The centre of Cork city is built on marshy islands in the tidal estuary of the river Lee. Channels of the river originally separated these islands, and some of these channels were spanned in the eighteenth century to form the principal streets of Cork city centre. Among these is Saint Patrick's Street. The position and general shape of the street is clearly visible in the very first plan of Cork city, dating from circa 1545.
Following the Siege of Cork in 1690 and the partial destruction of the medieval city walls, the city expanded in the area outside the old walled city. Maps of 1690 and 1714 show some structures on the island on the northern side of the present St. Patrick's Street and a bowling green to the south. By 1726 considerable developments had taken place on both sides of the river channel. Carty's map of that year shows present-day French Church Street and Bowling Green Street. On the map, French Church Street is named as French Church Lane. French Church Street was named after the church established in 1712 by the Hugenots who immigrated to Ireland, from France, in the late seventeenth century. Many Hugenots left France at the time as a result of religious persecution.
By 1750, the streetscape on both sides of the channel began to assume a recognisably modern form. Carey's Lane, French Church Street, Bowling Green Street and Drawbridge Street are still all shown on the northern side of the channel. On the southern side of the channel, what later became Prince's Street, is shown with two names: the section from St. Patrick's Street to Oliver Plunkett Street is named Presbyterian Meeting House Lane, while the section from Oliver Plunkett Street to the Mall is named Playhouse Lane. The outlines of Marlborough Street and Cork Street are shown but the streets are not named. A drawbridge, spanning the channel from Drawbridge Street to the opposite side of St. Patrick's Street, is also shown.
Most authorities agree that St. Patrick's Street was formed in 1783. It is not shown on Rocque's map of 1774 but there are entries for the street in Lucas' directory of 1787. During the 1780s many of the streets that now form the city centre of Cork were formed by the spanning of the river channels between the islands of the Lee.
Sample of tidal waterway under city-centre streets. Most of these waterways were culverted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This old waterway was exposed near the junction of St.Patrick's Street and Grand Parade during pavement refurbishment in February 2005.
During the late eighteenth century and the opening years of the nineteenth, the North and South Main Street Streets still formed the commerical hub of Cork city. It wasn't until the 1820s that Saint Patrick's Street began to assume its role as the principal commerical centre of the city. A comparison of directory entries for Saint Patrick's Street for 1810 and 1824 indicates the increasing commercial importance of the street. The opening of the first Saint Patrick's Bridge in 1789 helped the development of the street by providing an approach from the northern suburbs. The revival of trade and commerce in Cork in the eighteenth century provided a great social and commercial boost to the city. The area to the east of the old city walls became increasingly important commercially. The development of the Grand Parade, the South Mall, and the streets running off Saint Patrick's Street, which were much wider and more suitable for commercial development than the narrow lanes adjoining the Main Street, all helped to shift the commercial centre of the city to the east of the areas around the Main Street. Saint Patrick's Street was the natural centre of this development.
Source: London Illustrated News
Former Saint Patrick's Bridge (1789-1853), with damage caused by flood of 2 November 1853
Source: National Library of Ireland
St. Patrick's Bridge, circa 1910 (built 1859)