A history of the hotel and our many distinguished guests
The Committee of Merchants of Cork commissioned young Cork architect, Thomas Deane, to design and build the Commercial Rooms on the South Mall. The dignified façade of Deane’s building stands virtually unchanged today and forms the front portion and main entrance of the Imperial Hotel.
The choice of South Mall was an inspired one. As recently as twenty years before it had been one of the many open channels of water on which modern Cork is built, others being Patrick Street and the Grand Parade. The surviving stone steps on the Mall recall the days when merchants moored their boats at the front door and loaded their goods into the cellar. But in time the Mall became one of the most gracious avenues in the city, with its lines of trees and its long sweep of redbrick Georgian houses interspersed with banks built in the classical style from local limestone.
The Committee of Merchants then requested Deane extend the original building along Pembroke Street to serve as a hotel and coach-yard.
The first guests arrived at the Imperial Hotel in 1816 when all of Europe was still talking about the battle of Waterloo and its two outstanding personalities, Napoleon and Wellington.
The long saga of the Napoleonic War had been important to Cork, not only as a matter of news, but as an affair of big business.
Perhaps the most distinctive of Deane’s many buildings in the city is the Gothic quadrangle of the University, and the Savings Bank at the east end of the Mall is worth noting as much for its interior as its exterior proportions. Rivals to Deane in building nineteenth century Cork were the Pain Brothers, and their former County Club can be seen just a few paces from the hotel.
The striking church of the Holy Trinity, erected in the Gothic style in 1832, can be seen by the riverside, parallel to the South Mall. The Imperial Hotel is therefore, very much part of the growth and life of Cork from 1816 onwards. Its coach-yard in Pembroke Street witnessed all the excitement of the arrival of the stage coaches with the pageantry of the coach master, the guard, the ostlers, the blacksmith, the steaming horses, the baggage men and the travellers for whom the hotel was journey’s end.
Frederick Douglass, born in Maryland, was an escaped slave who devoted his life to the abolition of slavery. He greatly admired Daniel O' Connell and Fr.Theobald Mathew. While in Cork city, he met Fr. Mathew. Although teetotal, Douglass took a temperance pledge from Ireland's 'Apostle of Temperance'. Later, Douglass fell out with Fr. Mathew.
When he visited Cork City Frederick Douglas stayed at the Imperial Hotel and gave a speech on the 23rd October 1845 in our Duchess Suite. A plaque commemorating his stay was unveiled at the Imperial Hotel in the year 2012.
The "A Christmas Carol" author Charles Dickens visited Ireland in August 1858 as part of a book tour that also included England and Scotland. Even in his own time, Dickens was a celebrity. Much in the same way that any reading by J. K. Rowling would have fans pressed against the door, Dickens’ fans packed theatres wherever he read in Ireland. Dickens travelled to Cork via Dublin and he dropped his bags off at the Imperial Hotel, The Grande Dame Of Cork. Dickens then read at the Athenaeum, now called the Cork Opera House and did a private reading at The Imperial Hotel for a few privileged guests. Before leaving Cork he kissed the Blarney Stone, which is a must for any tourist in Ireland today. Dickens said about Cork, “Cork was an immense success. We found upward of a thousand stalls let for the three readings. A great many people were turned away too, on the last night.”
The Charitable Ladies and Gentlemen Take a Hand. The Cork Examiner reported on 15th March 1888 that following the example of London and Dublin, the “zeal of charitable ladies” in Cork had been stimulated, and a meeting had been held in the Imperial Hotel. This raised funds for the setting up of a facility at 5, Drawbridge Street. The system proposed was that tickets each costing one penny would be sold to relieve “in a safe and very effectual way the great distress which exists amongst us at present”
After negotiating the Irish Free State Treaty in 1921, Michael Collins spent his last night on earth at the Imperial before he was shot on that fateful day on 22nd August 1922 at Béal na Bláth, West Cork.
The Imperial Hotel has welcomed many other notable guests coming by coach or by car, the great Irish painter, Daniel Maclise stayed here, the novelist William Makepeace, Thackeray took tea in the lounge with Father Theobald Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance, Charles Dickens gave a reading in the Clarence Room, Daniel O’Connell addressed a glittering assemblage there and Liszt gave a Piano recital.
