European Capitals of CultureΠοιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cork 2005

Cork 2005 ECCM Exhibition Patras 2006

Curator: Spyros Mercouris

Online Exhibition:


Why did Cork wish to become a European Capital of Culture?

Mindful of the historic and social connections with Europe, Cork City Council sought the designation as European Capital of Culture. We are a small port city on the European periphery, but we understand in our bones the human scale upon which life is lived across Europe. We have always felt a sense of kinship with other European cities; our own story is replicated and multiplied across all the small port cities of Europe. We share a cultural map with Europe, and we believe in that small and localised scale of cultural action that is at the heart of European creativity. We believe that life has already begun to flow back into the small cities of Europe and we celebrate that organic process in European life. We believe in the distinctive European architecture of locality and human scale. We believe that Europe with its cultural richness and personality, with its diverse communities and localised cultural celebrations, offers the best hope for a humane way of living. We have always known that Europe is an atmosphere within which we thrive and grow. This is why we sought the Designation: we wished to celebrate that sense of historic belonging to Europe, we wished to give something back; we wished to call our friends homeward to our Europe in Cork.

Cork with a population of 135,000 and a hinterland population of 250,000 is a small city by European standards. But, founded in the Seventh century by St. Finbarr, it has been a bustling trading port city for more than 800 years. It has the second deepest harbour in the world (after Sydney) and its strategic position in the North Atlantic has created a terrific sense of energy and movement. It has had strong trading links with Britain, Western France, Portugal and Spain. By the 1630s ships were also trading directly between Cork and Livorno, Italy, exchanging Irish woollens and meat for Tuscan wines and olive oil. Cork is still a major food market and has some of the finest restaurants in Ireland. Nowadays it is also a regional capital of education, legal services, computer software, pharmaceuticals and banking services. Buoyed up by success in trade, Cork citizens have a very strong sense of themselves. Cork people are confident and outgoing; they have always welcomed and absorbed inward migrations, from the French Huguenots of the Seventeenth Century to the Lithuanian Jews of the Nineteenth Century to the very popular Polish and Latvian migrations of the present day.

Like many cities of Europe, Cork suffered greatly from war and conflict in the Twentieth Century. Two Lord Mayors of the city died during the War of Independence 1916-1922 and the city was burned to the ground by the occupying powers. Its hinterland was later devastated, and population scattered, by Civil War. By 1985 many of Cork’s old industries had also collapsed. But through a combination of massive re-education and the up-skilling of workers -- as well as infrastructural investment -- Cork has now placed itself in a hinterland of unprecedented wealth and employment. There is a sense of Springtime in the air, a buoyant and optimistic belief in the future. Cork sought this designation to affirm its belief in Europe, and to assert its place as a fervent advocate-city of Europe at the periphery where Europe’s timeless values meet the oceanic, shifting values of the Anglophone world.

Comments to official text:

The Irish love poetry and Cork did something amazing for poetry when European Capital of Culture. It promoted for each poet to have a local translator. This kind of twinning at personal level revived both poetry and translation while creating a diverse linkage of the city's cultural sector to unusual places where these foreign poets came from. At the same time, it was a discovery of the linguistic diversity in a city of the size of Cork.


"At the end of an extraordinary journey" - assessing this one year

from Thomas McCarthy, poet and writer


Thomas McCarthy (left) at ECCM Symposium in Athens 2005

Subject matter: European Capital of Culture

Thursday, January 05, 2006 2:45 PM

"Dear European Friends,

We have come to the end of Cork 2005: European Capital of Culture.

It has been an extraordinary journey. Those most deeply influenced by the journey are those who were charged with delivering the year. I have just been looking through my personal files, going back to April of 2000 when our City Council first decided to seek the Designation.(I feel privileged to have been the only City Council official involved from the very beginning to the very end). I have looked at the Programme we put together at City Council through the summer of 2000, the Bid Document, and compared it with the actual Programme Book ‘City of Making.’ The difference between those two documents defines what happens to a city that is given the Designation. The Bid Document was provincial, chauvinistic, inward-looking, whereas our City of Making had allowed Europe to flood into our small city. There is a Gaelic expression ‘Is maith folaiocht isteach’ It means ‘Blood from outside (the blood of strangers) is good’. It makes a land strong.

Europe made our Programme strong, from the 13 volumes of the European Translation Series to New Young Europeans (with Triskel Arts Centre and British Council), from Our EU musical Partners (a series of 24 fortnightly concerts where EVERY country of Europe was represented) to EUROCHILD when 700 children from Ireland to the Ukraine recited their poems in the City Hall, from RELOCATION, a series of huge European outdoor theatre performances, to Great European Shorts, a series of 100 European short films and, of course, ENLARGEMENT, a series of monthly exhibitions where Cork became ‘the sitting room’ of Europe for 2005. All of these concepts were developed through dialogue and communication with European musicians, theatre directors and writers. I will never forget the visit of Claudio Magris, the great Trieste writer, or John Berger and Marisa Camino’s collaboration: two artists, one art. These were days of unimaginable grandeur. At a recent de-briefing between the Cork2005 Programme Team and the Irish Arts Council in Dublin we were thrilled to hear our National officials declare that the energy and open-mindedness and sheer ambition visible within applications for funding for 2006-2007 from Cork based-artists was truly exceptional. ‘It is obvious’ one of the officials declared, ‘that these artists at Cork have witnessed something extraordinary, something not available in any other city.’

I am a poet and not a culture expert, but even I can appreciate the additional enrichment of the public domain, the up-skilling of both administrator and audience that has occurred because of the Designation of Cork. As a writer, I am glad that I have my files and my personal diaries for the years 2000-2005. There is a lot of politics and bad feeling, of course, within these diaries. This is understandable. Where you have people you have politics; but this operation of politics should not depress us. It is just human life at work, after all: it is healthy. So it is in Patras. Patras, too, will have something to tell us. I join Rodolfo in wishing Alexis at Patras every good wish and every Irish blessing for the year ahead. Senior officials, including the Lord Mayor of Cork, intend to visit Patras this month.

I now return to the privacy of my own poems, but I wish to thank every one of you for keeping this dream of European idealism alive. You are all the children of Monet and Mercouri. You do good work for Europe, and the story of Europe, a long golden era of European peace, is only beginning.

Best Wishes,

Thomas McCarthy

Cork 2005

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