The earliest definitive mention of an organ at St. Fin Barre’s is in the Chapter Acts of
November 1633 - “The Dean and Chapter unanimously decree that the sum of Ten Pounds be paid for the completion of a musical instrument, called in English, organs, as is the custom to have in Cathedral Churches.”
Soon after this Cork fell to English Parliamentary forces and Cromwell himself entered Cork in 1649, we can assume that the Cathedral organ, as with all other church organs, was destroyed at the time. However there are several mentions of restoration work on an organ after 1674, and in 1710 a resolution was passed that a new instrument be ordered from one John Baptiste Cuvillie who worked in Dublin.
In 1735 the Mediaeval Cathedral was pulled down, and the Cuvillie organ was installed in the new, plain, classical Cathedral in 1739. Henry Leffler gives a specification of this organ in 1805 with the maker's name as Renatus Harris.
At this time the organ had 3 manuals: Great (12 stops), Choir, (5 stops), and Swell (4 stops). However by the early 19th century this was giving trouble and in 1816 a new organ was ordered from Flight and Robson: this organ had a relatively short life-span since in 1865 the classical cathedral was pulled down to make room for the present building.
The Hill Organ
There seems to have been much discussion about the placement of the organ in the new Cathedral. Burges had envisaged two organs, as in many French cathedrals; one at the West end and a smaller organ near the Chancel. Buttresses designed to support the Chancel organ, and a door leading to a staircase up to it (pictured on the left), can be seen in the South Aisle of the Ambulatory. The architect’s design for the Chancel organ case can still be
found in the Cathedral archives.
Eventually the organ was built in the West Gallery by William Hill of London and was ready for the consecration of the new cathedral on St. Andrew's Day, 30th November, 1870.
It had 3 manuals and 40 stops with some form of pneumatic action (possibly Barker Lever) on the Great, and tracker for the rest.
The Magahy Rebuild
The West Gallery position, while excellent for the organ itself, must have posed problems when the choir at the East End had to be accompanied. After continued controversy, Dean Madden proposed that the organ be moved and, to avoid obscuring the stained glass windows and mosaics, a large pit, 14 ft. deep, was dug in the North Transept. In 1889 the organ was moved into this chamber by the Cork firm T.W. Magahy so that only the tops of the tallest pipes were showing. He added three ‘pneumatic machines’ to the action and three new stops - though it is not entirely clear which these were.
The organ was enlarged in 1906 by Hele & Co. of Plymouth who added a fourth (Solo) manual. By this stage the action of the organ was pneumatic.
The Walker Rebuild
In 1965/66 J.W. Walker & Sons of London rebuilt the organ. They overhauled the sound-boards, installed a new console with electro-pneumatic action, and lowered the pitch to ‘standard’ C: 523./3. The organ now had 4 manuals, 56 stops, and 3012 pipes.
The Crowe Rebuild 2011-2013
By 2010 it became clear to the Cathedral authorities that the organ was in need of serious repair. Following professional advice, it was decided to completely rebuild, redesign and augment the existing instrument.