High Court action could be lodged against Famine building planning permission

High Court action could be lodged against Famine building planning permission
The former Workhouse reception building on the grounds of St Finbarr's. Pic: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

A POTENTIAL High Court challenge is being prepared against planning permission that has been granted to refurbish the former Famine Workhouse Reception building and demolish part of the structure on the Douglas Road.

The HSE South has had planning granted by Cork City Council to turn the Workhouse Reception on the grounds of St Finbarr’s Hospital into offices for administration purposes. The building opened in 1841 and was where people entered the workhouse complex before families were divided into males and females to separate accommodation blocks.

The building is listed on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage and has been boarded up and unused for decades.

The application is separate to plans - which have also been granted permission - to revamp the hospital with a new community nursing unit with 105 en-suite bedrooms including 30 en-suite bedrooms for dementia residents with associated resident accommodation.

Former county councillor and chair of the An Gorta Mór Memorial Project, Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, said the plans for the Workhouse Reception are disrespectful to the “horrors” that took place there during the Famine and the group is seeking legal advice.

He said planning notices were not placed in prominent locations on the site and as a result, no submissions were made on the plans.

“The main reception building and other buildings that were part of the complex are still intact. The Workhouse Reception building is iconic as being the only visual relic of that period that remains standing.

The former Workhouse reception building on the grounds of St Finbarr's.
The former Workhouse reception building on the grounds of St Finbarr's.

“In this building, we know for sure that at least 50,000 people went in the door and did not come out alive.

“To have that as an administration centre now is a complete sacrilege. There was a site notice on the back gate of the South Douglas Road, which is blocked up and nobody goes in or out that gate anymore.

“On the front of entrance, there’s a green area with a few stakes in the ground with planning notices and the one related to the building is at least 500 metres away from it.

“If need be, we will take this to the High Court. Nobody whatsoever made a submission and I believe nobody was aware this was the building they were talking about," he added.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage states: “...this building is also of great historical and social significance and is a reminder of a very difficult period of Irish history.” 

However, Mr Ó Cadhla said an Architectural Heritage Impact Assessment and archaeologist report did not take this into account.

“None of the reports flagged this. If this goes ahead and they convert this into an everyday office with no regard to the horrors that took place there, it would be a complete outrage.

"This was the biggest workhouse in the country. A lot of people suffered terribly in there. The building should be kept as a monument of some kind and not merely an office block. It should be treated with a lot more respect and be preserved," he added.

The plans will involve the removal of late 19th-century ground floor passage and oratory overhead and the demolition of the annex and passageway to the rear of the building.

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