A spot at the centre of the Cork universe

Throwback Thursday: Just where do you stand to see the whole of old Cork from one spot, asks JO KERRIGAN? Plus, she shares more memories of the old shops of the city
A spot at the centre of the Cork universe

The old bus station at Parnell Place, Cork, being demolished in January, 1959. A debate is taking place in Throwback Thursday over a spot in Parnell Place where you can view all the old city sights

A FORTNIGHT ago in Throwback Thursday, Jerry Holt mentioned a barber’s shop called The One Bright Spot on Parnell Place, and all the iconic locations that could be viewed from there.

We never expected the explosion of interest that followed!

Your replies, suggestions, detailed guidance, have been flooding in. Clearly, specific places counted for a whole lot back in the ’50s and ’60s, when to know exactly where you were (and exactly how to get somewhere else) on foot at any given moment, instead of zipping around motorways and link roads in a closed metal box, was part of being a Corkonian.

Con Healy (he who famously helped to dismantle and remove the legendary Savoy organ, and thus knows his cork), writes: “After reading the reference to The One Bright Spot on April 7, I do recall Georgie Murphy, he of The Bowlers Rest, who loved asking questions on local knowledge.

“His information was that if you were standing on The One Bright Spot, you could see the City Hall to your left, looking up Oliver Plunkett Street you could see the Berwick Fountain, and looking up Maylor Street you could see the Savoy Cinema.”

Did Con try it out himself?

“Yes, I did place myself there one time to test his knowledge, and with a bit of feet shuffling, it is believable.”

As far as Con can ascertain, it would be a spot out on Parnell Place.

“There was Burns barber shop, which I do remember, other shops I don’t recall, perhaps the readers would know?

“Georgie Murphy’s answer to his own question was the three places I already mentioned. Beamish & Crawford brewery is also visible in the distance (on a clear day!) beyond the Berwick Fountain.”

Con adds: “If some more of your readers know anything further on this, I would be delighted to read their take on it.”

We will admit that it seemed far-fetched (both literally and metaphorically) to claim Beamish’s from Parnell Place, but Ed Barry wrote opportunely to say this was in fact so, and quoted his own childhood memories to prove it: “If you looked up Oliver Plunkett Street, you would likely see Beamish’s chimney.

An old engraving of Lyons factory on South Main Street, Cork city, kindly supplied by Jennifer Dunn, whose grandfather was its Managing Director
An old engraving of Lyons factory on South Main Street, Cork city, kindly supplied by Jennifer Dunn, whose grandfather was its Managing Director

“I grew up in a Beamish pub in Rathcormac. In the 1950s, my father would travel to Beamish’s maybe three or four times a year to pay for the drinks delivered.

“When his business was done on a winter’s evening, we would walk down Oliver Plunkett Street to where the car was parked in Parnell Place. I would glance back now and again to see the Beamish lettering in big red lights down the length of the Beamish chimney. It was a wonderful sight for me, a country boy, only used to a few lights in our village.”

What a lovely, vivid picture of 1950s Cork, Ed. You bring back the cold frosty nights, the sound of footsteps ringing on the pavements, breath smoking out on the chill air, and that last look back at the beacon of light. Thank you for that.

Tom Jones wasn’t far behind in sending his own recollections from faraway Florida.

“In reference to Jerry Holt’s query on April 7, it was a popular trivia question at one time in Cork: where could you stand and see City Hall, the Savoy Cinema, Beamish’s Brewery, and the tall chimney on Thompson’s Bakery from a single spot?”

(Insert dramatic pause here.)

“Answer: All can be viewed simultaneously from the centre of the street on Parnell Place, near what was then called ‘The One Bright Spot In Cork’ premises, which was located at the corner of Parnell Place and Lower Oliver Plunkett Street.”

Now, says Tom firmly, if there are naysayers and Doubting Thomases out there, “your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go check it out for yourself.

“But be forewarned. To whom it may concern. If you want to prove this to yourself physically, please at all times be cautious of and courteous to all passing traffic. Hey, let’s be careful out there. Stay safe!”

Tom’s recollection of the legendary spot is that there was a yellow circle, representing the sun, painted on the facade of the building on that corner.

“I believe the barber’s of which Jerry speaks was next door to that on Parnell Place, both being on the Bus Station block to be precise here.”

The sights mentioned can indeed be seen, he claims, although admittedly, it helps to have a pre-knowledge of what you’re looking for and at. It can be done, says Tom, from a spot near the centre of the road on Parnell Place.

“To achieve this experience, you calculate the V-point of Oliver Plunkett Street and Maylor Street to see Beamish’s and The Savoy, respectively. Keeping both in view, move forward a little, then turn your head to the left to see one side of City Hall, and to the right to see the tall chimney of Thompson’s Bakery.”

OK, we’ve all got that, Tom.

Now we anticipate a great concourse of avid Throwback Thursday readers heading off down to Parnell Place at the first possible opportunity to check it out for themselves.

