We hope you are enjoying our ‘Memory Lane’ series of blogs so far and have learned something new about O’Connell Street
and Grafton Street
. For the third instalment of this series we are moving away from the official capital city of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin, and travelling around 250km to what some call the ‘REAL’ capital – Cork City and to what many regard as its prime street, St. Patrick's Street. This is a street that has been home to iconic entertainment and shopping venues and is the premier thoroughfare in Cork City.
On the banks of the river Lee
This long meandering cornucopia of retail offerings is affectionately referred to as “Pana” by many Corkonians and was said to have been formed in 1783 and like many other large urban areas in Ireland, a major river and a bridge had a big part to play in its inception. In this case the river is the Lee, and the crossing is Saint Patrick’s Bridge which links the almost 1km long street to Bridge Street on the other side.
A significant time
One of the buildings people would have warm recollections of would be Patrick Managan’s Watchmakers and Opticians, located at number 4. In the days before mobile phones, the clock outside Mangan’s was a famous spot for courting couples to meet up at the allotted hour. This purveyor of timekeeping and eye testing first opened its doors in 1817 and 30 years later in 1847 it’s clock appeared. It was reputed to be the biggest clock in the world until the powers that be in London decided to replace the original clock inside Big Ben with a much bigger one. It shut in the late 1980’s and along with units either side of it was demolished to make way for the modern and stylish Merchant’s Quay Shopping Centre
In the centre you will find around 50 shops, including Debenhams, Dunnes Stores and Marks and Spencer.
Without doubt one of the grandest occupants of St. Patrick's Street was iconic Savoy Cinema.
It was opened in 1932 by the then Lord Mayor of Cork, Frank Daly. The cinema had only the one screen but it had seating for 2,285 people, which was set in a beautifully ornate auditorium. It also housed an equally exquisite looking restaurant where people could dine before watching the latest Marilyn Monroe or James Cagney flick. It cost IR£148,000 (almost €6m in today’s money) to develop and it became one of the key attractions in the city.
The famous Crompton Organ upon which patrons were serenaded before a film started is now housed at Limerick’s Concert Hall. It also proved the catalyst for the Cork Film Festival, which has endured to this day since its inception in the 1950’s. It was the highlight of the local autograph hunters year and is still one of the highlights of the social calendar in Cork, with famous actors still travelling to the festival every year.
Growth of retail
St. Patrick's Street was also the spot where two famous names in retail began, one sadly no more, the other still thriving. William Roche began his working life as an employee of Cash’s Department store (now Brown Thomas’s Cork outlet) before deciding to go out on his own in the early 1900’s with the Roches Stores retail empire. The business was a huge success and by 1940 they had opened another two large outlets in Limerick and Dublin respectively.
In the end the company had 11 outlets in total. In 2006 they sold 9 of the shops to Debenhams and the Wilton outlet in Cork to Marks and Spencer and closed their Nutgrove store in Dublin.
On the day news broke of the company’s sale to the UK retail giant, many people in the Rebel Capital interviewed by journalists said it truly was the end of an era and it would be sorely missed; in a classic poacher turned gamekeeper story, the senior buyer for Roches Stores Cork outlet, Ben Dunne, would leave the company in 1944 to setup his own shop on St. Patrick's Street.
He named the outlet Dunnes Stores
and crowds soon assembled on opening day as word spread about the sort of bargains that were on offer inside this new shop. Today Dunnes Stores has grown to be the biggest supermarket chain in Ireland, with the late Ben Dunne’s daughter Margaret now the driving force behind the business. It has grown to over 130 stores spread across Ireland, the United Kingdom and Spain.
St. Patrick's Street and Cork City in general was to suffer one of it’ biggest setbacks on the night of the 11th
of December 1920 when a large mob of drunken ‘Black and Tans’ ran riot around the city throwing grenades and other explosive devices at numerous buildings. By 1am the city was in flames.
It took days to finally put out the fires, with many firefighters from other parts of the country lending a hand after getting on board specially chartered trains from Heuston Station. It is reckoned that over £3M in damage (a colossal €143M in today’s money) was caused. One of the shops worst hit was Roches Stores and it would take a full six years before the shop was to fully reopen, while other buildings such as Cork’s grand City Hall and the Carnegie Library also in ruins on a night those who witnessed it would never forget.
In 2004 the extensive redevelopment of St. Patrick's Street was completed and the street once more could hold its head high and proclaim itself as THE premier street in Cork City. Designed by the renowned Spanish Architect Beth Gali and costing €13M to complete, the entire street was repaved in granite and limestones alongside the installation of giant lamps all along this famous thoroughfare, which were designed to reflect the maritime history of the city.
Today it is a modern eye-catching retail mecca that can once more loudly proclaim its status as the premier shopping destination in Cork City. The only way is up for St. Patrick's Street and you can be sure more historically significant memories will be created on this famous thoroughfare into the future.
Make sure to check out the rest of the Memory Lane series along with many of out other interesting blogs