Corkâ€™s Custom House Quay,
A Thundering Disgrace.
The Bonded Warehouse at Custom House Quay was built in 1820 (by prison labour) specifically for use as a Bonded Warehouse. It is one of two such warehouses remaining in the world & the only one that is still being used to fulfill its original function.
It has been a predominant building in Cork since that time and was the focal point of Port activities that consolidated Corkâ€™s prominence as a City and international trading centre.
It is also the oldest building that is left in this City with historical links to Corkâ€™s maritime past & as such is rightly & correctly classified as a listed heritage structure
However through neglect this important structure is in jeopardy.
Due to its prominence for almost 200 years the Bonded Warehouse has externally been well known to the citizens of Cork, however its very purpose has precluded knowledge of the structural beauty of the inside of the building.
The ground floor is constructed of individual barrel vaults
The second floor accessed through 4 stone spiral stairwells â€“ 2 on the North quay and two on the South â€“ opens into vast storage areas with flag stone floors and beautiful brick built vaulted ceilings
The top floor is an open area running the length of the building with a wooden floor and the ancient timber trusses that support the roof.
The Harbour Commissioners were granted a 999 year lease on the whole site at Custom House Quay early in the last century.
In 1918 they granted a 99 year lease on the Bonded Warehouse to Cork Bonded Warehouse. Included in that lease was a provision that, if called upon to do so by the head landlord, the tenant should affect repairs and maintenance to the Bonded Warehouse buildings.
The Harbour Commissioners were later incorporated as the Port of Cork, which ostensibly is a corporation. However closer inspection at Companyâ€™s House reveals that its shareholders are the Ministers of Marine & Environment.
It would therefore seem that the ultimate ownership of the Port of Cork is vested in the State.
Curiously though despite the Bonded Warehouse being a listed structure, which by definition should ensure its preservation within Irelandâ€™s architectural heritage, this generation of the Stateâ€™s custodians seem to be allowing that heritage to slip to the detriment of our future generations.
The external evidence is plain to witness:
â€¢ A listed section of the warehouse at the Eastern end was allowed to deteriorate to such a degree that it now no longer exists
â€¢ The Linneys on the North quay are no longer there, whilst those on the South quay are almost in a state of collapse.
â€¢ It canâ€™t have missed the CEO of the Port of Cork that, in a direct line of sight from the his office window, there is a tree growing out of the SW roof parapet
â€¢ The walls, windows, doors and roof display evidence of generations of neglect.
Internally the situation is as bad:
â€¢ The roof is leaking and the ingress of water is damaging the wooden flooring, but more dangerously the wooden trusses supporting the roof and therefore the whole buildings integrity.
â€¢ The wooden stairwell at the Western end is destroyed by the depth of guano
secreted by generations of birds roosting within the building.
The Port of Cork has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders (ie the Ministers of State & by extension the Irish People) to safeguard & maintain the assets within their remit
Why then is it that these custodians of our heritage have not, in almost 90 years,
exercised their right under the sub-lease & implemented a schedule of dilapidations on their tenants to safeguard & maintain the asset?
Perhaps the intention is that this last remaining structure of Corkâ€™s maritime heritage be allowed to slip into decrepitude so that it can be sacrificed without comment on the altars of short-term financial gain & political expediency, but ONLY if the people of Cork & its City fathers allow them to get away with it by tacitly allowing it to happen.
The Bonded Warehouse has been an important part of our Cityâ€™s growth & prominent in its architectural landscape for almost 200 years â€“ ask yourself this
â€˜In 200 years time will our descendants be marveling at the architectural integrity or contribution of most of the junk built in the past 10 years e.g. Victoria Mills, Merchants Quay SC? Itâ€™s doubtful â€“ in fact itâ€™s doubtful that any one of them will survive the century.
But unless we safeguard this part of our heritage, and do so now, itâ€™s doubtful that the Bonded Warehouse will last another decade.
Our elected representatives at City Hall have at their disposal the instruments to secure our Heritage; whether they have the conviction & will to instruct their (& by extension our) employee, the un-elected City Manager, to do so will be their abiding testament to this City &. Itâ€™s future generations.