North and South Main Streets are the historic main streets of medieval Cork, a city built on small islands in the middle of the River Lee.

The old city of Cork was dominated by the river. From south to north, the route through the old city ran from South Gate Bridge, down South Main Street, across a bridge at Castle Street, down North Main Street, and across the river at North Gate Bridge to the northern bank of the Lee.

There are many remnants of the old city in the streets today, including historic buildings.
The layout of the streets, with the many lanes that run from east to west, are also a remnant of the past.
In this excerpt from the oral history archive of the Cork Folklore Project Liam Ó hUigín talks about the historic layout of the city (source CFP_SR00539).


You can find copies of many old maps in the maps section of the Cork Past and Present website. These include details of many old lanes off North and South Main Streets that are now gone or no longer in use.


On North Main Street, and in some parts of South Main Street, the position of the old lanes are marked by plaques in the footpaths. Some of these illustrate a selection of the many artefacts that were discovered during excavations in this part of the city, including old shoes and broken medieval pots.

Image of a selection of lane plaques from North and South Main Streets

A selection of lane plaques from the footpaths of North and South Main Streets. Some of the objects illustrated in these plaques were found during excavations on the street.


The names of different places on the streets are also a hint at the past. Here, Tom Spalding talks about the origin of “Paradise Place” (source CFP_SR00538).