Who will guard the heritage and memories of a city?

On February 7 this year, Cork’s Historical & Archaeological Society held a lecture in Crawford Art Gallery at 8pm.

Who will guard the heritage and memories of a city?

On February 7 this year, Cork’s Historical & Archaeological Society held a lecture in Crawford Art Gallery at 8pm.

At 7.40pm, crowds gathered outside as the lecture theatre inside filled to capacity and among those turned away included archaeological historians… and me.

The people of this city are interested in its great heritage and that heritage all starts in the mists at this site, where the Vikings first landed and decided to build houses, and so began the first village on the first little island to be colonised within the marsh that became our city today.

We, the people of Cork want to see our Viking heritage and we want to showcase our Viking heritage to the general public.

The Viking Triangle in Waterford shows what can be achieved with vision and commitment from a city council. The area is now truly, jaw-droppingly beautiful.

In Waterford’s Viking Triangle there is a balance that works to combine heritage and culture with commercial developments in order to maximise both — and not overdevelop one at the expense, (or total loss), of the other. The reason for this is that everyone realises that it is simply counter-productive to do so.

It is well known that good development should not impinge upon the historical “sense of place” of a location.

This site at Beamish & Crawford is the historical core of Cork City.

So, where are Cork’s leaders in heritage/progressive conservation now? Can we not do better for this unique site in the historic centre of our city? I think we can do better.

Cllr McCarthy has called for further archaeological excavations and he believes more can be done to showcase the finds at the events centre. Will it be done? It didn’t happen at Crosses Green in Cork.

As everyone knows, Crosses Green excavations were carefully catalogued, and photographed, and then... covered over!

The public cannot view the Crosses Green excavations and their value has been lost to the next generation as the “Crosses Green Heritage Display” under the arch is faded and illegible and the photographs are now largely bleached white under the sun. The beauty and elegance of that unique excavation is now only accessible to historians who know where and how to access the material.

In covering over the Crosses Green excavations, a generation has lost its living history and that should not happen at the site of St Laurence Church with its medieval cobblestones and Viking homesteads. Instead, that history should be brought to life and given light and space within the events centre. These discoveries deserve it and I think that it is ultimately counter-productive to the ‘sense of place’ of this area not to do so.

We, the people of Cork, want to see these sites and their treasures displayed together, in situ.

There are 11th century Viking homes on the Beamish & Crawford site and they are going to be covered up to build a state of the art development that (like Connolly Hall before it) will be obsolete in 35 years and will most likely then be rebuilt downstream (three times as big again) in Cork’s Docklands.

A view of the site development at Beamish and Crawford in April
A view of the site development at Beamish and Crawford in April

Cork needs an events centre now, and an appropriately sized events centre can be located in this area; but not at the expense of Cork City’s heritage.

As Crosses Green was unearthed and then covered over, then it also seems really timely that these excavations shouldn’t be covered over — most especially as everyone has also been so intrigued with what has being uncovered? This would also obviously be a fantastic location in which to preserve archaeological finds in situ as it’s so close to St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, and as it’s demonstrably captured everyone’s imagination as the birthplace of Cork City.

The people of Cork should get to see these sites… and we want to see them! I can remember doing school projects re the Cork 800 celebrations. This discovery is living history for us all, and not the few. And, I am certain, the privileged scholars who made these discoveries would likewise wish to see them appropriately exhibited.

Ideally, I think that this is what should now happen at this site:

  • A Cork events and Viking heritage centre should be established
  • A replica longboat should be tied up and up-lit on the quayside with medieval foundations and Viking timbers under glass floors showcased inside the new building
  • This Viking heritage should be linked to the great St Fin Barre’s Cathedral (up-lit above it) and the Fort Walls (up-lit in front of it)
  • Traffic should be reduced and pedestrian access increased with appropriate planting, plazas, etc.
  • A long-term council initiative should be established to buy up derelict terraced houses in front of the fort walls and remove them to showcase the St Elizabeth Fort Walls to their best advantage

Going forward the area may be then be re-named the Medieval Quarter.

This type of Viking history in the centre of Cork City is tourism gold-dust. Who doesn’t want to see where the Viking ships first moored in the mists? The only question now is: who now has the vision at City Hall to realise the potential of a medieval quarter?

If the proposed events centre wants to be the most well-known and successful nationwide (and Europe-wide), then it should embrace the discoveries and berth a replica Viking Longboat alongside and up-light it in the shadow of St Fin Barre’s as part of the Viking Heritage Centre within the events centre.

These discoveries are truly liquid-gold and provide our city’s representatives an opportunity that is not to be missed re progressive conservational development and tourism.

Why doesn’t our City Hall have the vision to fight to preserve our city’s heritage while securing its financial future?

Who will stand up and mobilise public opinion that gathered outside the Crawford Art Gallery that night and who have remained turned away disappointed ever since?

Who will stand guard over the heritage and memories of a city?

If anyone agrees with the above proposals please email corkevents.vikingheritage@gmail.com with your opinions and ideas.

EP Hunter

Cork City

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