There has been a theatre on the present site of the Cork Opera House since 1855. The original structure was designed by Sir John Benson and had been constructed as a Fine Arts Hall for the National Exhibition for Ireland in 1852 before being relocated stone by stone to the site of the old Custom Building in Nelson Square. First named the Athenaeum, then the Munster Hall and, finally, the Opera House, it stood for one hundred years until it was destroyed in a fire in 1955.
Following a ten year fund-raising campaign, a modern 1,000 seat Opera House was designed by Scott Tallon Walker and rebuilt on the same site in the renamed Emmet Place. In 1993 the present Board of Directors ran an architectural Concept Competition under the auspices of the R.I.A.I. which awarded the prize to Murray O'Laoire Associates for an entry which the judges described as "a vision of the building which takes the architecture of Cork City into the 21st century".