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Elizabeth Fort

July 18, 2011

I’m a bit behind on my scheduled updates so my apologies. For this entry I chose a site that will be familiar to anyone who has ever visited Cork. When looking towards the southern half of Cork city centre it is hard to ignore the looming presence of Elizabeth Fort. It is a highly significant site in relation to the military and social history of Cork.

A star shaped fort, it was originally constructed in 1601 on a limestone outcrop overlooking the city, by Sir George Carew, then President of Munster (governor of the province). As was common practice the fort was named after the then reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen had order the construction of star-shaped forts outside the town walls of each major Irish coastal walled town, in particular at Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Cork. This at a time when England was at war with Spain and there were fears of an attempted invasion by the Spanish through Ireland.

The city the fort overlooked would have been much different from today. The medieval walls still stood and the city was still mostly contained within these walls. You can see my last post for a map of Cork in the 1600’s. Barrack street, which is adjacent to the fort, developed into the main southern approach road into the city. The construction of a fortification and army base in such an area is hardly surprising. The original fort was only constructed of timber and earth and in 1603 it was demolished by a group of Cork rebels. This was in refusal by the leading Catholic families to acknowledge the crowing of King James I. Guns were stolen from the fort and brought into the city with the intention of starting an uprising. For a short time, the Catholic mass and liturgy were restored to the churches in the city. However the arrival of Lord Mountjoy, the then Lord Liuetenant of Ireland, put a stop to any uprising and British rule was restored. The people of Cork were eventually forced to rebuild the fort at their own expense. The fort as it currently appears owes much to construction throughout the 1600’s.

During the Williamite War in Ireland in 1690, Cork declared it’s support for the Catholic King James II in opposition to the Dutch Protestant William of Orange. Elizabeth Fort was controlled by the Jacobite forces and managed to hold out for some time during the siege of Cork. Eventually however shots fired from surrounding tall buildings, Red Abbey and St. FinBarre’s Cathedral, led to it’s surrender. The city itself surrendered once it’s eastern walls were breached by cannon fired from Red Abbey.

In 1719 the fort ceased to operate as a purely defensive structure and became a barracks. An additional barracks, known as Cat Barracks, was built nearby. With the construction of a new barracks to the North East of the city (the still existing Collins Barracks), Elizabeth Fort was no longer needed to house troops, at least for the time being. Instead it was converted into a prison for female convicts. It served this function until the late 19th century. It then returned to military use to station the Cork City Artillery Militia.

During the Irish War of Independence the fort was occupied by the Royal Irish Constabulary. With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 and the end of hostilities, the fort was handed over to the Provisional Irish Government. Like many former British military installations it came under attack from Anti-Treaty IRA forces. The interior buildings of the fort were burned down but the exterior escaped damage. A few years later the Gardaí (Irish police force) took over the fort and continue to use it as a barracks. Tourists are still allowed access to the fort, with occasional markets and festivals held there.

Here is the current entrance to the fort

The lamp above the gateway marks it out as a police station

Information plaque by the gateway

Stairs leading up to the ramparts

Looking down on the houses next to the fort

Walking along the walls

A cannon

With some cannonball stacked nearby

A view of the North Cathedral and Shandon

Looking down on the South Gate Bridge and the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site

A view over the city

The fort wall from the inside. It has since undergone restoration

Recently rebuilt wooden walkway linking the ramparts

A few metres from the fort is Corks oldest licensed pub. Currently known as An Realt Dearg (The Red Star), it used to be known as the Gateway Pub. A pub has been on this site since 1698. Many famous historical figures, including the Duke of Wellington, are reputed to have drunk here at one point.

Elizabeth Fort is open all year around and there is no charge for entry. To the best of my knowledge, with recent renovation work, most of the fort is accessible to the public. It’s worth it just for the fantastic view across the city and to experience a living example of Cork history.


More information on Elizabeth Fort and 17th century Cork is available on these sites:

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 19, 2011 9:07 pm

    Great write-up. Someday, we will come visit! I’ll share this with Steve.

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