The General Post Office (GPO) has one of the most colourful histories recorded on Oliver Plunkett Street. The GPO’s striking limestone facade marks it out as one of the landmark buildings in Cork city. Now a centre for full postal services in Cork, the GPO building started as a theatre in the eighteenth century. The theatre occupied the portion of the building on Oliver Plunkett Street which has red sandstone on its upper facade.
A history of the GPO building during its time as a theatre can be read on another part of this website here.
In 1875 the theatre building was sold to the post office authorities, ending George's Street's almost 150-year association with George’s theatre in Cork. The Cork postal services previously operated from nearby Caroline Street. In 1875 the postal authorities opened their new premises on Pembroke Street, while the Telegraph services office was on the South Mall. Building commenced on the newly purchased theatre building in the same year. However, during construction in 1876, a report in the Irish Builder concerning a visit by a deputation of MPs and other interested parties was far from complimentary about the proposed plans for the post office. The report noted the Mayor of Cork's comments that the building was not in keeping with the progress of the times: "It was, in fact, inferior in point of ornament to many public buildings in Cork". The comments also complained that the post office would be in two separate premises:
The proposed building did not accord to their tastes in regard to beauty, nor with their ideas on the score of convenience. The stamps must be purchased on Pembroke-street, and you must go round to George’s-street to post the letters, where you were not protected from wind or weather. He advocated the purchase of the quadrant between the two streets (Irish Builder, 1876, p. 100).
The General Post Office eventually opened in 1877, and the addition of the new section in George’s Street to the existing Pemroke Street premises enabled the amalgamation of the postal and telegraph service in Cork (Evening Echo: Shopping Guide supplement, 30 June 2003, p. 4).
Goad insurance plans from 1897 illustrate the situation at the end of the nineteenth century: The two sections of the post office were linked by the sorting room, which, however, could not be accessed by the public. At this time the corner quadrant section of today's GPO was occupied by a number of different businesses. Guy's Directory of 1893 lists a pub and a tobacconist/newsagency as the occupiers of these buildings at that time. Early into the 1900s this situation had changed and the entirety of the quadrant between George’s Street and Pembroke Street was taken over by the GPO.
Throughout the last century the GPO was a bustling hub where people availed not only of its postal service but also the telegram and telephone exchange services. During Ireland's economic resurgence of the 1960s an Evening Echo article commented that this rapid industrial expansion was making the demands on the national postal, telephonic, and telegraphic system ‘ever more exacting’ (Evening Echo, 3 March 1965, p. 3). Even back in the 1960s old forms of communications, such as the telegram, were declining in importance as they were superseded by increasing use of the telephone.
In the fifty years since the above article was written, means of communication have changed in ways that could not have been imagined back in 1963. However, some things in Cork remain much the same. Outside the GPO daily, one can still hear an aspect of life in the city which has been present for decades: the calls of the Evening Echo street sellers. The GPO continues to fulfil its role as the centre of postal services in the Cork region and it remains one of the busiest buildings in the city.