The first indication that something exciting was happening in Cork was when Christchurch Lane was closed. For years it had been known as ‘Piss Alley’, a street to avoid unless you wanted to smell the stench of liquids spewed onto it on Saturday nights. But in 2009, two green gates, one positioned at either end, blocked its insides off from overindulged punters. Then, work began on the large Christchurch building on South Main St next door, and beyond that, its neighbour, Triskel Arts Centre on Tobin St, became a hive of activity. There were changes afoot in this area of Cork’s city centre – just off the redeveloped Grand Parade – but the scale of them was not quite clear.
Since 1986 the Triskel Arts Centre had been a cultural centre for Cork, but Christchurch was to many young people a mystery. Though a church with a long history, it had not been a place of worship since 1978, and in the following year became home to the city’s archives. Beyond the rough grass and pebbles strewn near its entrance gate was a church of neoclassical Georgian design, with imposing columns and a beautiful facade, but it had long lost any of its original lustre.
A generation of people were unsure of what the building symbolised, or even aware of the fact that it was built on a site that first housed a church back in medieval times, and was the scene of where 1300 Protestants were held captive during the Siege of Cork in 1690. The alley next door was home to part of the original walls of Cork, but had become more like a rubbish tip in recent years.
The construction work at Christchurch and the Triskel Arts Centre, it transpired, was part of a vision to bring these neighbours together, in an ambitious project that cost €4.8 million, with funds pulled from a number of sources. And just last month, the two buildings, now joined and home to a record store, café, art gallery, venue, and arthouse cinema, were opened to the public. That something as forward-thinking as this – the creation of an artistic and cultural hub in Cork City – wasn’t abandoned during the past few recession-plagued years is somewhat of a miracle.
And yes, there were setbacks, like when it looked as though the allocation of funding hung in the balance, while the reopening itself came weeks after the initial mooted date. When it finally opened however, any false starts or delays were quickly forgotten. The auspicious date chosen for the official reopening was Saturday 16 April 2011, international record store day – fitting because one of the new tenants in the streamlined and gleaming Triskel space is the independent record store Plugd Records.
Just as the reopening of The Triskel itself began a new chapter for Cork’s cultural future, the reopening of Plugd was a white-knuckle tale with a thankfully positive ending. Plugd was first opened by Jim Horgan literally feet away on Washington St almost a decade ago, in the narrow red-walled space that was formerly home to Comet Records. In 2009, it closed, a victim of financial problems such as high rates during a period when it felt like anything good in Ireland was going to the wall.
What seemed like years – but was only months – later, Plugd was thrown a lifeline by the Triskel. Come to our new space, Jim and his colleague Albert Twomey were told, be part of our vision and find yourself a new, affordable, home. And so Plugd did. It moved to the temporary Triskel space on Caroline St while waiting for its new abode to be constructed. And the day it reopened in its final home felt like the most fitting and celebratory day possible – a day when people around the world were encouraged to support their local independent record stores was the same day that Cork got the heart of its music scene back.
Cork people love Plugd. They love that it is independent, that the staff are passionate and friendly and that it is like no other record store in Ireland.
There’s a strange sense of pride that Corkonians have in their city, one that’s not about thinking their fair county is above anywhere else in Ireland but that, really, there is nowhere like home – and this sense of pride extends to Plugd. Cork people love Plugd. They love that it is independent, that the staff are passionate and friendly and that it is like no other record store in Ireland. They have fierce pride in the ironic fact that, given the friendly rivalry that exists between Cork and Kerry, it is a pair of Listowel and Charleville men that run this shop. The smiles, the hugs, the ‘welcome back’ cards, and jokes aimed at these two men when the shop reopened – not to mention the slabs of records bought – showed how strong this pride is. While helping out in the shop on that opening day myself, in a reverse to my usual role as a customer, I saw exactly how delighted people were to have their Plugd back.