A visit to Cobh
Titanic's last port of call
Ask almost any resident of Cobh what annoys them most and the answer is almost always the same, “its pronounced Cove”. It’s easy for the less well informed amongst us to fall into this mistake but once we’re put right we’re free to enjoy all that this lovely seaside town in East Cork has to offer; including a shipload of history – well two very famous ships actually, the RMS Lusitania and the RMS Titanic. There is a very well known photograph of the latter leaving the large natural harbour and it is the last known image of the ill fated liner.
It’s a tale that continues to fascinate over a century after the ship was lost. A precious three years later another tragedy was to befall the area when with great loss of life the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by the German submarine U-20 just eleven miles out to sea. For weeks after the sinking bodies of men, women and children were found washed up all along the coastline of County Cork.
Over 100,000 visitors annually pay a small charge to wander around the Queensway Story Centre. Housed imaginatively in an old refurbished railway station building the centre charts Cobh’s maritime past. In fact one area guaranteed to make visitors stop and learn is when they see the truly appalling conditions endured by the six million Irish men, women and children émigrés who fled Ireland during the Potato Famines to seek better lives abroad; crammed into ill suited ships, referred to as ‘coffin boats’ they left Ireland, some never to return. Amazingly the exodus only really stopped as recently as 1950. For ship enthusiasts the exhibition gets tantalisingly close to the huge modern day cruise liners which moor alongside the exhibition to embark their passengers in a similar fashion to the ill fated passengers who boarded RMS Titanic in 1912; safety today of course being of a much higher standard.
In 1849, when Queen Victoria visited the town was renamed Queenstown, and it remained that way until the creation of the Irish Free State when it reverted back to Cobh. Cobh is without doubt one of the prettiest seaports in the world topped by the grand Gothic architecture of St Colman’s Cathedral high on the hill overlooking the harbour. The cathedral is unique in many ways. Its insanely intricate Gothic architecture is astounding, but it’s the carillon of 49 bells that is truly staggering. No cathedral anywhere else in Ireland or indeed the United Kingdom has so many bells rippling the air with a call to the faithful. Underneath the protective shadow cast by St Colman’s huddle multi-coloured houses in all shades and hues of white, green, yellow, pinks and blues. In the summertime with favourable sunshine it’s a riotous mix of colour that always guarantees a smile.
The Émigré spirit runs deep in the veins of this quant Victorian town as on the quayside close to the Queensway Story is the bronze memorial statue of Annie Moore, a local 17 year old girl who in 1892 became the first person to be ‘processed’ at the Ellis Island immigration centre in New York. In fact, the sea is an ever present notion in the life of Cobh from the names of the pubs to the excellent seafood restaurants and the enjoyable harbour boat tour. Cobh’s character is one of modernity embracing and celebrating its heritage with the impressive Victorian bandstand in Kennedy Park playing host to bands during the summertime alongside colourful beds of ever changing floral displays.
Ireland is well accustomed to tourism and Cobh has no shortage of superb accommodation that caters for all tastes and budgets ranging from bed and breakfast to hotels many of these offering patrons the priceless attraction of picturesque harbour views. It’s not long before I find myself looking out across the harbour and imagining stately turn of the century steam ships gently resting at anchor ahead of some great journey of discovery on the other side of the world.