In more recent years, George Best came to stay, got into a fight and left! The late Maureen O’Hara frequently dined here, actor Brian Dennehy and star of TV sitcom Murder She Wrote, Angela Lansbury, are both regulars.
On June 24th 1961, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco who, along with their children, stayed with us in Cork as part of the Royal Visit to Ireland. The state visit by the royal family in the Summer of ‘61 was undoubtedly the grandest affair and saw thousands flock to the South Mall to catch a glimpse, particularly of Oscar-winning actress turned Her Serene Highness Grace Kelly, who remains to this day a major icon of screen and style.
Cork was not originally on President Kennedy’s itinerary, but he decided in June that he would like to visit. He travelled to Cork by helicopter, without his sisters Eunice and Jean, who had accompanied him all through the previous day.
In the mid-1970s the LGBTQ+ community began to meet in The Imperial Hotel on Sundays. The hotel offered a safe and secure place to meet. At the time the hotel was nicknamed Bangladesh because of the colourful and decadent decor.
In July 1998, the Imperial Hotel was purchased by the Flynn Family, from Hanover International UK.
An investment of €10 million by the Flynn family to redevelop the property into a luxurious hotel was undertaken. The redevelopment saw the inclusion of 125 bedrooms, and the renovation of what was then called The Clouds Restaurant, now known as The Pembroke Restaurant and Lafayette’s Brasserie. In the same year, the Flynn family launched what is now the hugely popular Escape Spa.
Almost €1 million was spent on upgrading and renovating the Imperial Hotel, in preparation of its 200th anniversary in 2016. All 125 bedrooms were renewed and refreshed, a new fitness suite, the Escape Gym, was installed, and a brand new bar called ‘Seventy Six on the Mall’ was created. This new bar is a stylish and elegant space to enjoy pre-dinner cocktails, informal cuisine or tapas. It is located just off the lobby, where the old South’s Bar used to be.
The Imperial Hotel celebrates its 200th anniversary. This beautiful four star property has long been regarded by many as the ‘Grand Dame’ of Cork city.
This wonderful, elegant dame has hosted politicians, movie stars, writersand musicians, and all the while has served the people of Cork with the most wonderful classic, Irish hospitality.
Many of today’s guests will have driven from Dublin in less than 2 hours in their horseless carriages, or flown from London in little under an hour. Such has been the incredible march of progress in transport and tourism. Yet we like to feel that the Imperial has remained old fashioned in the ways that matter, in its traditions of courtesy, hospitality and discreet personal service.
€400,000 investment in iconic Imperial Hotel in keeping with synonymous old world charm. The refurbishment sees 45 of the property’s bedrooms upgraded to ensure that hotel guests experience the perfect night’s sleep in the iconic city centre, Flynn family-owned hotel.
€300,000 has been spent on the bedrooms which feature specially sourced, bespoke fabrics and furniture designed and sourced by leading Dublin based design company, Global Design Concepts. A vibrant colour scheme of orange, contrasting with light blue, has created an easy on the eye, inviting space for guests to enjoy and relax in, while maintaining the character that the hotel is synonymous with. Each room features King Koil Club Pocket luxury beds, and newly installed state-of-the-art flat screen, fully interactive, high definition capable in-room entertainment systems; while upgraded bathroom facilities include rain head showers, heated towel rails, upgraded luxury towellery from Lissadel, and upgraded Orla Kiely bathroom amenities.
The works in the Imperial are part of a €3m investment in refurbishment works across the Flynn Hotel Collection and this is not the first significant investment in the Imperial by the Flynn family, who purchased the property in 1998. Prior to the latest upgrades, €10m was invested in a redevelopment that included the addition of the hotel’s Escape Spa in 2006; while in preparation of its bicentenary celebrations in 2016, almost €1 million was spent on upgrades which included a new fitness suite for residents’ use, and the introduction of ‘Seventy Six on the Mall’, a new bar and food offering located just off the lobby, where the old ‘South’s Bar’ used to be.