Saturday the 17th August 2013 was Cork City Heritage open day. A unique event celebrating the architecture and history of the built heritage of the city. Many buildings not normally open to the public were opened for the day, many had special events and guided tours. We could not miss this.
I will not go into detail here about the many buildings Brigitte and I visited on a walking tour of the city that left us foot sore but delighted we’d taken the opportunity for what we called; “Le Grand Neb and Gawp.” Neb means nose and gawp means stare, for those who’ve not read Bonny’s words in my books.
We started the day at Elizabeth Fort. This was built on a limestone outcrop in 1601 during Elizabethan times. It dominates the city below, as it was meant to. The citizens of Cork took exception and they tore it done in 1603 but were made to rebuild it at their own expense. The present stone fort was started in 1624 and remained in use as a military base until 1835 when it was used as a female prison. In more recent times it has served as Police Barracks for the Garda. They are in the process of leaving now and are handing it over to a heritage trust. Public access should be possible in future.
The walls give wonderful views of the city and on to Saint Finn Barre’s Cathedral. The fort shares the same rock outcrop. This place features in the novella I’m writing now called: Skellig Testament about a young man who comes to Finn Barre’s monastery to join his order about the year 620 before going on to an ascetic life on an isolated island called Skellig. As I stood looking down on what would have been the old Cork settlement island, I was imaging what the place would have looked like in his times. Finn Barre’s settlement marked the birth of the city and it would have been laid out not unlike the map from 1545 shown above.
Another place that features in my writing is The Shandon Clock tower, nicknamed ‘the four faced liar’. It appears in Beauty’s Price: “She stared around looking for clues and tried in vain to remember what had happened to her. She stood, opened the curtains, and peered out blinking at the gray moist day. She could see a clock tower over the houses and the words: The four faced liar came to her. She wondered what that meant, then suddenly she remembered that was the nickname for the Shandon clock: Cork, “I’m in Cork.”A flood of memories came as she staggered back and lay on the bed. She relived the shooting of her husband and Regan’s face on the TV.”
The tower got it’s name because the four faces of the clock are buffeted by winds and never agree about the time.
This county of Cork near the province of Munster’s principal, city has been home to Brigitte and I for some time now. She has more right to call it home than an Ulsterman. Her ancestors, the Doyle’s were merchants here in the 1750’s. She said she felt at home the first time I brought her, soon after we met, but we never imagined we’d end up living here.
“Ulster by birth, Munster by choice,” has become a refrain for me when people we meet ask why I live here. My ancestor Hugh O’Neill came south to fight an Elizabethan army at Kinsale, then occupied by the Spanish. Those Spanish allies betrayed him and he lost the battle in a war he had been winning. That led to the total and brutal domination of the country by the English and changed Irish history profoundly. I often wonder how different all our lives would have been if the Spanish had gotten off their asses and joined the bold Hugh to defeat the English army. Maybe I’d be writing this in Spanish or Irish or French or… there is novel there somewhere!