Gladys Leach’s Cork

Gladys Leach was a beloved Cork artist who specialised in line drawings of gracious historic buildings. Her work once lined the walls of City Hall (it might still). In 1974 a limited edition book of her Cork drawings was produced, bound in blue. Called The Scenery and Character of Cork, it sold out in 16 days.

Sean Feehan re-published the book in 1978, bound in red to distinguish it from the 1974 edition. The drawings are accompanied by text by him and each description is full of fascinating snippets about specific buildings. I am not sure how many copies he published, but it too sold out quickly and nowadays the only way to find a copy of the first or second edition is through an antiquarian bookseller, such as our friends at Inanna Rare Books.

Christ the King – one of our favourite churches – see Robert’s post about this modernist masterpiece here

I have one! It was part of a box of treasures which has been languishing in my sister’s attic with my name on it for several years. It belonged to my parents – both of them lived in and loved Cork for several years, and a vague memory hints that it may have been a present from me.

During my master’s program at UCC I lived in a flat in St Lukes and my route took me past this church, built, according to Feehan’s notes, in 1889

Gladys Leach Hyde died in 2014, aged 97 – Peter Murray, then Director of the Crawford Art Gallery, in an admiring obituary in the Examiner, spoke of her “undeniable artistic talent.” He described a “quiet and undemonstrative” person whose work evoked a gracious past. Her framed sketches and card collections became, over time, hot collector’s items. People were enchanted by how she had captured their place and time as much as they were by her clever perspectives and her eye for line and detail.

That’s how I feel – enchanted, because this is my Cork. I lived there from 1966 to 1973 and it is exactly how I remember it. So this book is very special to me as a reminder of those golden student days at UCC (above).

We were all in love with Roger Moore. weren’t we? Here’s the trailer for that film. This is just before the cinema closed, to be reborn as a shopping arcade, having been operating since the 1930s, with an organist and ‘uniformed male attendants’

But these drawings are important historical and social documents too. Although most of the buildings Gladys was drawing are still standing, fifty years later it is not always possible to get the kind of view of them that she had access to, due to the build-up of the surrounding area. Some have disappeared, or are no longer recognisable. The same is true for Brian Lalor’s Cork – the subject of a previous post – and it’s interesting to compare the very different styles of two artists, who were contemporaries.

The Lee Maltings – Brian Lalor drew them too. In my day we played racquetball there. In his accompanying text Feehan wrote:

The Lee Malt House was built over a century ago. . . The old Malthouse was taken over by [UCC} and but for their foresight the days of this fine building would have been numbered. They went to great lengths to preserve it in its original state while at the same time making optimum use of its facilities through conversion to lecture halls, science laboratories, etc. Inside the building there is a little theatre known simply as The Maltings which has acquired a reputation for quality production over a short period. The work of the university authorities makes this building a perfect example of functional conversion.

You’ll be glad to know the theatre is still going strong!

Dominating the skyline north of the river, St Vincents was a powerful ecclesiastical centre in its day, with strong links to the Murphy family of Irish Distillers. More about it here.

If you would like your own Gladys Leach, her family still have prints available and you can contact them through the Gladys Leach Facebook Page. How fabulous a Christmas present that would make! 

South Mall – still recognisable as a fascinating mix of the old and new

This is just a tiny selection of what’s inside this book. Gladys Leach deserves to be remembered and celebrated – and the 50th anniversary is approaching. How about it, Cork!

13 thoughts

  1. My parents were fortunate to obtain a copy of this book when it was released, my grandmother was apparently a friend of Gladys Leach and they used to go away together and this is how my parents came to acquire a copy. On our childhood family visits to Cork in the 70s and 80s it was exciting to see the places captured in the book and equally when we were back home in Wales the book was read constantly as a reminder to us of the sights of Cork. I visited my mother in her new home in West Wales, having left Crookhaven after living there close to 25 years, almost the first thing I clapped eyes on in her new kitchen was the book. It has a somewhat sun faded jacket but the binding is glue and it is signed by Glady Leach. It still evokes wonderful memories of Cork. If you have not seen the jacket it would be a pleasure to send you a photo.

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  2. I’d never heard of Gladys Leach so thank you Finola for that most interesting post- I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled when we can once more poke around in antiquarian or indeed any book store!

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  3. The drawings are so much more evocative of the time and feeling of the buildings than could ever be provided by photographs. A beautiful book. My son in Cork would adore a copy.

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