WHO remembers playing chessies, conkers or plainy clappy back in the day, when children joyfully sported and played together on the main streets and back-streets of Cork?
“I was conker champion three years in a row!” says local historian Liam O’hÚigin, who grew up in the Middle Parish (North Main Street), and loved playing street games as a child in the ’50s and ’60s.
Liam will be recalling those halcyon days in an interview created by Framework Films to mark Cork Heritage Open Day, which this year is taking place virtually on Saturday, August 15.
“A lot of people can identify with the olden days, living and working in Cork,” says Liam.
Cork City Council are inviting the public to take part on the online adventure and explore many of the buildings usually open to the public for the event, using the website www.corkheritageopenday.ie.
Here, there will be more than 25 videos of virtual guided tours of various historic and heritage buildings of the city, interviews with building owners, and historic footage of Cork.
Liam says there is a rich history and natural heritage attached to the Rebel County’s layers of marshlands.
“Cork Heritage Open Day is a little bit different this year,” adds Liam, touching on the Covid-19 pandemic which has halted so many events.
“But it is still a notable event and an enjoyable one for people who may like to explore or discover the rich history of Cork.”
What about his own rich history?
“I was born in Henry Street in the Middle Parish, (Hammond’s Marsh), in 1941,” says Liam. “I was an only child.
“My mother, who was born in Vicar Street died when I was a young lad, so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and my Aunt Margaret in that part of the city in a tenement house. It would be called an apartment now!” says Liam, laughing.
“I grew up in two of the most historical parts of Cork city, the Middle Parish and the South Parish. My father was a docker.”
Liam was always interested in street names.
“We used to play football in the middle of the street!” says Liam. “Often, we only had a tennis ball to play with. There were very few cars about back then.
“As I got older, I took a profound interest in the street names and laneways in Barrack Street and in the North Main Street areas,” says Liam, who became a messenger boy in Musgraves, Cornmarket Street, then later worked for the ESB.
“I never forgot the areas where I grew up and where I played outside for hours on end in the streets.
“Looking back, I had wonderful childhood times in the Marsh area and particularly the Mardyke and the Lee Fields, where we spent glorious days swimming, fishing, playing football, hurling and cricket, and the fun we had in Piper’s Merries and Fitzgerald’s Park.”
And going on the ‘lang’?
“That too,” says Liam.
“My father left for work at 7am every day. That was my chance to skip school, until I was found out!”
There were other pursuits to enjoy apart from sporting and playing.
“Yes, when we got older — courting!” says Liam, laughing.
As a ‘blow in’, I am fascinated at how Liam can bring bygone days to life and history to life; there no doubt many other people will enjoy a piece of the tapestry of Cork history on Cork Heritage Open Day.
“It is always a popular event for both young and old alike,” says Liam.
“People are amazed at what they discover about the past history of the city of Cork.”
Can you be a ‘blow-in’ like me to Cork for longer than 40 years?
“Forever!” says Liam, laughing.
He has cultivated his passion for the heritage, culture and tradition of the town he loved so well.
“It was as if the blood in my body became part of the River Lee. I got involved in the Cork South Parish Historical Society and I am a Committee Member of the Ballyphehane Commemoration 1916 group.
“I give lectures and power point presentations to schools, ladies’ and gents’ retirement groups, day centres, nursing homes, sports clubs and to anyone interested,” says Liam.
He does walkabout tours as well.
“I do walking tours and speak about the rich colourful history of our beautiful city of Cork,” he adds.
Also taking a step back in time to mark Cork Heritage Open Day this Friday and Cork Heritage Week, which runs from August 15-23, is military historian Gerry White, who will discuss the life of Terence Mac Swiney.
“Cork Heritage Open Day this year is challenging but exciting,” says Gerry, author of several books on World War I and local history including, A Great Sacrifice — Cork Servicemen Who Died In The Great War and The Burning Of Cork with Brendan O’Shea. Gerry has written extensively on the 1916 period of Irish history.
Gerry has a long, distinguished military history to be proud of.
“Both my dad and my grandad served in the American Army,” says Gerry, who served in the Irish Army for 43 years.
“I was so anxious to join the army that I enlisted on my seventeenth birthday. In 1974, the world was a very different place.”
The world is a very different place now, with the pandemic?
“Indeed it is,” says Gerry. “Many landmark events like Cork Heritage Open Day have to be marked virtually. My own involvement in Heritage Day has consisted of giving presentations on aspects of Cork history covering the years 1913-23”.
Things are a little bit different this year.
“This year, Heritage Day is unlike any other that has gone before,” says Gerry.
“Like many people, I had been looking forward to marking the centenary of some of the dramatic events that occurred in Cork in 1920. Covid-19 has changed all that.
“Like 1920, this year now presents many challenges to the people of Cork as they struggle to adapt to a new way of living.
“On Heritage Day, we can all draw inspiration from the struggles and sacrifices of those who have gone before us by viewing some of our built heritage, visiting some of the exhibitions that are currently on display.”
Gerry, a renowned Cork historian, speaking from St Peter’s Church on Cork Heritage Open Day, is very familiar with the Cork heroes of yesteryear.
“In 1920, the City Hall became the focal point for Republican resistance to the British and it is from there that three Lord Mayors of Cork, Tomás Mac Curtain, Terence Mac Swiney and Donal O’Callaghan, would lead Cork’s fight for freedom.
“Sadly, before the year was out, Mac Curtain was shot dead and Mac Swiney would die on hunger strike,” says Gerry.
“On Heritage Day, you will be able to view the life and times of those two remarkable men in Cork Public Museum.”
Gerry’s home for much of his career, Collins Barracks, is an important part of Cork Heritage Open Day.
“Collins Barracks, which overlooks the city from its location on Military Hill, also serves as a reminder of the time that the city was under the Union Jack,” says Gerry.
“A hundred years ago, members of the Auxiliary Division left the barracks and, in retaliation to an ambush of a mobile patrol at Dillon’s Cross, they destroyed a number of houses at that location, much of the city centre, City Hall and the Carnegie Library.
“The story of this deed is told in the ‘A City Burning’ exhibition currently on display in St Peter’s Church on North Main Street.”
The Burning of Cork was a serious blow to the people of the city.
“The fact that a lot of new buildings rose from the ashes like a phoenix speaks volumes of their indomitable spirit,” says Gerry.
“These locations can remind us of that spirit and that together we can and will overcome whatever the challenges of the future may hold.”
Cork Heritage Open Day takes place on August 15 and also marks the start of Heritage Week. The Echo are the media sponsors of the day.
The Explore Cork website shows lovely old images of Cork, including a video, ‘Cork: A Trip Down Memory Lane’, created by The Echo of how the buildings and the streets of Cork looked in times gone by.
The Public can access Cork Heritage Open Day by logging onto: www.corkheritageopen day.ie