Cork has a long and bruising history, inextricably linked with Ireland’s struggle for nationhood.
The story begins in the 7th century, when St Finbarre founded a monastery on a corcach (marshy place). By the 12th century the settlement had become the chief city of the Kingdom of South Munster, having survived raids and sporadic settlement by Norsemen. Irish rule was short-lived, and by 1185 Cork was under English rule. Thereafter it changed hands regularly during the relentless struggle between Irish and Crown forces. It survived Cromwellian assault only to fall to that merciless champion of Protestantism, William of Orange.
During the 18th century Cork prospered, with butter, beef, beer and whiskey exported round the world from its port. A mere century later famine devastated both county and city, and robbed Cork of millions of its inhabitants by death or emigration.
The ‘Rebel City’s’ deep-seated Irishness ensured that it played a key role in Ireland’s struggle for independence. Mayor Thomas MacCurtain was killed by the Black and Tans in 1920. His successor, Terence MacSwiney, died in London’s Brixton prison after a hunger strike. The British were at their most brutally repressive in Cork – much of the centre, including St Patrick’s St, the City Hall and the Public Library, was burned down. Cork was also a regional focus of Ireland’s self-destructive Civil War in 1922–23.