CITY Hall is to consider the possibility of erecting a statue of much-loved Cork character and shawlie Kathy (Katty) Barry in the area with which she became synonymous.
Former Lord Mayor Mick Finn has asked the council to consider establishing a permanent tribute to Ms Barry in conjunction with the organising committee of the annual Coal Quay Festival.
Barry was a well-known figure around the city in the 50s and 60s, running a síbín and ‘eating house’ on Cornmarket St to the rear of Dennehy’s Bar where pig crubeens, boiled potatoes, drisheen, and beer were served to both “peers and paupers”.
Cornmarket St, known as the ‘Coal Quay’ is famous for its street traders and still has a thriving market today.
Mr Finn said a statue of Ms Barry would be a great addition to the area and could boost tourism.
“It’s about trying to keep an old tradition going and boosting the public realm down in Cornmarket St and remembering her and her contribution to Cork life,” said Mr Finn.
“It would be nice to get some of the tourists that visit the English Market out to Coal Quay to take in the history and see what it has to offer.
“Kathy Barry was a huge character in the 50s and 60s and a legend of her time. She was synonymous with trading, Cork City, and the area of Coal Quay.
“There seemed to be good support from the ward councillors when I brought this up.
“There is the statue to the ‘Onion Seller’, of course, but this would be a tribute to a specific person who was one of the heroes of city history. “She made a huge contribution to the cultural and economic life of Cork and it would be great to see her remembered for that,” he added.
Ms Barry’s síbín was closed by Cork Corporation in the late 1960s and demolished, after which she was said to visit Dennehy’s Bar three times a day for a small whiskey and a glass of stout — visiting from her home at 6 Corporation Buildings.
Ms Barry died in 1982 and was buried at St Joseph’s cemetery but her name is immortalised in the famous Cork song The Boys of Fair Hill, and also the Jimmy Crowley-penned Ballad of Katty Barry where he sings: “Bad luck you corporation boys you’re always in great haste/To knock each famous landmark and now our meeting place/Our haunt is but a memory of our merry days of yore/Three cheers for Katty Barry boys, may she open up once more”.
The Cork Examiner described her in 1981, the year before her death, as the embodiment of “a people and a culture peculiar to a particularly colourful and indigenously Cork milieu”.
An article published in The Echo in 2017, outlines an encounter that photographer Kevin Cummins had with Ms Barry in 1964 at her síbín.
“There was no electricity, just a few candles in empty milk-bottles throwing shadows about the place. An earthen floor with bits and pieces of furniture scattered around and an open fireplace, choked with the remnants of many fires, long forgotten, but the evidence of which was burned into the scorched wallpaper and sooty plaster above it,” said Mr Cummins.
“Had the Bull McCabe himself emerged from the gloom I wouldn’t have been surprised. Instead, when my eyes got used to the darkness, I could make out a handful of people in various nooks and crannies drinking from beer bottles and eating boiled potatoes in their skins.
“It certainly wasn’t Ballymaloe, nor were the customers among the city’s merchant princes. In fact, I got the distinct impression that the clientele were very much down on their luck.
“Kathy announced me as, ‘A young fella that wants to take a few pictures’ and everybody readily perked themselves up for the camera. I found it difficult to operate in the gloom as I couldn’t focus the camera accurately, nor could I read the scale on the flashgun in the dark.
“On the other hand, I had no difficulty in getting subjects to pose for photographs. I even got Kathy herself handing out her ‘dish of the day’ to eager customers.”
The Coal Quay Festival has become hugely popular in the area in recent years and celebrated its eighth staging in 2019 with musical performances, photographic exhibitions, and traditional costumes.
Mr Finn’s proposal will be considered by party whips at City Hall alongside calls from Fine Gael councillor Shane O’Callaghan to establish three new statues on Patrick St.
Mr O’Callaghan is seeking monuments of Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney, ahead of the centenary of their deaths next year. He is also seeking a statue of Michael Collins to mark the 2022 centenary of his death.
Both MacCurtain and MacSwiney died in 1920. MacCurtain, a former Lord Mayor of Cork and an officer in the IRA, was shot dead on his 36th birthday, in front of his wife and son. A bust of him already exists outside City Hall.
MacSwiney died in a Brixton prison, after falling into a hunger-induced coma, just months after taking over as Lord Mayor from his friend, MacCurtain.
A bust of him is also located at City Hall.
Michael Collins was killed in an ambush at Béal na Bláth in 1922, during the Civil War. Until 2002, no statue commemorating his contribution to patriotism existed in the country, until one was erected in his hometown of Clonakilty.
In addition to these, Mr O’Callaghan has also asked the council to erect a plaque to commemorate Josie Airey, whose landmark European Court case, in 1979, forced the Government to introduce free legal aid in family law matters.