Sunday, 21 November 2010


It was a hot day yesterday – on paper that is. I’d just left the Abandoned Ireland exhibition in the Vision Centre, many of the abandoned houses featured there having been burned down, not all accidentally, and my next call was to the Central Library to see the Rising from the Ashes Exhibition, the Burning of Cork’s Carnegie Library and the Rebuilding of its Collections.

In December 1920, the library, on Anglesea Street, was one of a big number of important Cork buildings torched by the British Crown Forces (after an ambush at Dillon's Cross). This particular act of barbarism provoked an astonishingly helpful response across the civilised world, including Britain.

Bit by bit, the story spread across the world – no internet in those days. City Librarian James Wilkinson and the Lord Mayor Donal Og O’Ceallachain (who was smuggled abroad to avoid the wave of military arrests that Christmas) led the effort to get the word out.

Books and donations flowed into Cork to replace the volumes that had been lost. Mrs George Bernard Shaw led the way with no less than 1,283 volumes, followed by Mrs McKee (London) with 1149. James Coleman of Cobh, Mrs T.W. Rolleston and Mrs Mary Louise Dring of Glanmire were big contributors as were the Birmingham City Library  and the Republic of France.

Thomas McCarthy, a poet and a current librarian here, has written a book entitled Rising from the Ashes. It costs just a reasonable seven euro – you wouldn’t buy a cocktail for it – and between its covers you’ll get all the fascinating details.

The exhibition itself, in the foyer of the library, is rather low key, just about ten information panels and an oil paginating of the burning. Thought there might have been some old books on view, even newspapers or other artefacts.

But then I don't know what budgetary considerations or other restrictions were in operation. I am now looking forward to reading the book and if you want a copy hurry on down to your local library as I was informed yesterday (Saturday) that they were flying out the door.

The burning didn't begin or end there of course. We burned down quite a few of the great houses ourselves during the War of Independence and later during the Civil War. Collateral damage is a modern term. We lost a lot of heritage then. Imagine what a tourist attraction we'd have in Kinsale had Charles Fort not been torched during the Civil War. There are many more like that.

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