Cork City

Custom House

Situated at Custom House Quay. Built in 1818 the building was designed by William Hargrave and was known as the new Custom House due to the fact that the 1st Custom House was built in 1724 in Emmet Place and is now part of the Crawford Art Gallery. The Inland Revenue were the main users of the building, but in 1904 the building was taken over on a 999 year lease by the Cork Harbour Commissioners who governed the port of Cork from 1814 to 1997. After the introduction of the Harbours Act of 1996 the Harbour Commissioners changed their name to the Port of Cork Company. Their headquarters in Custom House Street is situated between the north and south channels of the River Lee. This area was the centre of the Port of Cork in the early 19th century. The building is a two storied, three bayed building over vaults, which are used by Cork Bonded Warehousing Ltd. The Custom House street frontage is 24 metres. The front facade of the building is of dressed limestone and the lower third is rusticated. There are three recessed arcades at street level with round arches with the keystone connected to a broad string course. The centre arch is the main entrance and the others are blank arches in which are set blank windows. The main entrance has a cast iron grill and ornate scroll work. A spur stone is set at both ends of the building. Carved over the entrance on the string course is the name Cork Harbour Commissioners. Also of dressed limestone are the upper two thirds of the building with three tall segmented windows with round arches, nine feet wide by twenty feet high. The windows are set back slightly in rectangular recesses. The cornice and frieze of the pediment are plain and there is a finely wrought Cork Coat of Arms in the pediment depicting the two castles sheltering a boat with the Latin inscription ‘Statio Bene Fide Carinis’ – a safe harbour for ships. The side and rear walls of the building are of regularly coursed sandstone and the original windows have rounded heads with dressed limestone surrounds. Slates are used on the roof. Access to the ground floor is via an open stair well. The ground floor vestibule is spacious, measuring 15m by 14m and featuring Corinthian style columns which support the first floor. On the ground floor the main room, now divided by partitions and housing the reception desk, is the former long room where the main business of the Customs and Excise was carried out. A magnificent Boardroom, designed by William Price the Harbour Engineer was added in 1906. This was a very important addition as it was said to be the finest in Europe. It has semi-circular tables, an imposing desk set on a shallow podium between the windows and red leather upholstered chairs matching a royal blue and red patterned carpet. The oak doors are very impressive. The coffered ceiling has as its centrepiece a pendant light-fitting of plaster acanthus leaves, surrounded by decorative plasterwork of cornucopia, doves, garlands and (possibly) Neptune blowing for a fair wind. From the ceiling are suspended three of the building’s brilliant crystal chandeliers (more can be seen in the main hall and another in the committee room) and the windows are dressed in heavily-pelmeted curtains of raw silk. The citrus-yellow walls are decorated with Corinthian columns with florid capitals finished in gold leaf. A huge tablet of the coat of arms is situated above the fireplace. The Committee Room is panelled in dark wood, with pale cream and gold wallpaper lightening the room and a delicately patterned ceiling; more restrained than that of the Boardroom. The Boardroom and Committee Room house a fine collection of maritime artwork owned by the Port of Cork Company. As part of the celebrations of the Capital of Culture 2005 a maritime painting exhibition was held in the Custom House during the summer. The Port of Cork Company collection was greatly enhanced by a number of works on loan from the Crawford Art Gallery and from private collectors. This created a memorable and unique exhibition of Cork maritime history which also included a number of engravings, maps and artefacts telling the story of Cork Harbour from the seventeenth century to the present day. While being a listed public building the public have no access to it. However by ringing 00353214273125 an appointment could be made at their discretion.

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