preferred nominee, supported by Worker’s Party councillor Ted Tynan and Solidarity councillors Fiona Ryan and Marion O’Sullivan, while Sinn Féin united to support the nomination of de Barra, whom councillor Chris O’Leary described as the “forgotten commander”.
That nomination was also supported by several Fianna Fáil councillors, including Terry Shannon, Sean Martin, and Tom O’Driscoll.
Fine Gael councillor Des Cahill said he was supporting the nomination of Ms Elmes given her incredible life-saving humanitarian work during two wars.
Following the initial vote, Ms Elmes and de Barra tied with nine votes each, one ahead of Mother Jones. Councillors then voted on the top two names, with Ms Elmes emerging 17-12 as the preferred nomination.
Funded by the EU and the National Transport Authority, the bridge has been designed to improve pedestrian and cycle connectivity between the city centre and the Victorian Quarter area.
City Hall says it expects up to 11,000 pedestrians and cyclists to use the bridge daily.
Following an international design competition, ARUP Consulting Engineers and Wilkinson Eyre Architects were chosen to design the bridge.
It is being manufactured off-site by Thompsons of Carlow and its sections are due to arrive in the lower harbour within weeks for final assembly and finishing.
The finished superstructure will then be placed on a barge and transported up-river to the city centre, with the journey timed to coincide with optimum tides for clear passage under Brian Boru Bridge.
It is hoped the bridge will be lifted into place by crane in one overnight operation in April, requiring the complete closure of both quays for the duration of the lift.
Born in Cork in 1908, Mary Elmes is known as the Irish Oskar Schindler and is credited with saving hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust by hiding them in the boot of her car and securing documents to aid their escape through Vichy France. She spent six months in a Gestapo prison near Paris. After the war, she was awarded the Legion of Honour, but did not accept it. She was posthumously honoured as ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by the State of Israel for her work.