The uniquely-designed Firkin Crane building, part of a complex housing the former Cork Butter Market in O'Connell Square, was built on the grounds of Shandon Castle. The site of Shandon Castle was purchased by the Dominican Order in 1784 where they built a Convent and Chapel. The Dominicans remained there until the 1840s, when they moved to the present Dominican monastery on Pope's Quay. The former Dominican site was acquired by the Cork Committee of Merchants in 1852, after which they demolished the Dominican convent and chapel. The present rotunda-shaped Firkin Crane premises, designed by John Benson, opened in August 1855 as part of an extension to the Cork Butter Market premises. The circular design enabled rainfall from the roof and gutters to be collected by a series of chutes. This water was then used to wash the firkins. The Danish word firkin ('vierde' = fourth) means a quarter barrel. A butter firkin had a capacity of nine gallons or eighty pounds in weight. The firkins were tarred and then weighed on a large balance called a 'crane', the firkin crane. In this building the tare and weight of the casks were branded on the firkins, which had to be watertight for overseas export. When the Firkin Crane premises were commissioned, the main butter-exchange buildings nearby were largely focused on quality inspection and control. The map detail on the left shows the location of the Firkin Crane on the 1913 Ordnance Survey map.
Firkin Crane viewed from Shandon belfry
After the closure of most of the butter market in 1924, James Daly and Sons continued to produce margarine in the Firkin Crane building until it ceased production in 1979. The rotunda was subsequently purchased by the Arts Council to refurbish it as a venue for the Irish National Ballet. The building, however, was destroyed by fire on 6 July 1980 (see picture on right). After the fire, the Irish National Ballet Trust Fund was set up, chaired by former Taoiseach Jack Lynch who was from the Shandon area, to raise funds for the refurbishment of the premises. The restored building was opened by Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in April 1992 and now houses the Institute of Choreography and Dance.
Colin Rynne. At the sign of the cow: the Cork butter market, 1770-1924. Collins Press, Cork, pp. 55 & 101.
Richard T. Cooke, My home by the Lee. Irish Millennium Publications, Cork, 1999, p. 197.
Cork Examiner, 'Life Extra' supplement, 19 January 1994, p. 2.
The people's North Parish pilgrimage: a souvenir publication. Typing Times Publishing House, Cork, 2000, p. 13.
Peter Foynes, Walking Shandon: A guide to Cork's historic heart, Cork Butter Museum, 2007, p. 12.