DANIEL CORKERY – TEACHER, WRITER, CORKMAN
Updated: Sep 21, 2019
Figure 1: Daniel Corkery.
Daniel Corkery was born on Valentine’s Day 1878 in Gardiner’s Hill, on the northside of Cork City. The family home was just a stone’s throw from the original site of St. Patrick’s Boys school where some thirty years later he was to teach and leave a lasting legacy on some Cork’s finest literary and visual artists.
Figure 3: William Roe's sketch of Gardiner's Hill, showing the house Corkery was born in perched at the top of the hill.
The third of five children, Daniel was born with a bone deformity which left one leg shorter than the other, and a stutter, which in due course he cured by self-discipline.
Figure 2: Birth Certificate for Daniel Corkery.
Daniel had two older brothers, William born in 1874 and Edward born in 1876. His two younger siblings were Maryanne (known as Mary) born in 1880 and Richard in 1882. Sometime between the last two births, the family moved from Gardiner’s Hill to Needham Place. The years between 1882 and 1884 were to prove a turbulent period for the Corkery family. In 1882 when Daniel was just four years old, his father William, a carpenter, contracted phthisis. The following year, Richard, the youngest child, just short of his first birthday and some months later in January 1884, William Corkery died aged only 35.
Figure 4: Death Certificate for William Corkery (note address is 11 Needham Place).
Daniel’s mother, Mary, whose maiden name was Barron, ‘moved to 31 Barrack Street where she kept a shop and brought up her four surviving children’. By 1901, the family had moved back to the northside of Cork City and are recorded on the 1901 census living in house 91, Rathmore Buildings. Also residing with the Corkerys was Catherine (Kitty) Byrne, who although described as a servant on the 1901 census, must have been an honoury member of the family as she was connected to the household for many years prior to the census. In fact, Kitty was present at Mary’s birth in 1880.
Figure 5: Marriage certificate for William Corkery and Mary Barron.
Figure 6: 1901 Census, Corkery Family living in Rathmore Buildings.
Education, Teaching and the Arts
Daniel was educated at the Presentation Brothers’ South Monastery School, where he won a scholarship and became a monitor. The earliest form of primary teacher training was based on the monitorial apprenticeship model. In this system, older pupils, usually between twelve and fourteen years of age remained at primary school as monitors, where they assisted the master/mistress. In addition to teaching, Daniel began writing, publishing articles in The Leader under the pen name Lee. He also began painting and in 1908 he was the ‘moving spirit’ of the Cork Dramatic Society, where he came in contact with Terence MacSwiney and Lennox Robinson. The society’s first production was The Embers by Corkery and was held at a small Gaelic League hall, the Dun, in Queen Street (now Father Mathew Street).
Figure 7: Cork Dramatric Society with Terence MacSwiney (middle, front row) and Daniel Corkery (far right, front row).
Figure 8: Programme from Cork Dramatic Society Production.
In 1913, Daniel transferred to St. Patrick’s Boys school, and had a profound effect on the boys. ‘One day an assistant came who made an immediate impression on my imagination.’ The boy in question was Michael O’Donovan, later known as Frank O’Connor. In his autobiography, An Only Child, O’Connor vividly describes Corkery, creating a very clear picture for the reader. ‘He was a small man with a lame leg … and had a violent temper … with a small, round head … a baby complexion on which a small dark moustache and the shadow of a beard looked as inappropriate as they would have done on a small boy.’ O’Connor also mentions his voice which was the ‘queerest part of him, because it had practically no modulation; each syllable emerged, harshly articulated and defined, with no perceptible variation of pitch, as though it was being cut of with a bacon slicer’. This, as previously mentioned, was as a result of Corkery’s determination to eradicate his stutter. In fact, Frank O’Connor was so taken with Corkery; he imitated his articulation and limp.
Another student to come under the tutelage of Corkery at St. Patrick’s, was eight year old Seamus Murphy. Corkery must have recognised the talent of Murphy, as later in 1965 Seamus Murphy wrote that he observed his teacher painting, and Murphy himself began copying. ‘Corkery started to take an interest in me then, and later suggested that I go t the School of Art’.
Figure 9: Daniel Corkery painting.
Corkery taught in St Patrick's School until 1921 when he was refused the headmastership. According to Murphy, ‘a new headmaster had been appointed over Corkery’s head because of Corkery’s politics, but at that time I did not know what politics were.’
Following Corkery’s departure from St. Patrick’s, he then taught art for the local technical education committee, before becoming inspector of Irish in 1925. In 1929 Corkery obtained a Masters in Arts and two years later he was appointed Professor of English at University College Cork. It is at that time that he and his sister moved
to Ovens, where he kept an open house and according to Seamus Murphy you never knew who would turn up. Corkery remained at U.C.C. until 1947. In the 1950s Corkery and his sister moved to Passage West and although retired from teaching, life was still very busy. In 1951, he was nominated to the Senate, and the following year in 1952 he became the only Munster representative on the Arts Council. Daniel Corkery spent the remaining years of his life in Cork and ‘one often saw him in the garden of his home high on the heights of Poulgorm, Myrtleville, with its beautiful panoramic view. It was here in his later years that he spent much time with his brush and watercolour paints.'
Daniel Corkery died on the last day of 1964 and was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork City. His gravestone was designed by his former student, Seamus Murphy. Gabriel Fallon, a director of the Abbey Theatre paid a tribute to Corkery using some of John F. Kennedy’s iconic speech when he described Corkery as ‘one of the greatest Irishmen, although one of the most self-effacing. He was a patriot in a very true sense. He never asked his country what it would do for him, he always asked what he could give it.’
Figure 10: Daniel Corkery's Gravestone designed by Seamus Murphy, St. Joseph's Cemetery.
 R D, ‘Sketches of W. Roe, 1838’ in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol. 8 (1902), p. 155.
 Patrick Maume, ‘Daniel Corkery: A reassessment’ in Studia Hibernica, no. 26, 1992, p. 148.
 Patrick Maume, Daniel Corkery and the search for Irish Ireland (Belfast, 1993) p. 3.
 Maume, Daniel Corkery and the search for Irish Ireland, p. 9.
 Richard Burnham and Robert Hogan, (eds.), The Cork Dramatic Society (Newark, 1984), p. 5.
 Frank O’Connor, An only child (London, 1961), pp. 141-2.
 The Irish Times, 2 Jan 1965.
 The Irish Times, 2 Jan 1965.
 Southern Star, 9 January 1965.
 Irish Independent, 1 January 1965.