The earliest surviving Minute Book of the County of Cork Agricultural Society dates from a meeting of the show sub-committee on Saturday 17 April, 1886. A circular had been sent to all members informing them of the Society's plans to host a two day summer show at the Corn Exchange in the centre of Cork. Members pledged to donate £129 towards the cost of organising a public agricultural exhibition to showcase the best livestock and farm produce in Cork. Exhibitors were invited to display their wares and would be granted a season ticket at a cost of 2/6 pence.
Records collated by the show secretary, Edward Corrigan, stated that a cost of £1,023.1.6 had been incurred in staging the first ever Cork Summer Show. Receipts and donations amounted to £829.9.1. Despite the initial loss, the Society agreed to host a second show the following year, and expanded the show classes to include more popular livestock breeds such as Shorthorn cattle, Shropshire sheep and Large White Yorkshire pigs. General interest exhibitions including collie dog trials, butter making and innovative farm machinery were added to the schedule. Wisely it was decided to allow second and third class ticket holders access to the refreshment bar in the second year, as only first class ticket holders were permitted in the bar area in the inaugural year.
So successful were the early shows that by 1891 it was evident that the crowds attending and the expanding schedule of events would require a larger and permanent home for the now annual Summer show. In 1892, the Society leased 27 acres at the Cork Racecourse in Ballintemple from the Corporation of Cork at an annual rent of £20. The new ground, just one mile from the city centre, was mainly land reclaimed from marshy swamp and would require significant investment in order for the schedule of regular events to include showjumping with and the necessary stabling required for horses and the erection of an exhibition hall. A budget of £5,300 was agreed. To supplement income at the new showgrounds the lands were rented out to suitable sporting organisations at a daily rate of between £5 and £20.
In 1908, it was agreed to change the name of the organisation to the Munster Agricultural Society.
Ballintemple was the home of the Cork Summer Show until 2008 when it was decided that a green field site, away from what was now a busy suburban area of Cork city, would better suit the hosting of agricultural events. Land was purchased at Curraheen on the outskirts of Cork city and the first show at the new showgrounds was set to take place in 2012. Unfortunately rare weather events led to the show being cancelled on the advice of the emergency services. The next and subsequent years delivered record attendances at the new home of the Cork Summer Show. The Covid-19 pandemic suspended 2020 and 2021 shows and for the first time in the Society's history, classes were judged virtually. The online programme of events could never have been envisaged when the first meeting of the Society took place in 1886, but going online has kept the work of the Society relevant at a time when mass gatherings are not permitted under public health safety legislation.
The old showground site is being developed by Cork City Council as a public amenity and will host a public space six times the size of Fitzgerald's Park. The marina section of the park pays homage to Munster Agricultural Society's Central Hall with an iconic steel pavilion in situ.
The following is an extract from the Forward of the book 'Munster Agricultural Society, The Story of Cork Show Grounds' written by local historian and Cork City Independent Councillor Kieran McCarthy, by then chairman, Gerard Murphy:
"When the Munster Agricultural Society left the old Showgrounds for the last time in 2008, we closed the door on a fascinating piece of history. It was the end of a magical era and the start of a new chapter for the Society.
In the future we intend to develop a top class exhibition centre with both indoor and outdoor facilities. It will fit the needs and ambitions of not only the farming community, but the public as a whole, and will support the work of the Cork County and City Councils with whom we have enjoyed a long and productive relationship."
Kieran McCarthy's book is available to purchase from the Show office in Bishopstown, Cork at a cost of €15.