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Cork Independent

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New book covers 200 years of Cork Chamber of Commerce

Wednesday, 13th November, 2019 4:47pm

‘Championing Cork, Cork Chamber of Commerce, 1819-2019’ is my new book and has been funded and published by the Chamber of Commerce.

Established in 1819, the chamber has consistently led a mission to be the leading business organisation in the Cork region.

For two hundred years, it has committed itself to ensure the city and region's prosperity, vibrancy and competitiveness through sustainable development.

Researching the history of the institution through the rich archival material that has survived, every broad period of growth and decline has empowered the institution to carry on to challenge and resolve the issues of the day. The contribution has been immense.

Around 1819, the committee of directors of the Cork Commercial Buildings Company made a rule banning campaigning on political or religious matters and possibly Catholic Emancipation.

This displeased many of the subscribers who left and formed the Cork Chamber of Commerce.

On 8 November 1819 a meeting of subscribers of the new chamber met at Mr Shinkwin's Rooms (later the site of the Victoria Hotel on St Patrick’s Street) to discuss the rules of governance, to be based on “liberal principles”.

The meeting was chaired by a Mr Murphy while Alex McCarthy presided at the inaugural general meeting of 13 November.

Established in an economic decline and as a champion of Catholic Emancipation, the chamber emerged not only to provide a physical space where its members could come and read the up to date news of the day and plan for the future, but also to challenge the status quo. It grew rapidly from 1819 to the Great Famine years campaigning for more rights for the Catholic merchant middle class and more investment opportunities.

After the Irish Great Famine, the economic decline that followed led to the emergence of new forms of party politics being connected with the chamber. The quest for Home Rule and the Irish National Land League campaign split the membership in the 1880s with the Incorporated Chamber of Commerce and Shipping appearing on the commercial landscape of the city.

The city now had two chambers that pursued issues such as the need for better and quicker transport modes and more business education. Both of these core issues led the chambers to the era of the First World War, where once again economic decline ensued.

There was a distinct shortage of labour as many Irish labourers went out to fight the war. Following this the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil war disrupted business.

It was only in the late 1920s that the two chambers reframed their strategies to push the future of the Irish Free State.

Growth for over a decade through industries such as Fords and Dunlops and reclamation projects such as Tivoli industrial area were again stifled by the advent of war – this time the Second World War.

Cork in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s was a regional powerhouse in Ireland as Haulbowline Steel Mills, ESB projects such as the Lee Hydroelectric Scheme and Marina Steam plant came into being followed in quick succession by Verolme Dockyard, Whitegate Oil Refinery, Cork Airport, and a new regional technical college.

The decade of the 1980s

brought economic decline again and the chamber once again shifted its focus on strengthening the supports for local business into the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

The creation of a full time chamber executive team with creative thinking capacities provided platforms to think about the future of Cork as Ireland’s southern capital and region.

This book draws on the chamber’s archives in Cork City and County Archives and from its press coverage over two hundred years.

It highlights the big stories of the chamber’s past but also the subtler elements – the conversations, speeches, the messages, the creativity, the elements of empowerment – the intangible pulses, which drive an institution forward.

The book presents six chronological chapters, whose headings are meant to connect with the present-day strategic aims of the Cork Chamber.

The chapters help showcase how much lobbying work the chamber has covered, the topics that have come up over and over again, and the ones, which form the foundation of the ongoing elements of the chamber’s forward-looking vision.

Chapters two to seven map out the variety of campaigns across three centuries – from the early nineteenth century to the 21st century.

Chapter two, entitled Setting the Scene, outlines the context to the establishment of the organisation and the first sixty years.

Chapter three, Transforming Cork, relates a multitude of chamber campaigns to transform Cork physically especially its infrastructure. Chapter four is called A Vision of a Region and highlights a number of core events, which for the chamber were a key part in setting out a vision for Cork in the future.

Chapter five entitled Empowering You maps out many of the campaigns the chamber engaged in to enable social change. Chapter six, Supporting Business showcases several of the initiatives to help businesses in Cork city and the wider region.

Chapter Seven, Plans for a New Millennium, details projects completed and ongoing in the early 21st century city and region and beyond.

‘Championing Cork, Cork Chamber of Commerce, 1819-2019’ is available from any good Cork bookshop or through the Cork Chamber of Commerce.

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