Demolition of landmark Sextant bar in Cork prompts heritage debate

Historian and city councillor, Kieran McCarthy said people accept that the city needs to evolve.
Demolition of landmark Sextant bar in Cork prompts heritage debate

The Sextant opened in 1877 before being taken over by the Markham family in the early 1900s, and then run as a pub. Picture: Larry Cummins

The demolition of a landmark Cork city pub to make way for what will be one of the country’s tallest residential buildings has prompted calls for a new debate about protecting the city’s heritage.

Historian and city councillor, Kieran McCarthy, who watched today as demolition crews went to work on the former Sextant pub, which opened on Albert Quay on the city’s south docks in 1877, said people accept that the city needs to evolve.

“But a lot of the buildings with character are being demolished,” he said.

“This was one of several buildings which added to the character of the city. And as development moves into the docklands, we don’t want to see other buildings of character like it disappear.

“We need to have a bigger conversation about the city’s docklands, about retaining its architectural heritage and not just replacing it with glass boxes.

“In Cork, the generations in each century built upon the last, reclaiming land, created lanes and spaces, but they kept the character. I worry that we could be the generation that will get rid of that character.”

Green Party Cllr Dan Boyle said he was saddened by the demolition of the building in an Architectural Conservation Area.

“It is an important streetscape that will not be enhanced by what replaces it,” he said. “It’s too late for The Sextant but I will fight to ensure every structure listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) is  automatically listed in the Cork City Development Plan.” 

The developers said a record has been made of the building, including a written report and photographs, for submission to the Irish Architectural Archive.

But the structure will be demolished as part of site enabling works on the former pub and Carey’s Tool Hire site following the grant of planning permission for a 25-storey residential “build to rent” scheme.

The Sextant opened in 1877, close to the West Cork railway line, and was run first as a hotel by the Sexton family, before being taken over by the Markham family in the early 1900s, and then run as a pub.

There were a number of modifications to its interior and exterior over the years and the building retained little of its original internal historic character. Last drinks were served in February 2019.

Crowds watched the demolition of The Sextant Bar, Cork to make way for a 25 storey residential 'build to rent' scheme on the Carey's Tool Hire site. Picture: Larry Cummins
Crowds watched the demolition of The Sextant Bar, Cork to make way for a 25 storey residential 'build to rent' scheme on the Carey's Tool Hire site. Picture: Larry Cummins

Developers Progressive Commercial Construction Limited, part of the JCD Group, were granted planning by An Bórd Pleanála in February for the 201-unit residential tower which was assessed under the Strategic Housing Development fast-track planning process.

It will include 93 one-bed apartments, 104 two-bed apartments and four three-bed apartments in a building that will range in height from eight to 24 storeys over ground floor.

The site includes two protected structures - the two-storey former Cork, Blackrock and Passage railway offices and the adjoining single-storey former ticket office - which will be renovated and reopened.

The restored railway offices will be used as private rented office space and the renovated ticket office will be used as a public bar and restaurant.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

In their application, the developers argued that the demolition of the Sextant will facilitate the redevelopment of a part-vacant and substantially underutilised site in a prime location.

In its submission, Cork City Council said the view of its conservation officer was that the demolition is regrettable but in principle is acceptable.

An Tasice describes demolition as "loss of historic community fabric" 

However, An Taisce described the demolition as a loss of historic community fabric.

In her report, senior Bord planning inspector Erika Casey noted that while the building was “undoubtedly attractive”, it was not a protected structure and its heritage value has been significantly compromised by numerous alterations over the years.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

“The overall development strategy for the site brings many positive conservation impacts including the successful adaption and reuse of the more significant railway complex buildings," she said.

"The reuse of these buildings is in accordance with best conservation practice and will make a significant contribution to the overall quality of the development. The proposal will also have a major beneficial impact on the remaining industrial character of the ACA.” 

The developers also propose to reuse the former tracks and cobble sets of the former railway. Surviving gate piers and wrought iron railings will also be salvaged and reinstated as part of the landscape strategy, and the Albert Road Post Box, a protected structure, will also be retained.

The existing eastern stone boundary is to be demolished and the stone reused in the ground level eastern elevation of the proposed development.

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