“I went to Cork, Ireland, and stood on the dock some of my ancestors had left from. I felt their ghosts gather round me, and I cried to imagine what it must have felt like – leaving that beautiful land and those beloved people, knowing it was forever” – Luanne Rice
After a lunch of sea food chowder and Guinness the sun was shining as we returned to the streets of Cobh and took a walk along the charming waterfront. With brightly coloured houses and working boats with barnacle encrusted hulls resting in the harbour we walked among fishing nets and lobster pots drying in the sun and it reminded me of the coastal villages of Cantabria and Asturias in northern Spain.
Close to the Heritage Centre there was a statue of Annie Moore and her brothers. Annie Moore? Well, Annie Moore was the first person to be admitted to the United States of America through the new immigration centre at Ellis Island in New York on 1st January 1892.
From 1848 and for the next one hundred years, over six million people emigrated from Ireland and over two and a half million departed from Cobh, making it the single most important port of emigration in the country.
This mass exodus from Ireland was largely down to poverty, crop failures, the land system and a lack of opportunity. For many people Queenstown (Cobh) was the last sight they had of Ireland and for some it was the last land that they ever saw because this was the last port of call for RMS Titanic before it began its fateful journey in April 1912 and an unfortunate and terminal encounter with an unforgiving iceberg somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Another tragically notable ship to be associated with the town was the Cunard passenger liner RMS Lusitania which was sunk by a German U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale while on route from the USA to Liverpool on 7th May 1915. One thousand, two hundred passengers died and seven hundred were rescued. The survivors and the dead alike were brought to Cobh, and the bodies of over one hundred who perished in the disaster lie buried in the Old Church Cemetery just north of the town.
After the harbour we made our way to the Cathedral and stopped briefly to chat to a coach driver who was killing time waiting for his tour group to return. He enquired about our plans and itinerary and warned us not to be fooled by this afternoon’s pleasant sunshine because, in his words “the next three days are going to be absolutely shite…”. That was nice of him, if it was me I would have said something encouraging even if it wasn’t true!
It was a tough climb to the Cathedral up a set of steep steps set into the hillside. St Colman’s Cathedral is the second highest in Ireland, a few metres shorter than St John’s Cathedral in Limerick, and its elevated position makes it seem even taller as it looks out over the town, the harbour and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
It is a fairly modern Cathedral, less than two hundred years old, built in the Gothic style and its interior is impressive indeed, soaring columns, stained glass windows and opulent decoration, we visited the Cathedral and all of the side chapels and towers and when we were satisfied that we had seen all there was to see we left and took the steep climb down back to the harbour.
Finally we were going to visit the Titanic experience, a small museum housed in the old White Star Line booking office and embarkation jetty. We were keen to do this because in the previous year we had visited the Titanic museum and exhibition in Belfast and we were interested to see how this compared.
It is much smaller of course and instead of rides and reconstructions this is a virtual reality tour which was easily worth the cost of admission but couldn’t possibly compare with Belfast.
More about the Titanic next time…
By late afternoon we were ready to return to Cork so made our way back to the train station and the journey back where we were faced with another stiff climb from sea level to the top of the town (about ten minutes or so) and the Montenotte Hotel.
Kim, Richard and Pauline went directly back but I stopped off in a pub to watch the European Championship football match between Ireland and Sweden. The place was crammed full, standing room only and the roof nearly blew off when Ireland scored the opening goal and there was a collective roar that could be heard probably in Stockholm. Later Sweden equalised and I imagine there was a roar in Stockholm that could be heard in Cork and that poured cold water over the gathering but I had a good time and a complimentary portion of sausage and chips.
Later we dined at the hotel and whilst the others had a full meal but after my unexpected sausage and chips I could only manage a small bowl of chowder.