The Changing Face of Cork

Cork, Ireland, is one of the 8 case studies in the CeMi project, and I recently undertook our first phase of research there. I visited the cemeteries and crematoria in and around the city, and met with key stakeholders in cemetery and funeral provision and minority and migrant communities. What became clear is that Cork is going through an interesting moment of change in regard to several issues including migration, and perhaps, death practices.

Ireland has historically been a country of emigration and the harbour of Cobh in Cork County saw over 2.5 million people leave its shores, making it the most important port for emigration in the country. But in the past two decades this has been changing. Ireland has seen a fall in emigration levels and has become a place of immigration from across the world. These two factors combined have resulted very recently in a growing population: since 2011 the population of Cork has risen, and at a faster rate than the Irish average.

Traditional Graves Saint Finnbar'scemetery Cork, Ireland
Traditional graves in St Finbarrs Cemetery, Cork’s oldest Cemetery (Photo: Danielle House)

Cork is changing in another way; in May of this year a boundary change has increased the geographical area of the local authority, and as a result the population has diversified and grown. For our project this has meant that Cork is now larger than the other case studies and the geographical area which is of interest to us has expanded. Several cemeteries that were managed by the County Council are now within City Council authority, which has had several implications such as an increased cost of plots.

Columbarium Cremation at Saint James' Cemetery, Chetwynd, Ireland
Cork’s first columbarium at St James’ Cemetery, Chetwynd (Photo: Danielle House)

Burial is by far the most common choice for interment in Ireland, with Catholic burial practices culturally the norm. But this changing city context had some interesting visible dynamics. Older inner-city and suburban cemeteries no longer have plots available. In the past decade the County Council expanded cemetery provision in mainly rural areas, and it was here that some reflection of Cork’s recent diversity was visible. These included cemeteries with Muslim sections, a Jewish section, and the city’s first columbarium, as well as diversity in names, languages, and symbolism on headstones. About 30 miles from Cork city there is now a very unique crematorium, one of still very few in Ireland.

The Changing Face of Cork City at Nano Nagle Palace in Cork, Ireland
“The Changing Face of Cork City’ exhibition at Nano Nagle Place (Photo: Danielle House)

Inspired by the boundary expansion, this summer and autumn an exhibition – ‘The Changing Face of Cork City’- took place at the cultural centre Nano Nagle Place. This photographic exhibition documented the architecture and social life of the past 75 years in the city. It felt like an opportune moment to reflect on the changes that have brought Cork to where it is today, and to look forward to what is to come for this vibrant city in the next decades.

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