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Ireland Gazeteer

Cork in 1837

CORK, a city, the assize town of the county of Cork, in the province of Munster, in Ireland, situated in the county of the city of Cork, on both sides of the river Lee, four miles from its entrance into Cork harbour. Distant from Dublin 124 Irish, or 158 English miles.

The county of the city consists of the city, suburbs, and liberties, and contains 45,000 statute acres, being a borough subject to the city magistrates, and liable to city taxation.

There are numerous charters, of which the earliest bears date 26th Henry III, and the latest 31st George II. By charter 10th March, 6th James I., the city and all the lands extending from its walls, for the circuit of three miles on every side, were erected into a separate county, the bounds of which were laid down by commissioners.

The suburbs on each side of the island were defined by act 53 George III, c.3; but since that period, 1813, they have extended considerably.

The school of St. Barr is supposed to have first drawn inhabitants to this neighbourhood.

The city was walled in by the Danes in the ninth century, and was afterwards repaired by King John.

The situation was on an island of an oval form, round which the river ran in two channels; beyond these were narrow marshes skirting steep banks, which surrounded the basin occupied by the old town on every side.

These marshy flats have subsequently been drained and built upon, and the city now spreads over the high ground on both sides of the river.

Prior to the reign of Edward IV, it would appear that the suburbs of the old city also had spread over these grounds, as a charter of the second year of that reign recites, 'that inasmuch as the suburbs extending a mile on every part of the city had been destroyed by Irish enemies, the rent of 80 marks a year payable by the townsmen to the crown should be remitted, and the cocket or customs of the city should be granted for the purpose of constructing walls, until the inhabitants should be able to go peaceably one mile outside the same.’

During the period alluded to in the account of Cork county, when the Irish had overrun the possessions of the decayed Yorkist nobility, and down even to the time of Elizabeth, the inhabitants of the city lived as if in a state of continual siege, never venturing beyond their walls except in numerous bodies, nor daring to marry out their daughters into the country, ‘but contracting one with another among themselves, whereby all the citizens were related in some degree or another.’ (Camden.)

About 1620 Cork was counted the fourth city of Ireland, being inferior both to Waterford and Limerick. From its low situation Cork can never be a place of defensive strength. The only severe siege it ever endured was in 1690, when held by Governor Mac Eligott, with six Irish regiments, for James.

The siege was conducted by the duke of Marlborough, with whom were the dukes of Wirtemberg and Grafton (natural son of Charles II), with a force of about 10,000 foot and 1,200 horse. The town held out for five days; and after the English had lost a considerable number, among whom was the duke of Grafton, the garrison surrendered as prisoners of war.

The city has enlarged rapidly since the beginning of the last century, and continues to extend although not so rapidly as during the time of the late war which was very beneficial to Cork in a local point of view.

Cork is governed by a common council, consisting of the mayor, two sheriffs, recorder, and as many aldermen as with these shall not exceed the number of twenty-four.

A corporate combination which originated about seventy years ago, under the name of the Friendly Club, operates to the unfair exclusion of Roman Catholics. Out of 2,665 freemen, there were in 1833 only 73 Roman Catholics.

The freemen are exempt from paying tythes. Of the whole number, 1,593 were non-residents, of whom the majority had been created by special favour of the Common Council.

The average income of the corporation is £6,237 per annum, which is rather more than the merely municipal expenditure; but by Grand Jury presentments, and otherwise, a sum of about £54,000 per annum is disposed of at the discretion of the corporate authorities.

The port and harbour of Cork are under the regulation of a Board of Commissioners, acting under 1 George IV, c.52, the nominees of the corporation. Receipts and expenditure as follows:—





£7,872 9s. 3d.

£8,388 0s. 0d.


£8,172 8s. 2d.

£8,015 4s. 3d.


£6,855 3s. 4d.

£7,236 11s. 2d.

The paving, lighting, and cleansing of the city lie with Wide Street Commissioners, originally appointed by 5th George III, c.24, modified by subsequent and local acts. The annual expense for lighting was, in 1833, £3,200; and for paving, repairing, widening, &c., of streets, £5,600, of which £2,800 is defrayed by the county at large. This board is likewise under corporate control. It receives its income by Grand Jury presentments.

The supply of water is regulated by a Pipe Water Company incorporated under several acts, of which the last was 26 George III, c.38. A fourth part of the shares belong to the corporation. The charge to the inhabitants is two guineas per annum per house. There are no public fountains. Receipts of the company for 1833, £1,577 5 shillings, 8 pence.

The Grand Jury which presents for the public expenditure is nominated by the sheriffs: a sum of about £29,000 is annually presented, all of which, with the exception of the income of the Wide Street Board, is disposed of by the Grand Jury.

There is no municipal police, nor night watch of any kind. The turnkeys employed in the gaol and bridewell, twenty-five in number, are the only force for the preservation of the peace supported by the corporation. The corporation is one of those subject to the 'New Rules’ of 25 Charles II.

The number of the constabulary in the county of the city of Cork on the 1st January, 1836, was—chief constables 2; constables, 11; sub-constables, 62; horses, 6: expense for 1835, £2,632 6 shillings, whereof £1,260 19 shillings 5 pence chargeable against the corporation of the city.

The convict establishment at Cork consists of a penitentiary, or convict depot, at Cork, and a hulk at Cove. In 1834, the number of committals to the depot was 284, and the expense £1,899 2 shillings 8 pence: and the number of committals to the hulk at Cove, 441, and the expense, £2,886 10 shillings 2 pence.

