County Cork

Named after the city of Cork (Corcaigh),  the largest and southernmost Irish county is also the second most populous. “The Rebel County” got its nickname from the support given by the townsmen of Cork in 1491 to Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne of England during the Wars of the Roses; in addition, it played a leading role in the War of Independence (1919–1921) when it was the scene of most of the fighting; and was an anti-treaty stronghold during the Civil War (1922–23). Cork people are notoriously enthusiastic in praising their own county, especially when away from home and / or are speaking to people of other counties, and even sometimes refer to it as the “People’s Republic of Cork“. 

County Cork History


Much of what is now County Cork was once part of the Kingdom of Deas Mumhan (South Munster), anglicised as “Desmond”, long ruled by the MacCarthy Mór dynasty. After the C12th Norman invasion, the MacCarthy clan were pushed westward into what is now West Cork and County Kerry. The north and east of the territory were taken by the Hiberno-Norman FitzGerald dynasty, who became the Earls of Desmond. Cork City was given a Royal Charter in 1318 and for many centuries was an outpost for Old English culture.


The Fitzgerald dynasty was destroyed in the Desmond Rebellions of 1569–1573 and 1579–8, when fighting devastated much of the territory.


The Nine Year War ended with the decisive Battle of Kinsale in December 1601, and County Cork was officially created by a division of the older County Desmond in 1606. Much of the territory was soon colonised by English settlers in the Plantation of Munster, partly masterminded by the entrepeneur Richard Boyle, aka “the Great Earl” of Cork.


C19th Cork was a an important source of popular support for both the IRB / Fenian movement and for the constitutional nationalism of the Irish Parliamentary Party.


The War of Independence (1919–1921) saw large scale guerrilla activity throughout the county, with three Cork IRA Brigades operating in rural areas and another in the city. Prominent actions included the Kilmichael Ambush in November 1920 and the Crossbarry Ambush in March 1921. In December 1920 the centre of Cork city was razed to the ground by the British Black & Tans,  as were many other towns and villages around the county.


During the Civil War (1922–23), most of the IRA units in Cork sided against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. From July to August 1922 they held the city and county as part of the so called Munster Republic. However, Cork was taken by troops of the Irish Free State in August 1922 in an offensive that included both overland and seaborne attacks. For the remainder of the war, the county saw sporadic guerrilla fighting until the Anti-Treaty side called a ceasefire and dumped their arms in May 1923.


Michael Collins, a key figure in the War of Independence, was born near Clonakilty and assassinated during the civil war in Béal na Bláth, both in West Cork.

 The activity of IRA flying columns, such as the one under Tom Barry in west Cork, was popularised in the Ken Loach film The Wind That Shakes The Barley.

Cork County Council’s Coat of Arms


In May 1899 Mr. Robert Day was appointed by the Council to select the most appropriate design for the seal of Cork County Council from sixty-five submissions.

The winning entry was from Guy and Company Limited, Cork and is described as follows:

The design contains within the trefoil shape the shields of four ancient boroughs corporate, Youghal, Kinsale, Bandon and Cork, the latter occupying the central position as the chief city of the province, and which gives its name to the county. In the angles of the trefoil are placed the shields of three of the less important towns within the jurisdiction of the County Council. The whole enclosed in circular form, the upper part bearing the title and at the bottom the year of institution. The raised outer rim is composed of a running border of shamrocks. Celtic ornament is introduced into the sunk trefoil shape.


The three towns not mentioned are Castlemartyr, Charleville and Midleton, all of which had been boroughs corporate prior to the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840. Clonakilty had also been a chartered borough but surprisingly never had a shield or coat of arms and this perhaps explains its omission.


(Image & Info – Heraldry of the World)

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