Our notions of what constitute a historical site can be limited, and limiting. As Shane Faherty has previously shown here on The Dustbin, landscape and memory intersect in remarkable fashions. Following on from this, I am going to consider the interaction of landscape and memory of a football ground in the heart of Cork. Since I moved to my current residence in Cork, I have been closer than ever to two of the city’s most active sports grounds – Musgrave Park, Munster’s second home and Turner’s Cross, home ground of League of Ireland football club, Cork City. Being so close to both, I take advantage regularly and watch games at both grounds. Turner’s Cross is a particularly interesting football ground so here’s a look at how the ground has changed, both physically and in usage, over the years.
There was a time, before the First World War, when to play football ‘at the Cross’ in Cork meant something rather different than it does today. Prior to the outbreak of that war, football’s home in Cork was the grounds at Victoria Cross, rather than those which are now the home of Cork City Football Club at Turner’s Cross. This ground at Victoria Cross was in use from about 1909 when a team calling themselves Cork City opened the ground – Victoria Cross would continue to be used right into the 1920s, often for big games, like when Cahir Park of Tipperary were beaten by Cork Bohemians 2-1 in front of a crowd of roughly 6,000 in the Munster Senior Cup final.
John Bale’s work Landscapes of Modern Sport identified ten views of the sports landscape including viewing them as artifacts, history, and place. His work along with that of Simon Inglis’ on the football grounds of Britain have previously shown the deep historical layers of the football ground – as a place of history and memory in its own right as well as one that is a part of the historical process of modernisation; you need only think of the impact on surrounding areas in the wake of a grounds’ construction. Mike Cronin and Roisín Higgins contend that sporting grounds require a rethink with regards to heritage – its is not merely a matter of built heritage, but for many sports grounds they suggest ‘are important for the games that were played there, the historical forces that shaped them and the people who played and watched.’¹Above in the very first picture, we can see Turner’s Cross before it became a football ground, where it is simply a recreation ground with a cycling track around it. Initially it was used by rugby club, Cork Constitution, who had been founded as a cricket team for staff of the Unionist newspaper by editor Henry Laurence Tivy in 1892 and who took up rugby in the winter months to maintain their fitness. At the same time as it was being used for rugby it was also being used for GAA. For instance in 1901, the Freeman’s Journal reported of a match between Constitution and Cork on April 6th that was witnessed by some 2,000 spectators, while a Gaelic football match between two representative sides of Cork and Tipperary had been reported by the same newspaper back on January 15th the same year. It would take some time before this ground was changed into anything resembling the football ground that exists there today, before it could become the kind of football ground where in the words of JB Priestley, you pushed through the turnstiles ‘into another and altogether more splendid kind of life.’
Even after the period 1914-1921 in which the demographic make up of football in Cork changed considerably, with the haemorraghing of its military base, Turner’s Cross was not necessarily the premier soccer ground in the city – as it had been previously, it was used by a variety of sports. For example in the space of a fortnight in September of 1923 it was used, according to reports in the Irish Independent for both hurling and soccer matches. UCC’s Mardyke grounds would for many years also be an important site of football in the city, with many clubs playing their football there, including Cork’s first League of Ireland club, Fordson’s. As it happens when this club became Cork FC in the 1930s they played games in both the Mardyke and also at Turner’s Cross. For instance, that ground was used for a rare home international in 1939 that took place outside of Dublin, as Ireland took on Hungary. John A. Murphy notes in his history of the Mardyke, Where Finbarr Played, that football was one sport that managed to see an interaction as it were between ‘town and gown’ when soccer was played at the Mardyke, as when Cork’s League of Ireland sides was Cork Athletic.² As well as the Mardyke, another ground, this one in the Ballintemple area of Cork, was also an important football ground: Flower Lodge.³
Flower Lodge, at one time home to Cork Hibernians is no more, instead it it is now Pairc Uí Rinn, the second home of GAA in Cork after the much larger Pairc Uí Chaoimh and named for Cork’s most famous hurling son, Christy Ring. During the 1970s when Cork Hibs were at their height, there were two big sides in the city, the others being Cork Celtic whose home was in Turner’s Cross, who made it their home from 1959 to 1979. The new Cork club, Cork City FC founded in 1984 played their football in Flower Lodge until the owners of the ground, the AOH, sold it which saw Cork City move to Turner’s Cross in 1986.
Now with only one senior team playing in the League of Ireland, football in Cork did eventually settle in its home of Turner’s Cross. And so as well as being the home of Cork City FC, it is also the home of the Munster Football Association, the regional body in charge of the game in the province and organisers of the Munster Senior Cup, Munster Junior Cup and the Munster Senior League.
Brilliant rare footage of Turner’s Cross as it was in the 1970s is available to us through In My Book We’re Ahead, an RTÉ production that followed Dublin football club, Shelbourne FC, during the 1975 season (see especially 7:00 to 10:30 in the video below):
Of course, the ground is rather different today to how it appears in the documentary and has gone through many structural changes since the early 2000s. As you can see from these two aerial shots below, even in a five year period the ground changed considerably – seating was installed in the ‘away’ end, behind the left-hand goal as we are looking at it here, and as well as the main Donie Forde stand being roofed, so too now was the smaller stand on the opposite side of the pitch, even though the ‘Shed End’ remained intact.
The Shed too though would change after 2005, covering as it does now the whole of that end of the ground:
More recent improvements to the ground include the building of a roof on the away end so that now all four stands in the ground have roofs. Of course, that is only part of the story – the structural story of the grounds development from the recreational origins and its cycling track to what it is now. It has another story of development too – a more personal, qaulitative one that is harder to pin down – one of memories – of sporting triumph and tragedy which is much harder to track than any structural changes. My own memories of Turner’s Cross vary – Waterford United’s 3-2 victory over Cork City in the 2011 season stands as one of my most enduring and treasured, but I have also enjoyed many nights where I can cheer on Cork City quite untroubled by the implications, since the outcome in no way affects my support for Waterford United or their own progress in Irish football. Through this I finally understand Nick Hornby’s feelings toward football in Oxford when he was a student, away from his beloved Arsenal in Fever Pitch.
An anatomy of a football ground is one thing from the outside and of course another from the inside – inside the ground there is on match day the colour and noise of the Shed End and the colour and noise of the Family Enclosure with their flags, trumpets, and drums, the power of the floodlights, such a feature of Irish football now, bearing down on the pitch. Turner’s Cross too has a slightly raised pitch, and slightly sank stands, so that you always feel close to the action no matter where in the ground you are. The story of Turner’s Cross and its varied usage is a perfect example of how an Irish sports grounds can offer a way into our complex historical and sporting heritage, where different sporting and political traditions were played and played out on the same blades of grass, surrounded by the same banks of earth, echoing from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.
¹ Cronin, Mike and Roisín Higgins, Places We Play: Ireland’s Sporting Heritage, Cork: The Collins Press, 2011, p.84
² Murphy, John A., Where Finbarr Played: A Concise Illustrated History of Sport in University College, Cork 1911-2011, Cork: UCC 2011, pp.100-117 for a full rundown of the links between soccer, the Mardyke and UCC.
³ For a comprehensive history of the move from Flower Lodge to Turner’s Cross see Carter, Plunkett, From the Lodge to the Box, available in the Cork City Library’s Local Studies Room.