Historical Notice of the City of Cork

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter I-3 | Start of chapter

The earliest historical notice of the city of Cork occurs at the commencement of the seventh century, when St. Finn Barr or Barra, quitting his solitude in the lonely island of Gougaune Barra, founded his cathedral on the site of a pagan place of worship, and afterwards added to it a religious house and a school, which attained so much celebrity that disciples and students, to the number of seven hundred, flocked to it from all parts; and, according to an ancient writer, "a desert, as it were, by quick degrees became a city." Such was the influence of learning and piety in Ireland at a period when, by the generality of English readers, she is believed to have been sunk in the lowest depths of barbarism; and to this scholastic foundation of St. Finn Barr's must be ascribed the origin of the city of Cork. [1]

It is not my purpose to go into an historical account of the rise and progress of this city, although, if it were not apart from the object of the present work, an interesting relation might be made of the evils it has endured, from the time when Ireland's ancient enemies, the Danes, periodically wasted and burned the city, to the termination of the no less barbarous warfare, which was maintained for upwards of six hundred years, between the English settlers and the Irish chieftains who refused to acknowledge allegiance to the king of England. Hollinshed thus describes the wretched state of the city in 1570:—"On the land side they are encumbered with evil neighbours—the Irish outlaws, that they are fain to watch their gates hourlie, to keep them shut at service-time, at meales, from sun to sun, nor suffer anie stranger to enter the citie with his weapon, but the same to leave at a lodge appointed. They walke out at seasons for recreation with power of men furnished. They trust not the countrie adjoining, but match in wedlocke among themselves onlie, so that the whole citie is well nigh linked one to the other in affinitie."

These "Irish outlaws," of whom Hollinshed speaks, were the McCarthys the Fitzgeralds, the O'Mahonys, and the Barretts, all ancient and powerful Irish families, who, had they been but united in their efforts, would have easily driven the English from the city; but the dissensions that prevailed amongst them always defeated their grand object. These jealousies it was the avowed policy of the English rulers to foster. Sir George Carew, Lord President of Munster, in 1600, fully understanding the disposition of the people he had to contend with, says, "that if the heads themselves might be set at variance, they would prove the most fit instruments to mine one another." In 1493, Perkin Warbeck, the impostor king, was received in Cork with princely honours by the mayor, for which offence the city was deprived of its charter, and the mayor was hanged and beheaded. A new charter was again granted to the city in 1609.

Cork was surprised, in 1619, by the Parliamentary forces, and during the Protectorate the Roman Catholic inhabitants were cruelly oppressed; several of its leading families being despoiled of their estates and possessions, and reduced to a state of comparative indigence. A new race was thus introduced into Cork, consisting of those Republican soldiers, who, having received from Cromwell grants of forfeited property, settled in the city, where their descendants still continue amongst the most influential and wealthy of its inhabitants. In 1688 the inhabitants, having espoused the cause of James II., opened their gates and received him into the city. Two years afterwards it was besieged by King William's forces, under the command of the Duke of Marlborough, and, after a vigorous defence of five days, during which time the garrison was reduced to great extremities, it was forced to capitulate. This siege is only remarkable for the death of the Duke of Grafton, an illegitimate son of Charles II., who served as a volunteer in the garrison, and was shot by a blacksmith from the opposite side of the river, on the spot which still preserves the memory of his fate, by being called "Grafton Alley."


[1] Corroch or Corcagh, the Irish name of Cork, is, like all Irish names of places, strikingly descriptive. It signifies a swamp; to which the situation of the city on two marshy islands fully entitle it. The whole district on the south and west of the Lee, was called Corcagh Luighe, i.e. Cork of the Lee. Cork at an early period had obtained the title of Cahir, a city.