Cork’s Imperial Hotel celebrates 200 years of business

Daniel O’Connell, Charles Dickens,Michael Collins, Maureen O’Hara among past guests

Napoleon was settling into his first full year of exile on St Helena, Rossini's Barber of Seville premiered in Rome and in Cork a group of merchants set about expanding their meeting rooms on the South Mall into a hotel which was destined to become a central thread in the life of the city.

Currently celebrating its 200th anniversary, the Imperial Hotel has played host to Irish and international figures including Michael Collins, who spent his last night there before he was killed at Béal na Bláth during the Civil War.

Imperial Hotel general manager, Frits Potgieter reveals that the genesis of the hotel lies in the Committee of Cork Merchants who commissioned young Cork architect, Thomas Deane to design and build the commercial rooms on the South Mall in 1813.

"The hotel began life as meeting rooms on the South Mall which 20 years before had been a waterway through the city - the hotel facade is the original one designed by Deane in 1813 but three years later, the merchant princes asked him to extend the building along Pembroke Street.


“That expansion created the hotel and the coach yard and the first guests stayed in the Imperial in 1816, when of course Napoleon was in exile in St Helena after his defeat by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo,” he said.

The 19th century saw many prominent figures stay at the hotel including the Irish painter Daniel Maclise as well as novelists, Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens while writer William Makepeace Thackeray took tea there with the Apostle of Temperance, Fr Theobald Mathew.

"We also know that Daniel O'Connell addressed a meeting here and Franz Liszt gave a piano recital here while a very important banquet was held here in August 1843 in the Clarence Room attended by some very prominent people," said Mr Potgeiter, who took over as general manager last year.

"These included the very famous mathematician, Sir William Rowan Hamilton, the Earl of Rosse who was a noted astronomer, Charles Bianconi, who was the pioneer of Irish road transport, and the young nationalist writer, Thomas Davis who wrote A Nation Once Again."

Civil War

Just under 80 years later, The Imperial Hotel was again to play witness to history when Michael Collins stayed there after the Free State forces captured Cork from the Republicans and he left the hotel to travel to West Cork to try and open negotiations to bring the Civil War to an end.

“Michael Collins stayed here on the night of August 21st 1922 - according to the historians, he stayed here in Room 115 and set out shortly after 6am the following morning to visit West Cork and it was on his way back that he was killed in the ambush at Béal na Bláth,” he said.

More recently the Imperial has proven a popular spot for actors with the late Maureen O'Hara frequently staying at the hotel as did Brian Dennehy and Angela Lansbury while the late George Best got into a spat with his model girlfriend in the bar there in 2000 and left the hotel early.

Mr Potgieter explained that the hotel was once owned by a group of Cork businessmen including the late Hugh Coveney and Pat Dineen, who sold it to English based international chain Hanover International, which again sold it to the Flynn Hotel Group in 1998.

"John and Alan Flynn spent €10 million in 2006 when they literally gutted the hotel and they spent another €1 million last year- these guys are second generation hoteliers and they have a huge amount of passion for the hotel and they plan to continue investing in the property," said Mr Potgeiter.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times