They may have been the largest in Ireland, but the city’s fire engines could not save Blackrock Castle on the night it burned down. Pat Poland explains why Cork’s fire engines were useless on the night
‘Old Blackrock Castle, with majestic
Salutes by day, and guides our
boat by night.’
So wrote local poet and lawyer Henry Bennett, alluding to the lantern on the castle that served as a beacon of comfort to the fishermen abroad on Lough Mahon in the darkness of night. Shortly after he penned those lines, however, it wasn’t the beam from the lighthouse that lit up the surrounding area, but the castle itself, for early on the morning of Tuesday, 27 February 1827, the castle burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze.
Although formal records do not begin until about the middle of the sixteenth century, there are indications that a fortification of one type or another has stood on the tiny promontory jutting out into Cork Harbour since Anglo-Norman times.
Over the years, the little ‘castle’ was further developed and strengthened to discourage potential enemies, and during the reign of King James I and VI, when the threat of a Spanish invasion had long receded, ownership of the building reverted to Cork Corporation who imposed, it must be imagined, an unwelcome tax on local fishermen towards its maintenance.
During the night, the beacon on the tower was kept fuelled by turf as a lighthouse for shipping. This probably contributed to an accidental fire which seriously damaged the building in 1720.
Following reconstruction, Blackrock Castle became the main venue for the Corporation when entertaining ‘high society’ where (British) success in distant battles with unpronounceable names was toasted, and every royal birth/ birthday/ engagement/wedding/ coronation/death, or any other half-baked excuse for a good old-fashioned ‘knees-up’, was celebrated in lavish style – at the city’s expense, needless to say.