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Building of the Month - September 2011

Cork City Library, Grand Parade, Cork, County Cork

Cork City Library 01 - Representative View 

Figure 1: A photograph of the city library built to a design by Joseph Francis Delany (d. 1942) as the successor to the Anglesea Street Carnegie Free Library destroyed (1920) during "The Troubles" (1919-23)

Cork was the first of Ireland’s cities to adopt the Public Libraries Act, 1850.  The city's main library was housed in a variety of locations between 1892 and 1930, but when Corkonians think of the "City Library" they think of the landmark building in Grand Parade, opened in September 1930 (fig. 1).  The construction of this building owes much to the resilience of then City Librarian, James Wilkinson, in the face of great adversity, in particular the destruction of the Carnegie Free Library (1903-5; burnt 1920) in Anglesea Street during the War of Independence (1919-21).

Cork City Library 02 - Cork City Coat-of-Arms 

Figure 2: A detail of the Cork City coat-of-arms that forms the centrepiece of the first floor balconette

The City Library was designed in a consciously Hibernian style, like some other premises in the city built after the Burning of Cork, for example the former Egan's shop (1924) in Saint Patrick's Street.  The design was by Joseph Francis Delany (d. 1942), City Engineer, and features a three-bay façade on the first and second floors with beautiful carving around the entrance doors; on the balconette at first floor, which includes the city's coat-of-arms (fig. 2); and on the top of the building, which features the harp, the symbol of the Free State (fig. 3).  The façade is included in the Cork City Survey compiled by the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage although the original structure behind the façade is long gone.

Cork City Library 03 - Irish Free State Harp 

Figure 3: A detail of the Celtic strapwork centred on a garlanded Brian Ború's Harp, the emblem of the Irish Free State (1922-37)

The library shows a narrow frontage on to the street at numbers 57-58 Grand Parade, but the interior of the library was quite large, occupying ground that had previously houses warehouses between Kift's Lane and Tuckey Street.  From the hallway one entered a circular lobby, which led on to the main corridor, off which were the Newsroom, the Reference Library, the Adult Lending Library and the "Juvenile" Library.  The Newsroom was a well-known feature of the library as crowds of users, often older men, read pages of the Echo, Examiner and other newspapers set out on high sloping lecterns.  On wet days, not unknown in the city, the Newsroom had a distinctive aroma as the public checked up on the latest world news, and the runners and riders in Haydock!  The upper floor at the front provided living accommodation for the City Librarian and his family, a perk that is also long gone.

For decades the library provided a service which is still warmly remembered, as evidenced by the accounts of borrowers from that era.  In a time of few other recreational opportunities borrowing was high and it was not unknown, especially on a Saturday, to see queues of children out the door and around the corner into Grand Parade.

The City Library was redeveloped in the second half of the 1970s to a design by Kelly, Barry and Associates with much greater street frontage on the Grand Parade, now numbers 57-61, and with much enhanced facilities.  The Reference Library is now on the first floor at the front, with the Local Studies Library on the floor above, bother services of which the city can be very proud.  The Children's Library occupies the space directly behind the 1930 façade, and the Adult Lending Library takes up most of the rest of the ground floor.  A great innovation from the time of the extension of the library is the Music Library – since 2004 called the Rory Gallagher Music Library – which is a hive of music and knowledge at the rear of the building.

Liam Roynane, Cork City Librarian

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