Field of dreams

A stroll down the his­tory of the Páirc.

Irish Examiner - County - - Front page -

THE build­ing of the Cork Ath­letic Grounds was the cul­mi­na­tion of years of ef­fort by the Cork County Board.

On two pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, in 1898 and 1899 they had erected an en­clo­sure at what was to them at the time con­sid­er­able cost but each met with the same fate — torn down by a rush of spec­ta­tors who pre­ferred to risk climb­ing over the barbed-wire topped pal­ing rather than pay three­pence ad­mis­sion fee.

In the clos­ing years of the last cen­tury there had been a grow­ing de­mand for a sports sta­dium in Cork.

The Cork of those by­gone days in­cluded the Park, a vast ex­panse of open slob-land stretch­ing from Vic- to­ria Road to Black­rock and from the Ma­rina to the Boggy Road. In 1869 the Up­per Park was drained and con­verted into the Cork Park Race­course, known all over Ire­land as the pret­ti­est rac­ing venue in the South. Its last meet­ing was held on Easter Mon­day, 1917 for in that year the Up­per Park had been sold by the Cor­po­ra­tion to Henry Ford & Son of Detroit.

The County Cork Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety which flour­ished in the sec­ond half of the last cen­tury used to hold its An­nual Show in por­tion of the Race­course. In 1891 the So­ci­ety took the de­ci­sion to estab­lish a per­ma­nent Show Grounds and a com­pany, the Cork Agri­cul­tural Build­ings Co. Ltd. was formed for that pur­pose. A lease was ob­tained from the Cor­po­ra­tion for 27 acres in the Lower Park (which ex­tended from near the present-day Cen­tre Park Road to Black­rock).

The build­ings were erected and the Show Grounds en­closed. In 1908 the So­ci­ety be­came the Mun­ster Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety. On oc­ca­sion the Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety rented its grounds for ath­letic fix­tures, there was even a cy­cle track there, but hurl­ing and foot­ball were taboo.

Early in 1898 a group of Cork busi­ness­men set-up a com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the pos­si­bil­ity of es­tab­lish­ing an ath­letic grounds in the city. At that time there was talk about a rugby in­ter­na­tional be­ing staged in Cork within the next two years but there was no en­closed ground in which to hold it.

Three years ear­lier the County Board had of­fered to pay the County Cork Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety £100 a year for the use of the So­ci­ety’s grounds on Sun­days only but, ac­cord­ing to County Sec­re­tary Tom Doo­ley “... the So­ci­ety hedged with re­stric­tions and clauses of all sorts in­clud­ing that no drink should be sold on the grounds, so the Board was pre­vented from get­ting the grounds by the peo­ple who posed as strict Sab­batar­i­ans”.

The idea of form­ing a com­pany to pro­vide an en­closed ath­letic grounds in the vicin­ity of the city which would be avail­able for all classes of sport caught on and the County Board showed en­thu­si­asm for it but in­ter­minable de­lays and frus­tra­tions ac­ti­vated the Board into mak­ing a move of their own.

They set-up their own com­mit­tee, the nec­es­sary per­mis­sion was ob­tained for a plot of ground in the Park, a con­tract was placed with a builder, Wil­liam Flem­ing of Anne Street and by early July of 1898 an en­clo­sure had been erected in the Park.

Four County Cham­pi­onship games were fixed for the new venue that day, the first at 11.30am but al­though they worked on that Sun­day the builder and his men were not able to fin­ish the grounds un­til af­ter mid­day.

Three of the four games were played there but the big day was to come at the end of the month when Cork and Tip­per­ary were sched­uled to meet in the Mun­ster Cham­pi­onship semi-fi­nals in the Park.

Ac­tion from the 1968 Hurl­ing County Cham­pi­onship game be­tween Sars­fields and Pas­sage West at Cork Ath­letic Grounds.

Cork for­wards Si­mon Murphy and Liam McAuliffe mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for the Kilkenny de­fence in a 1968 chal­lenge match.

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