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 requested Deane extend the original building along Pembroke Street to serve as a hotel and coach-yard.
Those first guests arrived at the Imperial Hotel in 1816 when all Europe was still talking about the battle of Waterloo and its two outstanding personalities, Napoleon and Wellington. But 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.
After negotiating the Irish Free State Treaty in 1921, Michael Collins spent his last night on earth in room 115 at the Imperial before he was shot on that fateful day in 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.
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, writers and 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.
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