NORTH MAIN STREET – CORK CITY
This was a disappointing session because I was unable to keep my lens dry making it almost impossible to focus correctly.
Medieval Cork City was separated in two by channels of the River Lee, with the northern part of the main street being the North Main Street and the southern island containing the South Main Street, both of which were connected by a bridge built in 1190. It is not believed that North Main Street was extensively inhabited until the 13th century, following the walling of the northern island in sandstone, after which it became the main street of medieval Cork. At this time, the population of the walled city consisted primarily of Anglo-Norman merchant families. Property on North Main Street was divided into strips running perpendicular to the street, known as burgage plots.
A number of archaeological excavations of the area have revealed the remains of houses which were Anglo-Norman in style, made mainly of timber and wattle. The building of houses from timber posed a fire risk, and declined after May 1622, when a lightning strike on North Main Street resulted in a loss of 1500 houses in the city.
Other 20th century excavations focused on Skiddy’s Castle, a 15th century tower house which became a gunpowder magazine for a period, prior to its demolition in the late 18th century.
At the top of the North Main street in medieval Cork was the North Gate Bridge and adjacent North Gate Castle, which later saw use as a jail. The street was also the principal street of the parish of St. Peter’s, the parish church now in use as the Cork Vision Centre. In the 1820s, St Patrick’s Street began to overtake North Main Street as the primary business street of the city.
Slum clearances were conducted around North Main Street in the 1850s and late 1870s, the former “cosmetic rather than socially ameliorative,” the latter as part of a rehousing initiative.
A number of businesses on North Main Street were destroyed by fire during the Burning of Cork in December 1920.
The burning of Cork by British forces took place on the night of 11–12 December 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It followed an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush of a British Auxiliary patrol in the city, which wounded twelve Auxiliaries, one fatally. In retaliation, the Auxiliaries, Black and Tans and British soldiers burned homes near the ambush site, before looting and burning numerous buildings in the centre of Cork, Ireland’s third-biggest city. Many civilians reported being beaten, shot at, and robbed by British forces. Firefighters testified that British forces hindered their attempts to tackle the blazes by intimidation, cutting their hoses and shooting at them. Two unarmed IRA volunteers were also shot dead at their home in the north of the city.
More than 40 business premises, 300 residential properties, the City Hall and Carnegie Library were destroyed by fires, many of which were started by incendiary bombs. The economic damage was estimated at over £3 million (equivalent to €155 million in 2019), while 2,000 were left jobless and many more became homeless.
British forces carried out many similar reprisals on Irish civilians during the war, notably the Sack of Balbriggan three months before, but the burning of Cork was one of the most substantial. The British government at first denied that its forces had started the fires, and only agreed to hold a military inquiry. This concluded that a company of Auxiliaries were responsible, but the government refused to publish the report at the time.