Cork 1920 – The Burning of a City


A new free-entry exhibition on the burning of Cork by the British forces in 1920 will run in St Peter’s Cork on North Main Street until the end of the year.


In 1920 Cork city was at the heart of the escalating violence of the War of Independence. The banning of Dáil Eireann on 11 September 1919 and subsequent suppression of the Irish Volunteers, Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan closed off avenues for political agitation. When IRA GHQ officially sanctioned offensive action against Crown forces from 1 January 1920, the scene was set for full-scale guerrilla war.


The assault on Carrigtwohill RIC barracks on 3 January 1920 was followed by five more barrack attacks in County Cork in February 1920. By August 1920 when the British Government introduced the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, almost half of all the police stations in Ireland had been vacated. British counterinsurgency measures included augmenting the police force and a campaign of unofficial reprisals. Attacks on property peaked in November–December 1920, when 180 such incidents were recorded, climaxing in the ‘Burning of Cork’ on 11–12 December 1920. Large parts of Cork City, including City Hall and the Carnegie Library, were destroyed by Auxiliaries in reaction to the death of one of their comrades in an ambush by the IRA at Dillon’s Cross earlier that day. As Michael Hopkinson notes, ‘the incendiarism of the crown forces was no doubt also an expression of their frustration at the recent success of the IRA at Kilmichael and the generally increased tensions in Cork City following the death of Terence MacSwiney.’


Funded by Cork City Council, the exhibition is a collaborative effort between LW Management Group, bigO creative agency and System Plus. Historical advisors Historians Gerry White and UCC’s John Borgonovo acted as historical advisors. According to Gerry White:

“In 1920, the people of Cork were participating in the birth of a new nation, set against the backdrop of the collapse of empires that occurred at the end of the first World War. The exhibition here in St Peter’s, will serve as a reminder of that important chapter in our history and of the huge debt of gratitude we owe those who came before us.’


The exhibition features text, photography, quotes and maps giving visitors St Peters Cork a chance to see, hear and – in some cases feel – the events of a century ago. Photographs, text and images are projected onto fabric panels hanging from the ceiling. Two individual audio-visual boxes which help heighten the visitor experience and encourages further connection with the subject matter in one of the most dramatic spaces in Cork city centre. The fully immersive experiences include witness testimonies from a 1960 documentary on the Burning of Cork and a dedication to Rebel Women. Officially opening the exhibition, Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr John Sheehan paid tribute to the team at St Peter’s Cork for their creative approach in compiling the exhibition. Cllr Sheehan said:

“We commemorate these events as a city, not merely to remember them, and certainly not to rake over old wounds, but rather to learn from those men and women of that era, whose vision and sacrifice gave our generation and generations to follow, the freedom we now take for granted.”


Cork 1920 will be in residence throughout the year and St. Peter’s will also host dedicated 1920-themed gatherings and talks in addition to innovative ‘out of home’ installations with city partners. If you would like to know more about Cork 1920 – The Burning of a City, you can follow the link here.

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