5 February 2020
By Elaine Murphy
Cork 1920 – The Burning of a City
Cork City in 1920 was the stage on which some of the most shocking events of the War of Independence played out. Citizens endured months of curfews, military raids, repeated arson attacks, ransacked homes and looted businesses. Ordinary life was peppered with instances of murder, destruction and indiscriminate violence. People could be shot simply for having their hands in their pockets. Lord Mayors could be assassinated or starved. A shocking end to an already tension-filled year, 1920 came to a head with the Burning of the City on the 11th December.
100 years on, as Cork takes centre stage in the decade of centenaries, St. Peter’s Cork has been announced as the commemorative epicentre and has launched its yearlong anchor exhibition and programme of events. The 12th century church on North Main Street in the heart of the city has been transformed.
Working with Creative Agency bigO & System Plus, the team have taken a contemporary, design led approach to bring the events of 1920 to life. On entering the space, a standalone panel outlines the subject, context and tone. Behind that begins a sequence of muslin panels depicting text, photography, quotes and maps. The cloudy, obscure quality of the panels echoes the smoky atmosphere in the city on the night it was burned and helps focus and guide the visitor through the experience.
The exhibition also features two individual audio-visual boxes which help heighten the visitor experience and encourages further connection with the subject matter. The fully immersive experiences include witness testimonies from a 1960 documentary on the Burning of Cork and a dedication to Rebel Women.
Speaking at the opening night the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor John Sheehan said “…Through thought-provoking stories, archival material, historic photographs and compelling witness statements, the exhibition highlights the vision, passion, energy and imagination of the men and women of 100 years ago in a powerful way”
Speaking about the exhibition, Christine Moloney, CEO of LW Management, the custodians of St. Peter’s Cork on behalf of Cork City Council said: “Our free entry exhibition provides a unique opportunity for visitors to deepen their understanding of this period and to stand back and reflect on this dramatic chapter in Cork’s history”
The launch night was a poignant experience. Speeches were peppered with performances from Cara & Saoirse Moloney, John Murphy, Cliff Wedgbury and Christy McCarthy.
David Bickley from St. John’s Central College, a city partner of St. Peter’s, gave a preview of his EMBER project on the night and performed with his colleague Declan Young and their students. They used Swan Hennessy’s “String Quartet No 2 in C Minor” composed in dedication to Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney, as a source of inspiration as they performed and showed a very special projection on the ceiling of the church.