400 Years of Elizabeth Fort in a Snapshot

Aerial View of star-shaped Elizabeth Fort in Cork City

Throughout history Elizabeth Fort has stood strong, performing like a well-read history book, encapsulating tales and stories from Ireland’s past..  Early in 1590, Elizabeth I ordered the construction of forts for the protection of Ireland’s main port towns, including Cork.    In 1601 George Carew, who was Lord President of Munster, initiated the building of the original Elizabeth Fort on the spur of rock overlooking Cork on the south side of the River Lee.  The location represents a microcosm of significant Irish events with its legacies including surviving the Siege of Cork (1690), the Great Famine (1845 – 1852), the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921), the Irish Civil War (1922 – 1923) and the Second World War (1939 – 1945).

Most recently, in its final days in the ownership of the Office of Public Works (OPW) , it was used as a Garda Station and Barracks.  With the closure of the Garda station, the Fort was formally passed from OPW into the care of Cork City Council.

Elizabeth Fort is a 17th Century star shaped fort. Originally built as a defensive fortification outside the city walls, the city eventually grew around the fort and it took on various other roles – including use as a military barracks, prison and Garda station.

The fort was built after the Battle of Kinsale, in 1601 by Sir George Carew, the then President of Munster. Named for Queen Elizabeth I, it served as both a defensive structure and a symbol of English authority in Cork. The original fort was built of timber, stone and earth.

This first structure did not last long. After the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 the people of Cork refused to acknowledge the crowning of James I. The citizens, fearing the fort being used against them, destroyed it and seized the guns within. It was not long however before Lord Mountjoy and his forces seized the city and forced the citizens to rebuild the fort at their own expense.

The fort was rebuilt in stone in 1624-1626. It was at this time that the fort became star-shaped and is largely the same layout today.

Following on from the Cromwellian conquest in the mid-seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have made several defensive alterations to the fort, primarily making the ramparts higher.

During the Williamite War in Ireland, Cork became a Jacobite stronghold after the Battle of the Boyne. During the Siege of Cork in 1690 and after a week of bombardment, the city walls were breached and Elizabeth Fort surrendered.

In 1719 a military barracks was built in the fort. At this time the ramparts were thinned to provide additional space required to accommodate the soldiers. These barracks were closed in 1806 and from 1817-1837 was put to use as a convict depot for prisoners awaiting transportation and later, as a food depot during the Great Famine.

During the Irish War of Independence 1919-21 Elizabeth Fort is used as a base for auxiliary forces brought in by Britain to fight against the Irish Republican Army. In the succeeding Irish Civil War, the buildings within the fort were burned down by anti-treaty forces but the walls of the fort remained.

In 1929 a new Garda station was built within the fort. This is one of the first building projects of the Free State Government in Cork. These buildings survive today and were in use as a Garda station until 2013.

During the Second World War, an Air-raid shelter was built within the fort for protection from possible bombings.