Of the charitable institutions the principal is the Foundling Hospital, originally intended as a workhouse. The Act which founds the institution has a clause permitting the reception of exposed children, and of this advantage has been taken to turn the institution solely to that purpose. In 1833 the number of children at nurse was 1,319, and those within the walls 446. All are educated as Protestants.

The hospital derives its income from a tax of one shilling per ton on all coals that come into the harbour. This impost is collected to a distance of twelve miles from the city. In 1833 it averaged upwards of £6,000 per annum.

Skiddy's Almshouse, Bertridge's charity, the Blue Coat Hospital, and Green Coat Hospital, are other charitable foundations under the control of the corporation. Relief is extended from these solely to Protestants.

The house of industry is supported by voluntary contributions and city and county Grand Jury presentments. Income in 1833, £4,936 1 shilling 10 pence. Paupers admitted same year, 1,850. Attached is a lunatic asylum supported by county and city Grand Jury presentments. Account presented in 1833, £4,890. Number of patients, 343. An hospital with 140 beds is attached.

There are also two infirmaries and a Fever Hospital; but the accommodation is still far from being sufficient. A sum of £30,000 was, in 1833, bequeathed by a Mr. Lapp for the support of the aged Protestant poor of the city.

The city rental is estimated at £122,000 on an allowance of 25 per cent under real value. The number of the distressed population is very great. In 1832 it was estimated that a city population of 86,534, 23,021 were depending on casual employment for subsistence; of these, 6,250 were considered to be destitute. Poverty at present prevails to a frightful extent in the suburbs.

The main street which crosses from north to south, perpendicular to the length of the island, is the most ancient part of the city. It was formerly divided into north and south by a bridge and castle.

The Exchange, a heavy square building, stands on the site of the latter.

The old castle and gates which terminated this street have been removed, as also the prisons subsequently built upon their sites.

The island was formerly intersected by numerous canals, which have been arched over from time to time, and now form the principal modern streets. The Grand Parade was thus formed in 1780; Patrick Street, in like manner, in 1783; and Nile Street in 1795. The South Mall, the best street in Cork, and Nelson's Place, had like-wise a similar origin. The insular appearance of the central part of the city is thus in great measure removed.

Cork now covers a large extent of high ground on both banks of the Lee, as well as the low ground which was formerly occupied by marshes between. The greater part of these marshes were drained about 1720—30.

The parish of St. Paul was formed of these marshes, and the church of St. Paul built on the reclaimed land in 1723. About the same time the cathedral, which had suffered in the late siege, was rebuilt, as also Christchurch, for a like reason.

St. Anne's Shandon was rebuilt in 1722, and St. Peter's in 1782. The appearance of the city is materially affected by an unsightly variety of colours, arising from the different sorts of building materials employed. One side of the steeple of St. Ann's, or Upper Shandon Church, has been built of red sandstone, and the other three of dark limestone.

New quays are being constructed, which add much to the convenience and beauty of the city. Mr. Inglis calls Cork ‘a very fine city, surpassed by few in the excellence or width of its streets, and deficient only in the architectural beauty of its public buildings.'

Three large Roman Catholic chapels of cut stone are building; and the court-house, now in hand, is to cost £16,000.

Since the termination of the late war, the trade of Cork has, in some measure, changed its character. Owing to the cessation of government contracts there is no longer the same field for great mercantile houses; the number of minor dealers has increased proportionately.

The carriage trade from England is at present very brisk from the smaller traders supplying themselves direct from London or Bristol.

The chief import trade is that of timber, of which the annual average is 15,000 tons.

The chief export trade is in bacon, butter, corn, live stock, and provisions. Cork butter holds a very high character in the market, chiefly owing, it is said, to the superior cooperage of the casks. The export of bacon and live-stock is on the increase.

The manufacture of glass, metal castings, and iron-work, is carried on briskly. Leather is manufactured to the value of £100,000 per annum. A woollen manufacture gives employment to about 200 persons. There are numerous and very extensive distilleries and breweries, and a large manufacture of flour and meal.

Merchant vessels unload at Passage, about six miles from the city, from which goods are transported in lighters of about thirty tons to the quays. The amount of Customs collected in the district of Cork for the year 1835 was £216,446 1 shilling 7 pence; and of Excise duty for the same district, £252,452 14 shillings 5 pence.

The number of stamps issued to newspapers in Cork in 1835, was—

  Cork Constitution : 150,675

Cork Evening Herald : 58,350

Cork Southern Reporter : 189,700

People's Press : 12,628

Mercantile Chronicle : 30,001


In 1834 there were in the nineteen parishes comprehended wholly or in part, within the county of the city of Cork, 139 schools, educating 5,935 males and 4,489 females; total children under instruction, 10,424. Of these schools, 26 gave gratuitous instruction; several of these are under the management of religious sects.

The Cork library, which was founded in 1807, owes its origin to the exertions of the Reverend Doctor Hincks, and formerly enjoyed an annual parliamentary grant. There is also a Mechanics' Institute, with a school for 120 children.


1792: 8,100 houses; 73,000 persons

1813: 7,652 (return incomplete); 64,394 persons (return incomplete)

1821: 11,180 houses; 21,528 families; 46,787 males; 53,871 females; total 100,658 persons.

1831: 11,986 houses; 19,951 families; 1,967 families employed in agriculture; 10,989 families employed in trade, manufacture & handicraft; 6,995 families employed in other classes; 48,312 males; 58,704 females; total 107, 016 persons.