This exhibition depicts Cork’s history in a dynamic, thought provoking and often humorous manner; it can be enjoyed by all ages. The exhibition is a collection of maps, paintings, original photographs and short stories to take the visitor on a journey through Cork’s rich and varied history with the harbour and the River Lee.
The early Christian monastery that stood on the present-day site of St Fin Barre's Cathedral drew the wrath of Viking raiders in the 9th century. The city served as the capital of the Kingdom of Desmond from 1118 until the Anglo-Normans subjugated the city seven decades later.
Cork prospered in the medieval period as trade flourished with Bristol and the wine-ports of France. International politics repeatedly came to bear, most notably in 1499 when the Mayor of Cork was executed for supporting Perkin Warbeck’s rebellion against Henry VII. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the region was laid waste by English and Irish armies in a war that utterly destroyed the once indomitable Earl of Desmond. Meanwhile, a combination of pirate raids and an unsuccessful Spanish invasion led to the construction of new and sturdier fortifications around the harbour.
Following the collapse of Gaelic Ireland at the battle of Kinsale in 1601, the English constructed the star-shaped Elizabeth Fort just outside the city walls. Cork’s defences were gradually strengthened over the 17th century but many of its citizens were fated for a miserable death in 1690 when Williamite forces ran riot in the streets after a battle in which one of King Charles II’s illegitimate sons was killed. The flight of the Wild Geese saw many of Cork’s leading Catholic families up sticks for Europe where several of them became prominent wine merchants. Meanwhile, French and Dutch Protestant settlers reclaimed substantial parts of Cork’s waterways and established themselves as leading traders and textile manufacturers. With the inexorable rise of the British Empire, Cork took its place as the island’s Ox-Slaying Capital as more and more ships pulled into the harbour to load up with salted beef and butter for the long Atlantic journeys.
By the time of the American War of Independence, Cork was the primary logistical base for British ships bound for North America. The city retained this prominence through the Napoleonic Wars, during which many of the present-day forts and Martello towers were built, but by the 1840s the harbour was becoming much better known as a place of sorrow with upwards of three million emigrants leaving Ireland over the next century. Cork continued to play a very active role in the 20th century, most notably as the base for the United States naval campaign against Germany in World War One and as home to what was once the largest tractor manufacturing plant in the world. Acclaimed globally as the European City of Culture in 2005, Cork continues to be as vibrant and energetic a city as it has ever been, with the River Lee pulsating through its heart, channelling its waters south to the harbour and out into the oceans beyond.