History of Shandon

‌      Thumbnail of Shandon detailed map‌                   
Detail from OSi map of Cork city modified by Housing Research Unit, School of Architecture, UCD (1980)
Click map to enlarge.

The Shandon area gets its name from 'sean dún', the Irish for old fort. Shandon is located on a hill north of a bank of the River Lee. The name suggests that there may have been a fort on the site predating the settlement of the Normans in the twelfth century. This fort, built by  the McCarthys, was probably located on the site where Shandon Castle was later built, just west of today's Firkin Crane rotund building. There was also evidence of some Viking settlement in the Shandon area. The McCarthy kings of Desmond established their residence at the old fortification or sean dún lands north of the then town/city before the arrival of the Normans in Cork in the 1170s. King Henry II granted the McCarthy kingdom of Desmond to Robert FitzStephen, who in turn granted it to his nephew Philip DeBarry, who later granted Shandon and the surrounding district to Philip de Prendergast. Shandon developed as a strategic area overlooking the walled city, to which it was connected by the North Gate Bridge. Shandon was at the crossroads of routes to Youghal in east County Cork and Mallow in north County Cork.

Shandon Castle

A church, built near the old fort, was mentioned in the decretals of Pope Innocent III in 1199 as 'St Mary of the Mountain'. Circa 1183, Philip DeBarry built a castle in Shandon which came to be known as Lord Barry’s castle or the Castle of Shandon. Shandon grew in importance after the construction of Lord Barry’s castle. Located outside the walled city of‌ Cork, and rivalling it, the community of Shandon grew in size ‌around Shandon Castle. 

 Shandon Castle 1

An early representation of Shandon Castle, from Pacata Hibernia map (1585-1600), with legend: 'ye L[ord] Barris Castell'

 ‌Shandon Castle 3

Shandon Castle from map of Cork city 1601, from the Hardiman Atlas in Trinity College, Dublin.
(Map copyright: Board of Trinity College, Dublin)

 Shandon Castle4 Shandon Castle and the nearby St Mary's Church. The Church is called 'our ladies churche' in the legend of George Carew's map of circa 1602, 'A description of the Cittie of Cork / Plan of Cork'. This is a more informative representation of Shandon Castle than in the above two maps. Both the castle and church were destroyed during the Siege of Cork in 1690. The red mudstone from the Castle ruins is said to have been used in the construction in Shandon's Church of St Anne. The baptismal font and a wall plaque, now in the vestry of St Anne's Church survive from the earlier church. This map is also from the Hardiman Atlas in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. (Map copyright: Board of Trinity College, Dublin)
Shandon castle thumb Shandon Castle illustrated from restored detail of John Carthy's plan of Cork city in 1726. By this time Shandon Castle was in ruins after a battle 36 years earlier. The site was left derelict due to fear of another attack. The castle was recorded on maps up to 1789, after which date a Dominican monastery is shown on the site. The site is currently at the south-west corner of O'Connell Square, west of and partially overlapping with todays's Firkin Crane building.

1603 Shandon Castle
A depiction of Shandon Castle and the North Gate, circa 1603   (Image courtesy of Cork Public Museum)

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Shandon Castle became the residence of the presidents of Munster and was the centre of English civil and military administration in Munster. The castle played a crucial role in the history of Cork and Munster. It was at Shandon Castle that Edmund O’Donnell, the first Jesuit priest to be executed by the English Government, was hanged for refusing to convert to Protestantism and for refusing to swear the oath of royal supremacy. Prominent historical figures such as Sir Walter Raleigh and the feared Murrogh O’Brien, the first Lord Inchquin, whose actions during the wars gave him the nickname of 'Murrough the Burner'¹ presidJames2nded in the council chamber in Shandon Castle. In 1603,  after the  death of Queen Elizabeth I, Lord Roche made the proclamation of  Kin‌g James I at Shandon Castle after the Lord Mayor and Council of Cork refused to proclaim the new king. Following the Desmond rebellions, inquisitions were held at Shandon Castle, from where the armies that defeated Hugh O’Neill and his army at Kinsale were directed. During Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland he spent Christmas of 1649 at Shandon Castle. Shandon Castle was described in 1690 as “a large round tower with 16 guns and a good entrenchment”². King James II (pictured right) held court in Shandon‌ Castle in 1688 during his time in Cork. The castle was to remain the centre of English administration in Munster until the Siege of Cork in 1690, when it was destroyed in a fire along with St Mary’s Church and much of the city. By 1750, Shandon Castle was no more than a ruin, and in 1770 the site of the castle was sold by its owner, Richard Earl of Barrymore, to Samuel Jervois from Brade near Leap in West Cork. The Dominican religious order bought the site in 1784, to construct a monastery, but during the 1840s they vacated the site. In 1852 the abandoned Dominican  monastery was bought by the Cork Committee of Merchants who constructed the Firkin Crane's iconic circular building on the former castle grounds.


J.S. Crowley, R.J.N. Devoy, D. Linehan, P. O'Flanagan, Atlas of Cork City. Cork University Press, Cork 2005, pp. 104-106. 

Tad[h]g. Lehane, My city through the ages. Cork Teachers' Centre, 1985, p. 19-20.

Richard T. Cooke, My home by the Lee. Irish Millennium Publications,Cork, 1999, pp. 192-97.

Evening Echo, 25 February 1974, p. 3.

Evening Echo, 4 March 1974, p. 5.

(1) Evening Echo, 11 March 1974, p. 5.

Cork Examiner, 26 January 1972, p. 7.

(2) Cork Walks — Shandon: A self-guided walking tour of Cork's historic Shandon district. Cork City Council, [2011].



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