Field of dreams
A stroll down the history of the Páirc.
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.