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The Cowgate, viewed from George IV Bridge

The Cowgate is a street in Edinburgh, Scotland, located about 5 minutes' walk from Edinburgh Castle, within the city's World Heritage Site. The street's name is derived from the fact that cows were herded down it for Edinburgh's market days in previous centuries (gate being a Scots term for "street"; compare with gait).

The street is part of the lower level of Edinburgh's Old Town, which is partly built around the elevated streets of South Bridge and George IV Bridge. Consequently the Cowgate can be quite gloomy and dark in sections. It adjoins the Grassmarket at its west end and Holyrood Road to the east.

Although the area is now an affluent part of town, from the mid 18th century until after the World Wars the Cowgate was a notoriously overcrowded slum area, where the majority of the city's Irish immigrant community was based. Among others, the Irish Socialist leader and revolutionary James Connolly, who would become a leader of the Easter Rebellion and martyr for the cause of Irish Independence, was born in 1868 at 107, The Cowgate (see James Connolly).

In the late 19th century the area was known locally as 'Little Ireland'. Hibernian, the famous Edinburgh professional football club, were founded by members of the St Patrick's RC Church on the Cowgate in August 1875. The club were based from St Patrick's until the early 1890s, and cups the club won from this period can still be seen displayed in the church.

2002 fire

South Bridge closed

At eight o'clock on the evening of December 7, 2002, a fire started above a nightclub in the street. It quickly took hold, spreading to buildings on the South Bridge. The fire was difficult to control as it spread through the uncharted vaults beneath the South Bridge. The fire claimed no lives, but nonetheless destroyed many buildings, including much of the University of Edinburgh's School of Informatics, the Edinburgh Fringe venue the Gilded Balloon, which has since relocated to Teviot Row House and the La Belle Angele nightclub.

19 fire crews in total attended the blaze when it was it its height, the majority from Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade. It took over a day to bring the fire completely under control. Two main transport arteries, the Cowgate and South Bridge, remained closed for several days following the fire.

The University researchers and students affected worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The University of Edinburgh was a pioneer in the study of AI in the 1950s and one of the world's most comprehensive archival libraries in this field was destroyed by the fire. Little current research data was lost in the fire due to offsite backups. Since the fire, the School has been dispersed over a number of sites. In 2005 work began on a new building, the Informatics Forum, which was occupied mid-2008.

The First Minister of Scotland appealed to the UNESCO World Heritage Fund for money to assist in the redevelopment of the site.

As of November 2009, the site is still a gap site, but is now entirely owned by developer Whiteburn, who have a proposal for a new mixed use development using the site and existing adjacent buildings. The site has been temporarily used as a Fringe venue again, becoming the C Venues' Urban Garden during the 2007 and 2008 Festival.

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Buildings affected

Coordinates: 55°56′55″N 3°11′18″W / 55.94861°N 3.18833°W / 55.94861; -3.18833

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