Cork: Merchant City Online Exhibition

About Cork > Cork: Merchant Princes > Cork City & County Archives

In the 17th and 18th centuries the city expanded beyond its walls, developing a new commercial area centred on St. Patrick’s Street. Industry and trade also increased, with the butter and provisions trade being particularly important. In the late 18th century new brewing and distilling concerns were established, using the water power to be found on the River Lee as well as its tributaries the Glen, Bride and Glasheen rivers. Other manufacturing industries also developed, particularly textiles such as woollen, cotton and linen production. The nearby village of Douglas had a large sailcloth industry from the early 18th century. The 19th and 20th centuries saw somewhat uneven commercial and industrial success as some companies struggled to cope with changing times. The prosperity seen during the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 and the Great Famine of 1845-1850 dealt a further blow to the country. After the famine, the population of Ireland declined for over a century, making an impact on economic development. The population of Cork city showed an overall increase in the 19th century, rising from about 57,000 in 1800 to 76,000 in 1900. During this time the main commercial centre developed to include a wide range of shops and other services. By the mid-20th century many of the traditional industries and shops were struggling for survival in the face of changing economic circumstances. As the century came to a close, new chemical, technology and service industries were replacing the older firms. At the same time, national and international retail companies were making an impact in the commercial world. As the city expanded from the 1990s, it saw a new entrepreneurs and immigrants making their impact on the life of the area. Throughout this period the role of merchants has been central not only to commercial development, but also to the civic, social, religious, educational and artistic life of Cork. This project explores and celebrates this aspect of the history of Cork, using a selection of sources drawn from the rich and varied collection of the Cork City and County Archives.

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