Cork City

Queen Elizabeth Fort, Barrack Street

 Now Barrack Street Garda (Police) Station. The Danes, who kept plundering the city, settled here in 846. Detailed records in the “Annals of the Four Masters” refer to the “Danish Fort on the Hill” overlooking the city. During excavation’s remains of a Viking village were found at the base of the fort, near the River lee. It was probably during the Norman occupation of Ireland that a church was built on the site, which contained a holy well; this church was known as The Church of St. Mary Nard. In the mid 16th century the President of Munster Sir Peter Carew commissioned the erection of a new fort on the south side of the City, aptly named “Elizabeth Fort”, which was constructed on the site of the old Norman church. The fort was constructed in the standard ‘star shape’ formation with four bastions and a fortified gateway, affording protection to the good people of the “citie of Corcke” (city of Cork) against the wild savage natives that roamed outside the boundary walls. It is rumoured that the site was chosen because of its proximity to the nearby watering hole “The Gateway”, still in use, which is reputed to be the oldest pub in Ireland built in 1698. It served as a garrison bar for the soldiers who were stationed there. Here the Duke of Marlborough was often a visitor, it is also said that the Duke of Wellington (who beat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo) was a frequent guest to this inn prior to his departure to the Peninsula War in 1807.

The Penal Era 1601: Queen Elizabeth 1st died in 1603 and as she had no heirs several interested parties vied for the throne. The son of Mary Queen of Scots, who had been beheaded by her cousin Queen Elizabeth for Treason, came to the throne. His title was James 1st of England and 6th of Scotland. The Cork City Civic authorities refused to accept his authority unless freedom of worship was guaranteed, and in defiance seized several Royal properties including the fort, which they destroyed, hence the name “Rebel Cork”. In due course the city surrendered to General Sir Charles Wilmot, and for many years peace reigned.

The Reign of Charles 1st:  In 1640 Captain Muschamp was appointed Governor of the fort and had it rebuilt. In 1649, Cromwell was reputed to have strengthened and raised the walls of the fort. Even though Muschamp was a Parliamentarian, he was regarded as an eccentric. His open comments and questionable loyalties identified him against the Earl of Stafford, Governor of Ireland, who was noted for his iron fisted rule and cruel ways, and King Charles 1st of England. Muschamp was arrested and put on trial for Treason by the City Fathers. On the way to his execution at Gallows Green his loyal troops freed him. With the backing of his troops he arrested the Mayor, Sheriff, and the entire Burgess of the City, who were confirmed Royalists, and detained in the fort. Captain Muschamp took possession of the city and ruled as mayor for the next 10 years. During his Mayorship many people were expelled from the City and their properties forfeited. They were only allowed back when they declared their allegiance. He joined forces with the Royalists at the start of the Civil war.

The Williamite Wars 1690:  At the height of the Williamite Wars the fort’s garrison loyal to King James held out against King William’s army, which arrived in Cork victorious from the Battle of the Boyne, under the leadership of the Duke of Marlborough. The fort was regarded as impregnable from all sides. The round tower of nearby St. Finbarres Church overlooked the fort; a Captain Horatio Townsend hoisted two batteries of cannon and men to the top and opened fire on the fort. The fort replied with a tremendous volley, which is reported to have shaken the base of the tower. Fearful for their lives the men wanted to retreat, however Captain Townsend ordered the ladders removed leaving his men with little choice but to remain at their posts. Continuing their fire the fort eventually surrendered after 4 days. One of the cannonballs that hit the tower is still on display in the nearby church of St. Fin Barr’s. The most notable incident of this siege was the death of the Duke of Grafton, a Captain in Marlborough’s fleet and an illegitimate son of Charles 2nd. While crossing “the Rape Marsh”, now part of the South Mall, on horseback he was struck in the head by a stray cannonball fired from the fort. The cobbled street where he fell is named Grafton Street after him.

In 1719, a Military Barracks was erected within the walls of Elizabeth Fort. This Barracks had accommodation for up to 700 men. In 1806 the new Barracks on the Northside named Alexandra Barracks (now Collins Barracks) was opened. The fort along with the cavalry barracks at Prosperity Square ceased to be used as a military institution. Houses were built on the site of the old Barracks at Prosperity Square but some of its perimeter walls are still to be seen. It then became a Prison for female prisoners awaiting deportation to New South Wales, Australia. The fort came into prominent use again during the Black and Tan War of 1918/1920 when the Auxiliary regiment of the Royal Irish Constabulary used the fort. After the Anglo- Irish treaty, it was taken over by the Irish Provisional Government. In 1922, Anti-Treaty Forces burnt the Barracks. At the entrance to the fort is a post box inserted in the wall. This post box is unusual in the fact that it not only has the stamp of the King of England, Edward V11 on it but it also has the stamp of Saorstat Eireann (the Irish Free State).

Alongside the gates are (a) Reeds Cottage built in 1699 and rebuilt in 1997. (b) The Gateway Lodge built in 1704 and rebuilt in 1997. (c) Keyser Hill Loft built in 1698 and rebuilt in 1997. Just across the road is The Coach House built in 1702 and rebuilt in 1992 and alongside it is No. 33 Barrack Street built in 1702 and rebuilt in 1998. Just opposite the entrance to Prosperity Square is the bandhouse of the famous Barrack Street Band, known locally as the “Barracka”. They were born out of the Temperance movement and founded by the great Fr. Mathew in 1838, their first home being no. 1 Barrack Street, on the plot of ground in front of Fordes Bar near the South Gate Bridge. They are Cork’s oldest band and continue to play their part in many of the city’s celebratory occasions, from St. Patrick’s Day parades to leading our triumphant G.A.A. (Gaelic Athletic Association) teams through the city from the railway station.

Daniel Florence O’ Leary: One of Cork’s many famous sons lived nearby, General Daniel Florence O’Leary. He was born in 1801; the houses at no’s 89/90 have a plaque on the wall marking his birth place. It was unveiled by a delegation from Venezuela in 1978 to honour one of the men who fought in the army of the Red Huzzars under General Simon Bolivar that gained liberation for their country from Spanish rule. He was only 16 when he went to South America to fight for the independence of a number of different countries, including Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. He quickly rose through the ranks and by the age of 28 he was a General in Bolivar’s army. He married a sister of one of fellow Generals, who later became President of Venezuela, Carlos Soublett. After his military career ended he became a diplomat in the Venezuelan and British Foreign Services where he remained until his death in Colombia 1854. He was buried in Colombia, but in 1882 his remains were re-interred in the Pantheon de los Heroes in Caracas, Venezuela alongside General Bolivar. He wrote a massive 32 volume memoir, (Memorias del General O’Leary), of his time fighting for the liberation of South American countries, with Bolivar as the central character. A set of his memoirs were presented to University College Cork by the Venezuelan government when they were re-printed in the early 1980s and are currently in the Boole Library. Some of his artefacts can be seen on display at the museum in Collins Barracks.

Mrs Forde’s Yard: Just outside the gates to the fort near the top of Keyser’s Hill is Mrs Forde’s house. There is an unusual feature in the tarred surface of the front yard, it is a large circle and it is a reminder of a different age when horse power really meant “horse power”. It dates back to the 1920s when the Ford family were coach builders. This is the spot where the coach wheels were made and repaired, with the metal outer rims being fixed to the wooden wheels in the template in the ground. Despite the surface being tarred on a few occasions, the imprint of the wheel is still clearly visible. In the early 1950s the Forde family went into the undertaking business where they have continued to the present day.

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