The Turkish baths were sited next to the Bank of
Ireland. Alf Jacobs's Cork Turkish Bath Company started planning the conversion of an
already existing building in 1890. The main work was carried out by
E & P O'Flynn to the design of the architect, Arthur Hill. The gas and
general plumbing work was undertaken by M Barry, and the painting and
decoration by J S M'Carthy.
Because the bricks and tiles had to
be manufactured specially for the project, there was considerable delay
in completing the work. But from what can still be seen of the building
today, we must assume that Jacobs thought the delay worthwhile when,
on Saturday 17 October 1891,
he was finally able to open for business. Certainly the Irish Builder
thought them worthy of description.
The façade is deceptive as only the
entrance on the left belonged to the Turkish baths. The large windows to
the right belonged to offices which shared the door the other door which
led upstairs to the Cork Stock Exchange.
The doorway to the baths opened
onto a narrow tiled
passage executed, as was all the tiling, by Nicholas Sisk. The passage
is still in use today, and currently (2007) leads to Jacobs on the Mall,
a restaurant named after the original managing director of the baths.
Two photographs, one of the outside of the Turkish
baths and the other showing the shampooing room, graced one of the walls
of the passage and enjoined prospective bathers to 'Come inside to
enjoy them!'. It is not known when these were first displayed, but they
were presented to today's restaurant proprietor, Michelle McCarthy, by
the family of the last proprietor of the Turkish baths, and they hang
there still 'In memory of Peg Buckley'.
At the end of the passage was the Turkish bath ticket office.
After paying the admission charge, the bather left any valuables in one
of a series of lockers and was given the key. Such lockers were not, as
was claimed in the Irish Builder
article, unique. But they were still unusual enough in Ireland at that
time for it to be stressed that 'each key is different...so no one else
can have access to the valuables'.
Progressing through an ante-room, where a toilet
was available, bathers removed their boots and shoes and no one was
allowed beyond this point in outdoor footwear.
The first of the main rooms in the Turkish bath was
a large 60x40 foot cooling-room, maintained at between 125ºF-140ºF.
During daylight hours, natural light
filtered through softly tinted glass in the high ceiling. At the northern end
of the room was a gallery set aside for
Around the cooling-room were individual cubicles,
upholstered and screened, for bathers to undress in and leave their
clothes—enough, it was claimed, to cater for fifty bathers at a time.
Along the centre of the room, was an oval plunge
bath, 26 feet long by 8 feet wide, with a minimum depth of 4 foot. This,
thought the Irish Builder, 'is a grand feature in the
establishment, and it is certain to be highly appreciated'. Built
in concrete and lined with glazed bricks, the plunge was surrounded by a
marble coping with a two foot high guard 'to prevent the splashing of
the "coolers" (who will be lying about on couches after their bath), by
the "plungers" as they take their "headers" '. A surface spray kept the
plunge pool constantly flushed so the water was 'in a constant state of
There were three hot rooms, each lined with
ntal brickwork and tiling. The first, only slightly hotter than
the cooling-room, was 24 foot by 32 foot. The second was in the
shape of an elongated octagon, 12 foot by 30 foot, maintained at a
temperature of 160ºF
Finally, there was an inner room where 'those who can stand it can
breathe a temperature of from 250 to 300 degrees'.
The ceilings of the hot rooms were of a patented
construction in which iron replaced the normal wooden laths, with the
plaster backed by a composition material which retained the heat and resisted
Unlike Barter's Turkish baths, in which the
required room temperatures were maintained by hot air passing through an
underfloor hypocaust, Jacobs used what was known as the Bartholomew
system. Fresh air was drawn into the building and then heated by
being passed over a stove. It then passed
directly through the hot rooms, starting with the hottest and cooling as
it passed into the other rooms. One particular advantage of this system
is that the floors are comparatively cool, pattens or clogs are not
necessary, and there in no risk of burning oneself if one accidentally falls on
a floor covered with extremely hot tiles.
The rooms were ventilated by grilles in the floor
through which the vitiated air passed along a flue, out of the building. The fumes
from the stove were separately carried to a 60 foot high chimney.
Between the cooling-room and the first hot room
were shampooing slabs, douches, a needle bath, two separate washing
compartments and two porcelain reclining baths with hot and cold water.
The establishment had its own laundry above the hot
rooms. This was fully equipped with washing machine, mangles, wringers,
and drying cupboards.
It has been suggested that the Turkish baths were
closed down during an outbreak of polio in the city in 1943 and that the
Bishop of Cork refused to allow them to be re-opened, but this has not
yet been confirmed.
There is a certain irony here in that in the
aftermath of the poliomyelitis epidemic which hit Cork in the summer of
1956, the building was converted into an aftercare centre known as the
'Polio Clinic'. New equipment was installed and physiotherapy and
swimming facilities were made available to help rehabilitate those who
had suffered during the last years before the discovery by Jonas Salk of
the first polio vaccine.
Though the Turkish baths have long since
disappeared, the building, which is now the home of a well-thought-of
restaurant, has again become a place to visit with one's friends for
enjoyable relaxation, albeit in somewhat cooler surroundings.
Marie Gethins for
much help and encouragement;
Seamus Gethins for his
photographs of the pictures in the passage;
Ronnie Herlihy for the opening date,
and his lead to the 1896 plan;
Michelle McCarthy of Jacobs
on the Mall for permission to
reproduce her historic
The original page
and thumbnail pictures which can be enlarged.
All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.
to the passage
First hot room, 1891
Jacobs on the Mall:
Northern smokers' gallery, as
seen in 2006
Pictures in the passage
Plans of the baths
South Mall Turkish Baths: façade,
in the passage
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