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Cork Courthouse Phase 2

The present Cork Courthouse was built in 1895 and stands on the site of the original 1836 Courthouse designed by George Richard Pain and his brother James which was destroyed by fire in 1891. A competition was subsequently instigated by the Corporation of Cork and the Commissioners, in which there was a condition requiring the preservation of the portico and façade on Washington Street, which was all that remained intact after the fire. The winning scheme designed by W. H. Hill Architect was completed in 1895. Until the current contract started on site in April 2003, the building had remained largely unaltered.


Recent History

In the early 1990’s the Government decided to transfer responsibility for funding courthouses from the local authorities to the Department of Justice. The Department called the City Architect to a meeting on 16th February 1995 to discuss the future of the building. A concept to integrate disabled and general access by introducing a new internal street east/west through the building at ground floor level while still allowing exit through the first floor doors under the portico was developed and forwarded to the Department in June 1995. The viability of the scheme depended on a number of key factors:

  • The suitability of the existing courtrooms for modern use and the building’s ability to accommodate extra courtrooms, judge’s chambers, consultation rooms etc.
  • Whether the ground floor, which was previously only storage and remand cells because of very low ceilings, could be made fully usable.
  • Whether the building could be made accessible to all, including disabled visitors, whilst also improving its security.
  • The feasibility of installing sufficient modern mechanical and electrical plant equipment to ensure that it conformed to the highest environmental and technological standards.



Design Strategy

The 1895 building was designed with an open courtyard at its centre, in which the bar room was located, providing the barristers immediate access to the two main courtrooms. By removing the old bar room and glazing over the courtyard at roof level, natural light has been introduced deep into the heart of the building at all levels. A new fire-rated glass floor was inserted at first floor level in this zone (the atrium) creating an assembly area which links the two main courtrooms, while still providing daylight to the staff offices underneath. This new enclosed atrium is lined with the existing glazed bricks and has a new fully glazed roof supported by coffered glass beams, which also serve as acoustic baffles.
Cold Cathode lighting gently illuminates the reveals of the existing atrium windows and an Italian polished plaster finish on the walls defines where the original Bar Room was removed.



By reducing the ground floor level of the whole building by 0.75 metres, the ceiling height has been greatly increased throughout this level, effectively adding an extra floor to the building. This enabled the addition of three new courtrooms, eight consultation rooms, family law staff office and barristers/ solicitors offices at the existing upper levels, without compromising any of the existing four courtrooms in the building.



The ground floor now includes two new stone-lined entrances on either side of the portico steps, leading to a central foyer, flanked by new reception/security facilities. The top edge of the polished stone plinth lining the walls and hefty piers in this area represents the original floor level of the building. A new stone staircase rises from the foyer between the two principle service cores accommodating lifts and toilets at all 3 levels. The ground floor now provides spacious, well-lit and well ventilated offices and facilities for the court staff, as well as a victim support suite with video link room.



To provide fresh air to new diffuser points in all the habitable rooms, five very substantial Air Handling Units had to be fitted into the attic spaces, without disturbing any of the existing roof trusses. Routes were agreed and co-ordinated throughout the building for the associated supply and extract ducts.

All Courts now have Voice Enhancement & Digital Audio Recording facilities and the three main Jury Courts are now fitted out with full Audio Visual and Video Conferencing systems, one of which also includes for Evidence Presentation.


There are two new prisoner remand areas on the ground floor, with 5 cells in total, located under the two main courtrooms, which are linked by a new tunnel. During excavations, the original oak piles and foundations of both the 1836 Courthouse and its late Victorian replacement were uncovered and preserved.


Wherever possible, the original architecture of the building has been retained and carefully restored. This included all courtroom furniture, upholstery, baldachinni over the Judge’s podia, flooring, fireplaces, cornices, doors, architraves, skirtings and particularly the stone, mosaic, terrazzo and decorative plaster finishes under the dome in the entrance hall. The dome itself has been comprehensively restored, re-fenestrated and re-clad externally in copper with a flag pole as proposed by W. H. Hill in his competition drawings but not completed in the works of 1895. Mr. Hill’s competition drawings are still available for inspection at the Cork Archive Institute.


Completion on the project was achieved in 20 months, coinciding with the start of Cork’s reign as European City of Culture for 2005 and ensuring the building’s future as one of the City’s finest and most enduring assets.

Project Team

Client Department of Justice – Court Services
Main Contractor: Rohcon Ltd.,
Euro Business Park,
Little Island,
Architect: Cork City Council Architect's Department,
City Hall,
  Jack Healy
Neil Hegarty
Michael Russell
Neil Purkiss
Tom O’Donnell
Stephen Sullivan
Russell Moffat
Jane Meade
Project Technicians: David Ivers
Desmond Grace
John McCarthy
Brian Hurley
Clerk of Works: Pat Condon
Project Manager: Joan O’Connor,
Interactive Project Managers Ltd.,
3-4 South Frederick Street,
Dublin 2
Quantity Surveyors: Bruce Shaw Partnership,
Hanover House,
South Main Street,

Michael O’Mahony
Kevin Keogh
Structural Engineers: Horgan Lynch & Partners,
Curraheen Road,

Peter Anthony
Mechanical &
Electrical Engineers:
Arup Consulting Engineers,
15 Oliver Plunkett Street,

John Burgess
Michael Dawkins
Pat Hegarty
Mark Vaughan
Valerie McGrath
Fire Consultant: Michael Carroll,
Cantwell, Keogh & Associates,
Caslewarren Safety Centre,
Photographs By: Paul Tierney,
The Studio,
107 Amiens Street,
Dublin 1