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Figure 1: 'The Real Capital'

Cork is known as the ‘Rebel County’ and even though the area was a hotbed of guerrilla activity during the War of Independence, the nickname was earned over four centuries earlier during the reign of Henry VII, King of England.

Figure 2: King Henry VII

Originally Henry Tudor, he presented himself as a candidate not only for traditional Lancastrian supporters, but also for discontented supporters of their rival House of York, and he took the throne by right of conquest when he defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the culmination of the War of the Roses.

Figure 3: Final horse charge of Richard III at Bosworth Field by J.R. Brown.

Six years later, in 1491, a young Flemish man, Perkin Warbeck arrived in Cork. He was in the employment of a Breton silk merchant named Pierre Jean

Meno.[1] When the Corkonians saw him modelling his master's fine silks, they decided he must be of royal descent. Warbeck insisted that he was the long lost Duke of York, Richard, who was presumed murdered with his brother King Edward V in 1483.[2] Warbeck was supported by Cork Mayor John Walters and the citizens.[3]

Figure 4: Portrait of Perkin Warbeck (c.1474-99) Flemish imposter and pretender to the English throne (sanguine on paper) (b&w photo), French School, (16th century) / Bibliotheque Municipale, Arras, France / Bridgeman Images

Other Irish cities were not as supportive, however. Waterford, for example, resisted Warbeck. Instead the citizens displayed their loyalty to the King of England by informing him of the ‘arrival of Perkin Warbeck, at Cork, on a second expedition against Ireland, and assuring him of their loyalty and affection’. [4] For this display of allegiance, Waterford was bestowed the motto, Urbs intacta manet Waterford (Waterford will remain the untaken city) as a reward. For its disobedience Cork earned the moniker ‘Rebel Cork’ and had its charter temporarily removed.[5] Warbeck made a futile effort to reclaim the throne for the Yorkists but was unsuccessful. Eventually, both he and Walters were tried at Westminister in November 1499. ‘Walters the elder and Warbeck being found guilty were executed, and their heads spiked on London Bridge. ‘[6]

Figure 5: Perkin Warbeck reading his confession outside Westminster Hall, London, 1498 - Wood engraving, 1877 - La confession de Warbeck - engraving in “L'Histoire d'England, depuis les temps plus retreats” by Francois Guizot 1877 / Bridgeman Images

This tradition of non-conformity continued over the years. In the nineteenth century the county was a nursery for Fenianism, and there are numerous plaques dotted around the city and county celebrating Cork Fenians, including; Brian Dillon, James Mountain, John Lynch and William O’Brien.

Figure 6: John Lynch Plaque located on Devonshire Street, Cork.

This fervour continued into the next century. Cork bucked the trend in the General Election of December 1910. Of the nine seats in the county, eight were won by William O’Brien’s All for Ireland party. These were the only seats held by O'Brien.[7] It was not only political revolt that Cork relished. The county was also an epicentre for military insurrection. The Irish Volunteers were formed in Dublin on 13 November 1913 and less than a month later a meeting was held at Cork City Hall to establish a division of the new movement. The meeting ended in chaos as ‘violence erupted after a call was made for the crowd to give three cheers for Edward Carson.’[8]

Although not involved in the 1916 Easter Rising, due to indecision and counter orders by Volunteer leadership, the county was determined to right this wrong following the outbreak of the War of Independence 1919 -1921. Cork proved it was worthy of its nom de plume during the period. According to the 1911 census summary, Cork had a population of 392,104; 76,673 enumerated in the city and the remainder in the county districts, thereby accounting for 9% of Ireland’s population.[9] However, consulting the Military Service Pension Collection, the county accounted for 16% of the military strength; 17,976 out of a total of 115,476 Irish Republican Army Volunteers, certainly punching above its weight.[10] Certainly the Crown Forces were aware that Cork possessed a fighting spirit as when the Auxiliary Division came to Irish shores in 1920, five of the nineteen companies operated in County Cork in addition to eighteen of the British Army’s seventy-seven battalions.

Figure 7: The RIC Auxiliaries, K Company at Cork Railway Station, October 1920.

The War of Independence was a brutal bloody affair. After a year of murder, mayhem, and hunger strikes, Cork was about to experience the ultimate devastation. On 12 December 1920, people woke after ‘a night of destruction and terror as we have not yet had. An orgy of destruction and ruin: the calm sky frosty red – red as blood with the burning city, and the pale cold stars looking down on the scene of desolation and frightfulness. The finest premises in the city are destroyed, the City Hall and the Free Library.’[11] However, Cork people are determined and resilient and by 1927, the city was rebuilt and revealed in the glorious video below.

The majority of us Corkonians are proud of our unique heritage, history and culture and truly do believe Cork is the Real Capital! Although some of these Dubliners have their reservations about the People’s Republic of Cork, I reckon they are just jealous of the 'Rebel County'


[4] Samuel Lewis, A topographical dictionary of Ireland (2 vols, London, 1840), I, 684.

[5] Dr. Henry Alan Jefferies, Cork: historical perspectives (Dublin, 2004).

[6] Thomas Crofton Croker, Researches in the South of Ireland (London, 1824), p. 195.

[9] Census of Ireland, 1911. General report, with tables and appendix [Cd. 6663] H.C. 1912-3. Ireland (32 counties) had a population of 4,390,219 according to the 1911 Census of Ireland.

[10] Atlas of the Irish Revolution, John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil, and Mike Murphy (eds), John Borgonovo (associate editor) (Cork, 2017), p. 558.

[11] Thomas McCarthy, Rising from the Ashes, The burning of Cork’s Carnegie Library and the Rebuilding of its collections (Cork, 2010), pp 6-7.


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