Laid out around 1715, Oliver Plunkett Street was formerly known as George’s Street and is linked to the Quaker community in Cork. To the west and east of the crumbling walled town in the early eighteenth century, members of Cork’s Quaker Community reclaimed and developed large areas of the marshy islands.
The community had been in Cork since 1655, but it was only in the early 1700s that they were granted the right to develop their own lands. The Quaker movement began in Northern England around 1650 and developed out of religious and political conflict. Also known as the Religious Society of Friends, they were a breakaway group from mainstream Protestantism. They focused on the use of the bible within a specified group discipline. In the beginning, the movement found support among radical Baptist members of Oliver Cromwell’s army. Due to the large amount of campaigning and travelling by Cromwell’s Model Army, their ideas spread rapidly. When Cromwell was established as Lord Protector of Ireland in 1653, it was not long before the ideas of the Quaker movement spread into Ireland.
However, during Cromwell’s protectorate there was a change in philosophy within the movement and many chose to give up the use of violence and follow a code of peace.
One of the first Quaker pioneers involved in the development of the western marshes was Joseph Pike, who purchased marshland in 1696, now the area of Grattan Street.
Another key player was John Haman, a respected linen merchant who also owned land in the northern suburbs. Minor players consisted of the Devonshire family, the Sleigh family and the Fenn family (Fenn’s Quay today marks their land).
In the eastern marshes, a Quaker by the name of Captain Dunscombe bought land, now the area of the multi-storey car park on the Grand Parade and part of present-day Oliver Plunkett Street.
One of the most stand out buildings on the street is the GPO. In 1875, owner, James Scanlan sold the Cork Theatre Royal on Oliver Plunkett Street to the postal authorities who were to use the building as the city’s General Post Office.
On 10 April 1875, the last three professional performances that were to take place in the Theatre Royal were announced in the Cork Examiner. These performances comprised: Monday 11, Virginius; Tuesday 12, Hamlet; Wednesday 13, Belpheggar.
After a period of 113 years, from 1760 to 1875 (Cork Theatre Royal), James Scanlan shifted the centre of theatrical interest to a building at the side of the northern branch of the river Lee, which had been variously known as the Athenaeum, the city’s arts venue of sorts (later to be renamed Cork Opera House).