Apart from lockdown — which will slowly be lifted in the coming months — there is always the fear of flooding, a very real fear often faced with nothing more than sandbags at the entrance of premises.
But, with brighter, sunnier days ahead and al fresco dining being catered for, and 17 streets in the city being pedestrianised permanently, things are looking up.
And, of course, it’s an excuse for a bit of Cork exceptionalism. (On Miriam O’Callaghan’s radio show recently, she referred to Cork as ‘the real capital’ while joking with local troubadour, John Spillane. He said words to the effect that we have to come out with that old palaver.)
It’s a form of defensiveness, I reckon. We may be compact but we have our notions.
Bigging us up, the Lord Mayor, Joe Kavanagh, said last week: “The Cork city spirit is nothing if not resilient — just over a century ago, it faced down the devastation of the burning of Cork and now we find ourselves again ready to rise from the ashes of Covid-19 with new and innovative ways of living, working and doing business, reimagining our city’s infrastructure.”
We have always fancied ourselves in Cork (flooding being an unfortunate aberration). In a book entitled The River Lee, Cork And The Corkonians, published in 1859, author Bryan Cody, flattered Cork people. He wrote: “Passing through the leading thoroughfares of the city during the business hours of the day, the stranger will be struck with the many good-humoured faces he shall meet on his walk. Among all classes, he will see countenances rosy with health and beaming with intelligence.”
But if Mr Cody was observing Cork city these days, all he’d see would be a few stragglers hanging around as the city is virtually closed down.
Thankfully, the English Market is open for business and Mr Cody, were he around today, would spot very smart, intelligent types there, with rosy cheeks, buying fresh food and eschewing processed poison.
Imagine being a trader back in that grim time. After the devastating fire, several temporary premises were erected so that some form of limited trading could take place. To the fore in this venture were Cash & Co, the Munster Arcade and William Egan & Sons.
Yes, Cork is resilient — to the point of being unstoppable in some cases. Astonishingly, Penneys, which is housed in the former Munster Arcade premises on Patrick Street, wants to increase its retail space by 50%.
It is already a huge city centre shop. Is there really an even bigger market for false eyelashes, fake tan, cheap clobber and sundry other bargain price items?
What would Mr Cody say about the gals that shop in Penneys every week, discarding the fashion items they buy after a few wears as they seek out new gear? I think he’d use the word ‘waste’.
But you have to admire the bosses at Penneys for being so damned optimistic about the future of high street shopping, given that we’ve nearly all developed a bit of an online habit, ordering clothes over the internet.
But business people can often see an angle that the rest of us miss. As for developers Tower Holdings’ ambitious regeneration project on the former Port of Cork’s Custom House Quay site, is there no limit to their vision with a proposed 34-storey hotel? If it actually gets built, it will be Ireland’s tallest building — but at what cost?
Cork’s skyline is one of steeples and church towers. Why should we accept a monstrosity like the planned skyscraper?
An Taisce Cork, the Irish Georgian Society and artist and activist, John Adams, had all lodged appeals against the decision by the local authority to grant planning permission for this project. As Mr Adams points out, the Port of Cork buildings “are the first buildings we see when we arrive in Cork. They have the possibility to make this city very special. These are a unique set of buildings and part of our cultural and historical maritime heritage — of international interest. If this huge development goes ahead, the character of Cork will be lost forever”.
He adds that Cork City Council’s idea of preserving buildings “is to keep the front wall”.
Mr Adams cites Navigation House and Camden Quay buildings as examples of this strategy.
No doubt, Mr Cody, if he took off his rose-tinted pince-nez, would be disgusted at such devastation.