Turkish baths in Ireland


Cork: South Mall



This is a single frame, printer-friendly page taken from Malcolm Shifrin's website

Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline


Original illustrated page with chronology and notes

List of other Turkish baths in Ireland



Turkish Baths

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 smokers.

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 change'.

There were three hot rooms, each lined with orname 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 to 180ºF.  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 fire.

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 pictures

The original page includes footnotes,
and thumbnail pictures which can be enlarged.
All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.


The cooling-room


Entrance to the passage


First hot room, 1891


Jacobs on the Mall: façade, 2006


Northern smokers' gallery, as seen in 2006


Pictures in the passage


Plans of the baths


Shampooing room


South Mall Turkish Baths: façade, 1891


Tiled floor in the passage

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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