993b. Sketch of Egan's Shop, 32 St Patrick's Street, circa 1892. (source: Cork City Library)

Irish industry celebrated in City Hall in 1919

One hundred years ago this week, the Irish Industries Fair was opened in Cork City Hall on Thursday 24 April 1919 by the lord mayor of Cork, William O’Connor.

The fair was called Tír na nÓg and was an exhibition of Irish-made goods and the display of the manufacturing abilities of the country. It aimed to introduce to the public and to celebrate several commodities from the Irish art and craft movement.

All were embedded in everyday life such as dress fabrics, household goals, ornaments, metal work and articles in general demand that were made at home and which gave good employment throughout the country.

The editorial in the Cork Examiner lamented that whilst Irish products and manufactures had much success in markets in many other countries, it was still necessary to convince the wider general public to support the brand of ‘Déanta in Éireann’. The fair also had a lighter side in terms of several well-arranged features of Irish culture such as fete bands, choirs, concerts, organ recitals, dancing, and swing boats.

Lord mayor William O’Connor in his speech spoke about the object of the fair and potential lessons from it in promoting all Irish manufactures.

“There is a splendid object lesson in the bazaar. Everything is Irish; every single article in the bazaar is an article of Irish manufacture. That condition spoke well for the future of Cork and for Ireland because it shows what Irishmen can do in their own country. Another object of the fair is to cultivate as it were a desire in the public mind to seek article of Irish manufacture, and secondly, to provide funds for the Cork IDA.”

The fair was organised by the Ladies Committee of the Cork Industrial Development Association (IDA).

The concert hall of the City Hall was the venue for various stalls strewn with bunting and decoration devised by PW Daly, a scenic artist.

Each side of the hall was walled off with canvass, and this was cut, shaped and printed as to give to each stall a well-defined appearance of a shop or several shops in a thoroughfare. On the stage tea gardens were laid out. The vestibule was given over for amusements.

At the organ end, the lace and poplin stall was erected in the form of a kiosk. In front of this were two ladies with machine knitters making the famed Duhallow hosiery. The Duhallow factory had only been in operation for one year but was known for its high reputation.

Across the various stalls, drawn prizes were given to spectators, which also put a focus on high quality Irish crafts. In the woollens section, a special prize was drawn for a costume length of Irish tweed. In the tobacco section, a prize of Peterson patent pipes was up for grabs.

In the arts and toys section, a special prize of Irish-made dolls in costume were given away. At the furniture section, there was a special prize of a mahogany Sheraton kidney-shaped writing table with a leather top. In the chandlery stall, a special prize of Irish cutlery was given to a member of the public. In the Irish publications section, a prize of one copy of O’Neill Lane’s larger English-Irish dictionary was given out.

In other stalls, Cork made candy and confectionary were for sale. Messrs Musgrave showed sweets manufactured in Cork and an interesting display of the goods of this well-known firm of wholesale and retail grocers and provision merchants.

There were also exhibits by the municipal schools of Art, Commerce and Technology respectively. The Glengarriff Lace Class of West Cork showed some exceptionally fine samples.

Mr Hogan, cabinet maker, Cork put on display several mantlepieces made by him. Messrs William Egan and Sons Ltd, jewellers, showed magnificent specimens of the splendid work done in their silver factory.

The premises occupied by Egan and Sons on St Patrick’s Street comprise two magnificent adjoining shops (both were burned down in the Burning of Cork in 1920). The one at no 32, being devoted to high-class art jewellery, gold and silversmith's work, and watchmaking; the other being occupied in connection with ecclesiastical furnishing, vestment manufacture, and embroideries, appointments, and sacred utensils of every description.

The shops were lit by electricity from dynamo and storage battery power, supplied by a six horsepower gas engine on their premises, which was also used for the silver-plating factory.

The Lee Boot Company Ltd, another Cork factory, created a special exhibit. Set up by Dwyer and Company, the Lee Boot facility was one of four boot factories in Cork by the 1890s.

The industry was highly mechanised and very successful for many years. Footwear production was based on the tanning and related industries in the city.

Previous to and after the opening of the fair, Professor Gmur of the Cork School of Music gave a selection of Irish melodies on the organ. The songs galvanised even further the promotion of the Irish cultural elements of the fair.

The pieces included ‘The Maid of Castleraigh’, ‘May Day’ (a hornpipe), ‘Cradle Song’, ‘Ancient Clan March’, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, ‘Who Fears to Speak of 98’? There were also choral items in Irish by the Gaelic choir of the North Monastery.

In the evening the fair was well patronised. Special features were the band selections by the Butter Exchange Brass and Reed Band and the Volunteer Pipers Bard. A speech was also made by Sinn Féin MP Liam de Róiste who spoke about the importance of promoting Irish culture especially the Irish language.

Kieran is also showcasing some of the older column series on the River Lee on his heritage Facebook page at the moment, Cork:Our City, Our Town.

Sunday 21 April: Ballinlough historical walking tour with Kieran. Learn about nineteenth century market gardens, schools, industries, and Cork’s suburban standing stone. Meet outside Beaumont BNS, Beaumont at 2.30pm. (free, duration: two hours, finishes on Ballinlough Road).