A journey back through Cork’s past

We are now turning back the lock to go back in time.
In order to understand how far back, let us take a look at the concept of time.

First, think of a single second.

As you are reading this, a few seconds have already passed.

Now, imagine how many seconds form one day (86,400 seconds).
Then, imagine what a day in your life might represent in terms of time.

Cork Today

But before travelling back, let us look at Cork today. Cork city was literally built on the river Lee and we are often reminded of this during flood events. On each side of the river, steep hills rise, most prominently Patrick’s Hill and the hill that goes towards Cork Airport. You might not think as such, but the landscape was quite different only a few hundred years ago…

A year back in time.

But before we turn the clock, think about one year of your life… One year may seem like an awful amount of time, depending on what your age is. Younger people might think that one year feels long, whereas older people likely regard one year as rather short.

How about ten years of your life? What were you doing ten years ago? What music were you listening to? Who were your friends back then?

A few decades back


Now imagine when you or one of your relatives were alive 50 years ago. What events took place back then? How was life without digital technology? Better perhaps?


200 years ago. Using memory to recall past events is now out of the question. Nobody (at least human) is old enough to talk about that part of history. We have to rely on illustrations, artefacts, buildings and texts to reconstruct how things were.

Cork- 300 years ago

During the 18th century, Cork was already quite busy and an important maritime hub. As you can see on the illustration, a lot of the city was not built yet. Where you today would find the neighbourhoods of Ballyphehane, Ballintemple, Mayfield and Blackpool, fields, wilderness and marshy lands were then the norm.

Cork – 1,000 years ago


Imagine life a thousand years ago… Think of Cork a thousand years ago. We know so little about the past that we now have to chat with archaeologists and historians to find out about life a millennium back in time. It’s very difficult and we have to dig into the soil under our feet to find evidence from the past.

Cork- 12,000 years ago

On a rainy Sunday, you should try counting to 12,000 as fast as you can. It takes a while to do so. Between 12,000 and 20,000 years ago, Cork was in the last ice age period. The climate was much colder and snow was covering the valley. Deers, bears and hyenas walked in the area, maybe even amongst our ancestors. the climate is very different. There is no substantial human interference on the landscape yet.

Cork – millions of years ago!

We are going even further back in time now. Beyond what our brains can understand.


One million years ago. We have entered the geological timespan. No matter how much you try nor how old you are, you can not grasp this time span. And we have limited evidence of how the environment was in Cork at this time.



A hundred million years ago everything was much different. Ireland was not even Ireland, but part of some other huge landform. It was closer to the equator, as the continents have moved around a lot. We have little to no idea of how things were in Cork at this time.

Cork- 350 million years ago

We are now in the geological time period called the Carboniferous. Cork looked very different this time, and there is no sign of the hills of Patrick’s Hill or the marshes of the river. Instead Cork is part of a big sea with a very warm climate close to the equator. Huge coral reefs dominated this time and area, and the seas teemed with life!

Cork- 380 million years ago

We have finally arrived to the Devonian period. As you can see, Cork looks very different than it did during the Carboniferous. It was also much drier and warmer as it was in the tropical latitudes. A huge mountain chain, with mountains likely as tall as the Alps or the Himalayas, stretched across what is now Counties Limerick and Clare. These mountains were the sources for rivers and sediments here in Cork’s early floodplains.

Cork- a journey to the past

As you can see, the ages of Cork’s rocks are spread over a huge timescale. Our lives as humans are incredibly short in the grand scheme of things. But it doesn’t take away that it is amazing that we can discover about events, climates and life taking place unimaginably long ago – just by studying rocks and the landscape!

Finally, we will show you on this webpage other ways you can explore Cork’s foundation.

Cork- tours and rocks

You can have a closer look at Cork’s rocks in more detail via our virtual exhibition in the Hardcore museum.

But we also invite you to take a look at Cork’s geology in real life by taking one of our geology and geoheritage walks.

If you would like to continue to browse the rest of the site, this will take you back to the main menu.