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Around the County

Barrack street

Thursday, 25th October, 2012 1:00am

Barrack Street holds a special part in the hearts of all Corkonians. The street's cultural heritage is rich and the legacy of bygone days is inherent. In the immediate area, icons of built heritage stand to further highlight the rich tapestry of the history of not only Barrack Street but Cork's past.

Circa 600 AD, St FinBarre, reputedly established an early Christian monastery, now marked by the site of present day St FinBarre's Cathedral. Between c.820 AD and c.1180, Norwegian and Danish Vikings settled the area in wooden houses and traded with local Gaelic families such as the McCarthys and other Viking ports in Ireland, England and France.

There is still Viking placename evidence in the form of Keysers Hill. The name Keyser is Scandinavian in origin and means the 'path leading to the quayside'. This suggests the existence of trackways through settlement and associated basic quays adjacent to the River Lee.

From c.1200 to 1690, Barrack Street became the main southern approach road into the walled town of Cork. The star shaped fortification of Elizabeth Fort named after Queen Elizabeth I once protected an English garrison in Cork and became a distinct landmark in the immediate southern suburbs of seventeenth century Cork.

Constructed in 1601, the fort protected the walled town of Cork from attack from Gaelic Irish natives and Spanish invasion. In 1806, due to the construction of the 'New Barracks' to the north east of the city (now Collin's Barracks), the barracks within Elizabeth fort was altered to that of a female convict prison. Though it has never been excavated, Elizabeth Fort has a wealth of stories waiting to be discovered and to be told.

During the nineteenth century, Barrack Street became the focal point from which further residential development spread from the overpopulated city centre. For example in 1875, the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Improvements Act, and later the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, detailed the importance of eradicating tenement or slum housing. At this time no large financial aid was available to carry out large-scale clearance.

A group named the Improved Dwellings Company built housing in the city. This was a group, which favoured the idea of British philanthropic industrialists building workers' housing, the idea being that a happy worker would be a more productive one. Housing schemes such as Evergreen Buildings, Prosperity Square, Prosperous Place, Industry Street were built adjacent to Barrack Street.

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