The Renovation of the Oldest Documented Surviving Building in Cork City
The building of the Unitarian Church in what is now Princes Street, took place between 1710 – 1717. The site chosen for the new church was an area in the marshy valley where the river Lee splits to form an island of marshland that is the heart of Cork city today. The name “Cork” comes from the Gaelic word ‘Corcaigh’ which means “marsh.”
To establish a foundation, boat loads of stones were ferried to the site, and the work of laying a foundation took five years (1710-1715). The building was erected between 1715-1717 and the first service was held in the New Meeting House on Sunday 4th August 1717. This new meetinghouse replaced an earlier medieval church in Watergate Lane; which had become too small for the growing congregation. This is the oldest place of worship in Cork City, and the church continues to be used as a Unitarian place of worship to the present day. The Deed of Trust for the Cork Church states as its object:- the worship of God .. .” without specifying a denomination or a specific creed.
It is a characteristic early 18th century auditory church, in what has been called the ‘theatre in the barn’ style commonly used by non-conformist or dissenter religious groups where the large congregation (which could number over 1000 people) required to be able to hear the preacher or clergyman and not just follow a ritual from a distance. Therefore it is organized as a square with seating for the congregation at ground and gallery level on three sides facing the preacher or clergyman. Interesting architectural features include the great gabled steeply pitched roof, the oval windows with limestone surrounds on the ground and first floors. The pews and the organ (one of the oldest church organs in Ireland) were removed from the church over 10 years ago. At one time the congregation had about one thousand members, but for a variety of reasons – principally 19th century emigration – numbers have declined, and we are now left with a small but vibrant congregation.
We are determined to restore this beautiful building so that it continues to be a part of the spiritual and cultural fabric of Cork City.
The restoration of Princes Street Church is a huge undertaking but we are determined to succeed. During 2010 the Cork congregation has recovered some of the record books dating from 1717. The Baptism Record has been transcribed onto an Excel spreadsheet and is now available online.