Cork was originally a monastic settlement founded by St. Finbarr in the sixth century. Over the centuries, much of the city was destroyed and rebuilt after attacks by Vikings or Norsemen. It has been proposed that, like Dublin, Cork was an important trading centre in the global Scandinavian trade network. The city was once fully walled, and several wall sections and gates remain today.
Its City charter was granted by King John in 1185. When King Henry II granted the 'Kingdom of Cork' to Robert Fitzstephen and Milo de Cogan in 1177, he retained 'the City a, Cantred of the Ostmen' for himself.
Between 1185 and 1189 Prince John gave the City a charter by virtue of which the citizens of Cork would enjoy the same free laws and free custom as the City of Bristol.
A Provost was appointed: 1199 and in 1272 or 1273 this office was replaced by that of Mayor.
The title of Mayor of Cork was established by royal charter in 1318, and the title was changed to Lord Mayor in 1900. From a charter of Edward IV it appears that in 1462 the City had eleven parish churches 'together with the suburbs to the said city annexed, of the space and length of one mile ex utra parte civitatis' .
By 1500, the jurisdiction of the municipality extended as far west as Carngrohane Castle, and by 1608 (charter of James I) it extended from Whitechurch to Ballinrea and from Rochestown to Ballincollig, taking in about seventy square miles in all. This included the built-up area of the City and pasture and tillage lands which were known as the Liberties.
In 1575-6, Elizabeth I granted a charter to the mayor, recorder and bailiffs in which it was prescribed that four senior aldermen who had served as mayors should be 'keepers of the peace' as long as they continued to be aldermen.
The arching of the channel at Fenn's Quay (1795) gave us the present-day Sheares Street (formerly Nile Street). Patrick Street, with its bend, follows the course of a navigable channel with quays on either side along which ships sailed to the City. (They entered the City by the Water Gate between the King's Castle, roughly where Queen's Old Castle now stands, and the Queen's Castle which was located in the Corn Market Street side. The Grand Parade is built over another waterway which was spanned by a bridge from present-day Tuckey Street to Oliver Plunkett Street (formerly George's Street). An equestrian statue of George II stood on the bridge before being removed to a position near the present Garden of Remembrance. The channel running down the centre of the present South Mall was covered over between 1790 and 1830.
By the 1830's, a slum clearance made way for the construction of a wide roadway from the Grand Parade westwards, the eastern part of which was called Great George's Street (now Washington Street) and the other part Western Entrance (now Western Road).
In 1778, an Act of Parliament differentiated, for taxation purposes, between the City within the old walls and the Liberties outside them. This taxation concerned public lighting. However, the Liberties, which had the same rights of trading without tolls as the inner City, contributed towards the cost of certain services in that area, e.g. roads, streets and bridges.
The Municipal Corporations Act of 1840 limited the City boundary to the built-up area. Under this Act the Corporation consisted of sixteen aldermen and forty-eight councillors. The franchise was restricted to owners or occupiers of property of a P.L.V. of £10 or over. The franchise was broadened in 1898.
In 1900, Queen Victoria conferred the title of Lord Mayor on the Mayor, Sir Daniel Hegarty, and his successors in office.
On the 20th March, 1920, Tomas Mac Curtain, first Republican Lord Mayor of Cork, was murdered in his home by Crown forces. His successor in office, Terence MacSwiney died on hunger-strike in Brixton Jail on the 25th October, 1920.
Cork Corporation was abolished in 1924 and a Commissioner appointed. In 1929, the Cork City Management Act restored the Corporation and nominated a City Manager.
In the War of Independence, the centre of Cork was gutted by fires started by the British Black and Tans, and the city saw fierce fighting between Irish guerrillas and British forces.
During the Irish Civil War, Cork was for a time held by anti-Treaty forces, until it was retaken by the pro-Treaty National Army in an attack from the sea.
Shortage of space precludes the telling of the whole story of the growth of Cork from a walled town, 690 yards long and 240 yards wide, to the present city of 9,797 acres. The reader is referred to the series of coloured maps on exhibition in the Museum.
Seamus & Coigligb