Dominicans in Cork
The first Dominican friars landed in Cork only 8 years after the death of Dominic Guzman, the Spaniard who founded the order in France in 1216. These friars had already settled in Drogheda , Dublin, and Waterford, and in Cork they established their first priory on an island in the south channel of the river Lee in 1229. Their church, dedicated to Mary, became known as St. Mary of the Isle (a name revived by the Sisters of Mercy when they established their convent on the site in 1852).
For thee hundred years the Dominicans flourished there, until the property was confiscated during the reign of King Henry VIII. However, it wasn’t until 1697 that they finally abandoned the site, and moved across to the north side of the Lee, to a house in a lane (presently Old Friary Place) off Shandon Street.
In 1784 they built a house and chapel on the Shandon Castle site, near the Butter Exchange building. When in 1852 the Dominicans vacated this site, a rotunda firkin market with a butter crane was erected on the spot. One of the Dominicans in this earlier house was ‘Bat’ Russell (1799 – 1890), a native of Shandon Street. It was he who inspired and oversaw the building of the present church and priory.
Twenty years earlier, in November 1832, the foundation stone for the present church was laid at Pope’s Quay (the quay named after the widow Pope, a merchant who in 1718 was granted permission to erect a quay in front of her premises). The architect was Kearns Deane (1806 – 1847), a Protestant who gave his services free. The church was blessed and opened for public worship on Sunday, October 20, 1839. Among the congregation that day was Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’.