Moynihans poultry stall in The English Market, Cork, in 2011 - Jo Kerrigan recalls her mother buying buttered eggs there, and also ‘country butter’, for cooking
Moynihans poultry stall in The English Market, Cork, in 2011 - Jo Kerrigan recalls her mother buying buttered eggs there, and also ‘country butter’, for cooking

If you do, firstly take Tom’s advice and stay safe. The middle of Parnell Place can be a minefield for unwary pedestrians, what with drivers trying to find the right lane, would-be shoppers trying to get into Roches Stores car park (we know the shop is gone, and so is its successor, but hey, Corkonians never let go of a familiar name), and general traffic chaos. So only try it from either pavement, OK?

And secondly, if you find somebody else trying to work the same magic Open Sesame formula, then ask them if they’re doing it because of De Echo piece. You might make new friends!

Mr Jones is now hopefully awaiting responses from readers of a certain age, “sitting in joints like the old pubs on Shandon Street, The Bera in Blackpool, the HI-B Bar, or The Cork Arms, saying, ‘Hey, did ya see that on De Echo, c’mere boy, no way like, shur that fella must be off his game like.’ “

Right on, Tom. Sitting out there in Key West, Florida, we suspect you have a little hankering for the up and down streets and the up and down conversations of your Cork childhood. Well, that’s what we’re here for.

And he isn’t the only reader far away, keeping in touch every week via the power of the internet. Jennifer Dunn wrote from Ontario in Canada after seeing one of our earlier pieces about Cork cafes and memories on a Pinterest pin.

Jennifer lived in Dublin in the ’50s and ’60s, but her grandparents were still in Cork, and she would go down to stay with them.

“I remember being taken as a child to Thompson’s bakery tea rooms. The Green Door was another favourite. Do you remember the Polar ice cream shop on the South Mall? Their wafers were enormous.”

Her grannie’s next door neighbour was one May Barry who, we are told, owned the gift shop beside the Pavilion Cinema.

“My grandfather was managing director of T. Lyons and Co in South Main Street. I remember visiting the factory there and all the ladies at their machines making clothing. I have an old illustration of that building which, I believe, is where Bishop Lucey Park is now.”

Visiting the English Market is another vivid memory of Jennifer’s childhood.

“We went to Mrs Lombard for jars of fresh cream and buttered eggs, and to Mr Foley for meat.”

Oh yes, those buttered eggs, Jennifer. So many of us have fond recollections of the shiny, lustrous brown eggs which always tasted so much better than the ordinary kind. It’s the immediate buttering of the shell as soon as the eggs appear that keeps in the new-laid freshness. It can’t be reproduced by clever factory tricks, you have to do it the old way.

This writer remembers her mother going to Moynihan’s stall in the market for those eggs, and also for what was called ‘country butter’ for cooking. It was probably unsalted, certainly a brighter yellow than the usual packeted variety, and worked with wooden butter pats right there at the counter on sheets of greaseproof paper.

Moynihans is still there, thankfully, and you can still buy their buttered eggs.

“My grandmother lived on the Douglas Road,” continues Jennifer. “I remember being taken to the playground at Fitzgerald’s Park. This was a treat, as there were no playgrounds near where I lived in Dublin.

“I used to love shopping with my grandmother. We used to frequent the Queen’s Old Castle and I was taken up to the offices there where two relatives worked. She bought her sherry at Woodford Bourne. We used to go to Russell’s for our cold meats and Mr Fitz would always treat us to a piece of ham.”

And Jennifer goes on to share more vivid pictures of Cork in the 1950s. “My grandmother’s friend, Honor Hughes, worked at Grant’s department store. She subsequently opened her own shop selling ladies clothing.

“My aunt used to buy her cigarettes at McTigh’s on Patrick Street. Out of town, there were two little general grocery shops on the Douglas Road, called Murphy’s and MacSweeney’s. We often stopped there en route to home to pick things up.

“My grandmother used to buy Pringle cardigans at a little shop in an arcade off Patrick Street - was it the Winthrop Arcade?”

Interestingly, Jennifer remembers two plant nurseries on the Douglas Road. “One was just opposite the entrance to Knockrea Park where Grannie lived and the other was on the left side of the road on the way to Douglas village. They seemed like magic places to me as a child. I remember going in through a little wicket door at the nursery opposite Knockrea Park.”

And she asks if other readers remember the Dorothy Knox flower shop on Emmet Place. Yes, Jennifer, wasn’t that very close to Joan Denise Moriarty’s ballet studio?

“My grandmother was a business partner and friend to Dorothy. She had a career in her senior years keeping the accounts and delivering the gorgeous flower arrangements around the city. Oh, and I remember the milk deliveries in Douglas back before pasteurization and bottling. The milkman used to come to the back door of the house and fill up the milk into a big jug. He used to give us rides up the park on the back of his truck. Small things, but they make me think fondly of Cork. I hope to visit it this September on a trip home. Happy memories indeed. Keep the great articles coming!”

Doesn’t just reading that make you feel good? Let us hear your own recollections of those golden days of childhood.

Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com or leave a comment on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/echolivecork

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