The Royal Victoria Monkstown and Passage Baths, first opened in 1838, were situated on the river side of what is now the R610 between Glenbrook and Monkstown. The setting was magnificent and the baths were finished to the highest of standards. The bathing areas were said to have been built of pure marble, while the dressing rooms were fitted out with great elegance. The water was filtered before use and both male and female bathing areas were available.
The structure consisted of two main wings with a linking corridor. The wing at the southern end was one storey high, while that at the northern end was three. The whole of the ground floor was given over to bathing. On the river side of this corridor was the Gentleman’s plunge bath or swimming pool, 150 feet long, with a line of what were called dressing places on the inner and western side. The one storey building forming the southern wing of the building was devoted to the ladies.
By the end of the 1840s, the Royal Victoria Baths was under the control of the CB&PR company, who developed an adjacent garden and entertainment centre. The then proprietor extended the Baths further in 1858. Included was a Turkish bath which boasted of “stained dome lights, crimson hangings, a central fountain, richly tessellated floors and handsome couches”.
The Baths proved a very popular with the people of Cork. The invigorating properties of the hot salt water were believed to be invaluable and were said to be particularly good for rheumatism, lumbago, sciatica and similar complaints. During the 19th century, the Baths were probably Cork’s most popular watering place or seaside resort. When the steamer pier was built at Glenbrook, it was but a short walk from the steamers to the Baths. In 1857, an estimated 15,000 bathers visited the establishment.
The north wing of the Baths and the Turkish bath were destroyed by fire in July 1859. Two years later, a new and larger Turkish bath had been constructed to replace the old. This new Turkish bath boasted a proprietary system, later patented, producing perspiration at temperatures lower than those of conventional Turkish bath systems.
By 1860, a new steamer pier had been constructed in Crosshaven. This made the open sea more accessible to travellers. Monkstown and Glenbrook began to lose their popularity as summer resorts in favour of Crosshaven.
In 1864, the Royal Victoria Baths were taken over by a local business group, who announced their intention to develop it as a “first class marine hotel”. The venture was not profitable and, three years later, the Baths were put up for sale again. Although renovated and modernised by the then proprietor in 1885, the Baths never regained their popularity and finally closed around the turn of the century.
By 1929, the Royal Victoria Baths were derelict. The remains of the building were used to fill in the old swimming pool. The corner wall at the southern end is all that remains evident of the Royal Victoria Baths today.