Ever heard of Cork’s ‘Victorian Quarter’?

November 23rd, 2020 11:40 AM

By Southern Star Team

Share this article

Lumping MacCurtain Street into an imaginary district called after the Famine Queen an insult to memory of murdered Lord Mayor


EVER heard of this place, Cork’s Victorian Quarter? No? Thought so!

Well, it’s an area of the city from Kent Station to Wellington Road (including MacCurtain Street) that a group of enterprising publicans have been promoting as ‘gorgeous’ and ‘historic.’  They say it has the potential to become the most trendy coffee shop/pub/disco zone in Cork city.

Better still, a Cork clone of Dublin’s Temple Bar.

But, even before the project got properly off the ground, efforts to have the area named the Victorian Quarter led to a major row in City Hall when Sinn Féin councillors complained that lumping MacCurtain Street into an imaginary district that related harmoniously with the Famine Queen was an insult to Tomás MacCurtain, a Lord Mayor after whom the street is named. He was brutally assassinated by police in 1920.

Sinn Fein’s Cllr Thomas Gould was of the opinion that Tomás MacCurtain’s memory was being ‘diminished and diluted.’ He said he had submitted a motion urging that the term VQ (Victorian Quarter) be erased from all official council documents and that councillors also  refrain from using the term.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Colm Kelleher didn’t agree, commenting that the ‘VQ (Victorian Quarter) was bigger than MacCurtain Street.’

A Fine Gael councillor, Joe Kavanagh, said that dozens of streets and terraces in Cork were named after English generals and royalty and, at the end of the day, the matter had nothing to do with Cork City Council.

Other councillors argued that the VQ (Victorian Quarter) was simply a marketing tool to encourage eating and drinking in a particular area of Cork city. To which Cllr Gould replied: ‘Who would name a food and drink area after a famine queen?’

Nonetheless, although regal visits were unlikely, publicans hoped that the area would become so popular as an entertainment hotspot that morphing into a ’Victorian Quarter’ would naturally take place.

MacCurtain Street, they argued, would become a ‘unique, historical destination, offering a quirky mix of bohemian style and old world grandeur.’

It was a sentiment that triggered much laughter, considering that the area generally is associated with gawk-inducing burgers, late night pints and finding a taxi when Patrick Street has gone bonkers and none are to be had.

History of street

MacCurtain Street was originally called King Street in honour of an old Cork family, a member of which had been prominent in the British Army.

Certainly, from an architectural point of view, the street has some distinctive buildings, such as the Metropole Hotel (1897) , the Everyman Palace Theatre (1875), Victoria Buildings (1898), the Methodist Church (1892), the Coliseum Theatre (now a bowling alley) and, of course, the most remarkable public house in Christendom, the Cork Arms.

And, em, that’s about it.

Of course, those who live on MacCurtain Street are quaintly proud of a glass fronted, five-storey building that once was Thomson’s Bakery (famous for its chocolate slices).

Now it’s the location of a very successful, international HR recruitment software company, Vsource, founded by Cork whiz-kid, James Galvin.

Long ago, across the street was a launderette run by Charles Doman, one of the most knowledgeable book collectors in Munster, as well as being a generous patron of struggling artists in the Crawford.

Of course the famous street is not without its controversies, such as the argy-bargy that followed the recent unauthorised demolition of the Windsor Inn – perhaps the most outstanding example of ‘Victorian’ architecture on MacCurtain Street.

It’s now a heap of rubble!

Occasionally mentioned in local history is the Palace Cinema, largely because of the famous pub contained within it. The pub was the haunt of Leeside intellectuals such as sculptor Seamus Murphy, philosopher Seán Hendrick, and skilled local artists not yet entirely forgotten.

The street remained as King Street until April 1920 when it was renamed in honour of Cork Lord Mayor, Tomás MacCurtain, who was brutally shot to death by elements of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The thugs operated from a barracks at the end of King Street, across from what was to become the Coliseum cinema (a bit of a fleapit) and later a bowling alley.

United Irishmen

Theobald Wolfe Tone was a leading Irish republican, founding member of the United Irishmen whose place in Irish history can hardly be over-stated. But what isn’t widely known is that Tone’s determination ‘to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils,’ deeply impressed the President-elect of the USA, Joseph Biden.

In a 1985 interview Biden gave to Niall O’Dowd for the magazine ‘Irish America,’ he revealed he had read Irish history extensively and that Wolfe Tone was the revolutionary who impressed him most.

Here’s what he said: ‘Wolfe Tone is the embodiment of some of the things that I think are the noblest of all … He was a Protestant who formed the United Irishmen.

‘He gave his life for the principle of civil rights for all and to unite the Irish people. I view him as an honourable figure. He was obviously passionate, which I admire. He had the ability to make his own comfort secondary to the greater good.’

The newspaper commented that Biden came from ‘a Famine-era family, the Finnegans, who emigrated from Co Mayo.’  His great grandmother spoke Irish and, in America, used read letters written in Irish for those who could not read the letters they got from their families in Ireland. His grandmother’s father was the first Irish Catholic state senator.

Interesting gentleman

Another interesting Yank is Mick Mulvaney, United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland and a demoted White House chief of staff. He made his first official visit to Ireland in September for scheduled meetings in Dublin, Belfast and London.

He remarked that, after a chat with Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs, he realised that should British Airways continue to want to fly from London to Europe and ‘if the Europeans got really, really upset,’ they could make BA’s life very difficult. He wasn’t happy at that!

He learned quickly and, after his political chats, warned against creating a ‘hard border by accident’ in the North. The Good Friday Agreement, he said, must not be allowed to become a casualty of Brexit, and that ‘any trade deal between the US and the UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border.’

Spot-on Joe!  Any chance of you’d be interested in the Presidency in this neck of the woods?

Presidential joke!

If you remove the left side of Trump’s brain, he is still capable of showing venomous emotions. If you remove the right side of the brain, he is still capable of thinking how to make money.

But if you remove both sides of his brain, he’ll keep on thinking he’s the President of America!

(That’s dreadful! You’re sacked – Ed)

Tags used in this article

Share this article