Elizabeth Fort, Cork

The city of Cork stands on the river Lee at the point where it empties into Cork Harbour, a large natural harbour that became an important naval anchorage. In medieval times the town was ringed by stone walls and had a castle for defence. At the end of the 16th century the English conquered Ireland and the first artillery fortifications were built at Cork. Sir George Carew, who fought in the Irish wars, was appointed president of Munster and ordered the construction of a new fort on the high ground to the south of the city. This point dominated the city and was no doubt chosen so that the fort could be a means to control the population.

Built in 1601, the new fort was named Elizabeth Fort after Queen Elizabeth I of England. The fort was built of earth and timber, roughly rectangular in shape. It was built around an existing church, which was initially left standing but was later demolished. There were several small bastions on the east and west sides of the fort and an angled front on the south side with a recessed demi-lune. The entrances were on the north and west sides.

This first fort was short-lived, since it was damaged in 1603 when the citizens of Cork rioted in protest at the accession of James I of England. The unrest was soon quelled and the fort was later repaired at the town's expense. In 1626 Elizabeth Fort was rebuilt in stone, on a square plan with four bastions. The gate was on the east side of the fort, the entrance crossing a demi-lune. The whole fort was surrounded by a dry ditch. Around 1650, at the time of Cromwell's conquest of Ireland (linked to the English Civil Wars), a curved redan was added to the north side of the fort, forming an artillery platform overlooking the town. The town was held by the Royalists until 1650, when the garrison defected to the Parliamentarians.

Elizabeth Fort saw action in 1690. In 1688 William of Orange landed in England and overthrew King James II, who fled to France. Whilst England welcomed William, most of Ireland remained loyal to James. In 1689 James, seeking to regain his throne, came to Ireland with an army of French soldiers. However in 1690 William arrived in Ireland and fought against James. A force under the Duke of Marlborough attacked Cork in October. The Williamite forces set up batteries to pound the fort as well as the town walls. The attackers posted men in the spire of Saint Finbarre's cathedral, which stood just to the west of Fort Elizabeth. These soldiers could shoot down into the fort and they succeeded in killing the commandant. Soon the town walls (still medieval) were breached and the garrison could not resist for long, surrendering the town and Fort Elizabeth after a siege of just four days.

Elizabeth Fort was garrisoned throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and saw some minor improvements over the years. In 1801 it was given a new wall on the south side, which faces away from the city. The new wall removed the flanking capability of the bastions either side, but provided more space inside the fort. The first half of the 19th century also saw the reconstruction of the gateway and a new barrack block. In the 1890s breech-loading guns were installed facing over the city. This was probably prompted by the Irish nationalism that was present in the area.

After Irish independence the fort was burnt in 1922, during the Civil War. For the rest of the 20th century it was used a police (Garda) station.

Visiting Elizabeth Fort, Cork

Elizabeth Fort was occupied by the Irish police (Garda) until 2013. Since then, the fort has been handed to council, who intend to develop it as a tourist attraction. Although the interior has been rebuilt several times, some of the exterior walls date to the 17th century and it is easy to appreciate its original form. There are also some excellent views over the Cork.

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