The Winthrop Arcade on Oliver Plunkett Street is one of the most distinct retail establishments in Cork city. This building, with an L-shaped floor plan, is accessed by two entrances, one on Oliver Plunkett Street and the other in Winthrop Street. Notable for its striking Tudor-revival facades and indoor architecture, this shopping arcade was officially opened by Lord Mayor Seán French on 1 May 1926. The arcade was one of the first shopping malls opened in Ireland and survives today in its original design and purpose.
The man responsible for establishing the arcade was Cork businessman Patrick Crowley. Guy's business directory for 1913 records that he operated a public house named 'The Arch', at 7 Winthrop Street. His business and properties on the site of the future arcade were destroyed by rampaging British forces during the Burning of Cork in December 1920. He invested the financial compensation he received following the event, along with funds of his own, to create the Winthrop Arcade.
Construction began in December 1924 and was completed fifteen months later. The works provided welcome employment for local tradesmen in a time of economic depression in the new Irish Free State (Evening Echo: Shopping Guide supplement, 30 June 2003, p. 14). The Arcade’s three-storied timbered facades, pitched gable roofs and arcaded entrances make it one of the most distinctive buildings on Oliver Plunkett Street. Inside "Cork’s Winthrop Arcade, with its glass roof, marble floors, curved windows and bronze window frames is a ... perfect example of the classical modern Arcade of the great cities of Europe" (Keohane, 2008, p. 36).
In more recent years the Winthrop Arcade was renovated in 1999-2000, a project which addressed the buildings structure. In 2009 plans were tendered to get rid of the Arcade and transform it into two separate units, each with its own entrance. An initial decision to grant planning permission was overturned following an appeal by the heritage body, An Taisce. When deciding on the fate of the arcade, An Bord Pleanála concluded:
Indeed, while the building itself is unique in Cork city because of its distinctive timbered facade and arcaded entrance, I am satisfied that the arcade itself ... is of significant heritage value (Cork Independent, 29 April 2010, p. 4).
The negative effects of the economic downturn after 2007 led to an increase in the number of vacant units in the Winthrop Arcade. Nevertheless, the Arcade remains home to a number of businesses, including the fashion boutiques: Monreal for women and Salingers for menswear; a florist: The Flower Bar; a beauty salon: Madison Lane; and, a Turkish barber shop: Golden Scissors. Thus, the arcade continues with the same function it had when it opened in 1926, and its unique architectural design makes it a landmark buildings on Oliver Plunkett Street.