Throughout the nineteenth century Conway’s Yard was an integral part of the economic and social life of Cork city. This courtyard was behind today's Casey’s furniture store. Conway’s Yard provided a horse-hire service, a day-coach service, and stables and livery for the horses of people travelling to the city.
William West’s Directory of 1810 lists a Michael Conway as providing ‘livery stables’ services from St Barry’s (St Finbarre's). Conway's Yard also provided a transportation service in an era when horse was the only means of transport over long distances. W.D. O’Connor points out the success of this service in nineteenth-century Cork: "Michael had started a coach business before the railways had come into being in the 1840s when the horse and coach were the only means of passenger transport". As early as 1824 Conways were expanding their business franchise. In that year, Piggot’s Directory of Ireland listed John Conway as the proprietor of Conway’s Hotel in George’s Street.
By 1842 the hotel was in the hands of a man named Farmar Lloyd, who renamed it Lloyd’s Royal Hotel. In 1839 John Windele listed Lloyd’s Hotel among the three principal hotels in Cork city. He noted, "Lloyds Hotel, in George’s Street, is an old establishment, always of high repute, but under its present management its merits are even improved" (Windele, 1839, p. 49).
That site at 65 George’s Street was later occupied by 'Peter Dee & Co., Furniture Wholesaler' (Guy’s Directory, 1891). This business would remain on George’s Street until the 1930s. Since then this site has been occupied by the now long-established Casey’s furniture business. While ownership of the courtyard changed, it continued to be referred to as Conway’s Yard.
From the 1820s, Conway’s Yard was the departure point for stage coaches of the Cork and Dublin Commercial Union Car. This coach service left daily at 4 pm and would reach O’Connell Street in Dublin twenty-one hours later at 1 pm the next day. Day-coach services were also provided to towns and villages around Co. Cork. In 1847 coaches travelled to Bandon, Dunmanway, Enniskeane, and Skibbereen from Conway's Yard, and by 1867 services were provided to Ballincollig, Ovens, Coachford, and Macroom.
Later in the nineteenth century, under the proprietorship of Michael Callaghan, horses and coaches from Conway's Yard also provided a hearse service for funerals. The yard continued to provide this service throughout its history, into the mid-twentieth century. Throughout the 1800s, Conway's Yard also provided a mail coach service delivering post. An 1875 advertisement for Conway’s Yard indicates that auctions of horses, carriages, and saddlery took place on a monthly basis. This tradition continued into the 1900s, as seen in the picture below of a greyhound auction held in Conway’s Yard in 1924.
The advent of railways reduced numbers using the yard's coach service by the end of the 1800s. In response to this Conway’s Yard focused more on its service as a livery stables. Up to the First World War, Conway’s Yard was the chief parking centre in Cork for those travelling from outlying districts. During the early 1900s, Conway's Yard continued to provide care for horses at livery while owners went about their business in the city. Horses could also be rented for a day, with many using this service for a day of hunting. Farmers who travelled to Cork would bring their carts to Conway’s Yard to load up their purchases in the city.
By the second half of the twentieth century the days of travelling by horses to the city had all but passed. Goad insurance maps from 1957 show Conway’s Yard functioning as a garage where cars and taxis were parked. "Later on, the old stables were demolished with buildings on Grafton Street and Rochford’s Lane – formerly known as Stable Lane" (Cooke, 1999, p. 113). Today, the former site of Conway’s Yard has been built over by part of a multistorey car park, which opened in April 1998. Vehicles now access that car park from the Grand Parade. The former Conway’s Yard location is now hidden to most passers-by on Oliver Plunkett Street. Its colourful history reflects a very different transport and communications era, when the pace of life in Cork city was very different from what it is today.
Cooke, Richard. T., My home by the Lee (Cork, 1999).
Evening Echo, 14 July 1972, p. 3.