For the first of my blog posts for Irish Month aka Begorrathon, I bring you my visit to Cobh, a small town near Cork city in Ireland. This visit took place in the spring of 2002. I flew from Canada to Manchester for a few days with some friends before heading over the Ireland.
Cobh (pronounced “cove”) is a small town on one of the islands in Cork City’s harbour, It used to be called Queenstown, named after Queen Victoria and was the embarkation point for thousands of Irish who emiigrated during the Great Famine of the 1840s. There’s also a Titanic connection as it was the last port of call before the liner headed off across the North Atlantic, ultimately meeting its icy cold fate.
There’s a Heritage Center, a nearby wildlife preserve on Fota Island, a lovely cathedral and lots of lovely shops, pubs and monuments scattered around the picturesque and sometimes *very* steep streets that are lined with brightly painted buildings and houses.
I visited here in the spring of 2002 because my friends Rose and Mal live here with their son Jack. I flew from Manchester to Dublin on Aer Lingus and took a shuttle bus to Heuston train station. It was an enjoyable trip because it afforded me my first look-see of Dublin. The bus came through the north side of the city and along the River Liffey. Interesting to see the different styles of buildings. They don’t usually have a lot of flourishes, architecturally. Some brick, some stone, many plaster covered with bright paint. Not much neon. Instead, shop fronts are painted very brightly with floodlights over the signs.
The train journey was uneventful, and on time as it wound it’s way south through farmland, much of which I couldn’t see anyway because of the banks and hedges beside the tracks. Muffling the sound and keeping the cows and sheep from wandering onto the tracks I shouldn’t wonder.
Rose met me at the cafe at the station then they took me to a recently refurbished restaurant/ pub on the Island outside of Cobh. No worries in Ireland bringing children into pubs. They seem to be quite welcome, at least in the daytime. Didn’t see any in the evenings. It’s not that common in the UK, though pubs will have family rooms for dining. Licensing laws have relaxed there and you can bring children into a pub but it’s not that common. The food was good in the Elm Tree as was the beer.
Later I got checked into the Atlantic Inn, a B&B right on Cobh’s lovely waterfront but is closed now. My room overlooked the harbour. From the third floor (that’s fourth to North Americans). No lift. Needless to say I made sure I had everything with me when I went down to breakfast in the mornings so I didn’t need to climb up more than necessary ! The Hotel was very nice with breakfast included. I got settled in, and then Rose came back for me later and we went to hers for our dinner, drinks and a chat. At the time, they lived in an old cottage just outside of town but have since bought a bigger house in the town itself. The cottage really is nice, with stone walls inside.
Back to the hotel for a night’s kip. I did find the room cold when I checked in but I mentioned something to them before I went out and it was marginally warmer when I came back. It’s started off nice and sunny the next morning, the view over Cork harbour where the Island is situated was panoramic in the crisp morning sun. One good thing about being on the top floor, the view is great!
Rose was running a bit late so I took the opportunity to walk along the waterfront taking photos. A group of kids of various ages were getting two small sailboats sails ready to launch in very businesslike fashion. I later saw the red sails glinting out on the harbour most of the morning. There’s a military base across the harbour and I saw a couple of ships sail out. I didn’t realize Ireland had a navy.
The houses and buildings here are squared, plastered and with very little adornment. They are painted brightly with what is probably a concerted effort that no two houses side by side are the same colour. The window casements are painted a contrasting colour and gleamed in the morning sun. There are LOTS of pubs, over 40, Rose says, mostly in the downtown area. There are lots of shipping liner references. In addition to the Titanic connection, the Lusitania victims are buried in an old cemetery on the outskirts of the village. The Lusitania was sunk off Ireland’s shore in 1915, three years after the Titanic went down near Newfoundland. There is a restaurant that was renovated with a Titanic theme with the bar was remodeled on one of the bars in the Titanic.
Rose picked me up and we headed for the cathedral, which is just a few blocks up from the waterfront and dominates the skyline of the town. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Colman and was built between 1868 and 1925. The floor is parquet but up the aisles is a tile mosaic made to look like a Celtic knot runner carpet. Really nice! A couple of places, entrance ways through to side chapels, have swastikas worked into and around the knotwork but back when the cathedral was built the swastika was considered a good luck symbol! The view from the Cathedral yard over the town and harbour was fabulous!
We decided to go for lunch at the golf club on Fota Island, a 780 acre island that used to be an estate owned by the Smith-Barry family. The island now contains a golf course, a wildlife park and gardens and the old estate house. Later, Rose had an appointment so left me at the gates of the wildlife park.
I spend an enjoyable hour or so walking the paths along side the enclosures and watching the animals. Most of the enclosures are open with just a fence around the perimeters. The cheetahs had a higher fence and the eagle was caged in but the rest could roam around. My favourites were the giraffes! I could have watched them all day. They seem to move around in slow motion, only awkward when they attempt to get up off the ground or reach down to the grass.
I walked through the arboretum and past the rose gardens to the estate house (a separate entrance fee) whose main feature is some wonderful plaster work on the ceilings which are restored to the Regency period. The house was an 18th c. hunting lodge and later enlarged in the early 19th c. by Richard and William Morrison, a father and son team of architects. There isn’t much furniture in the house but there are interactive displays on things like the house’s history and hidden nooks and crannies. The kitchens had lots of copper pots and a big contraption that is used to hang the proceeds of the day’s hunting, birds mainly.
Rose met me and on the way back across the bridge to the island that Cobh is on, we stopped for a photo op of Belvelly castle that’s just sitting there on the side of the road! Ireland has hundreds of these tall square castle towers dotting the countryside, some intact, some mere shells and some in a state somewhere in between. Belvelly is unsafe to go into now. Rose thinks it might be Norman and it does have narrow cross openings like those used to fire arrows through. Nearby is an old Martello Tower as well.
We then went back downtown to the Titanic bar for a drink and I tried my first real Irish Guinness and surprisingly I really liked it! I had tried it once years ago in England and wasn’t fussy on it at all. The bar has lots of pictures from the Titanic and from it’s construction and some lovely antiques and memorabilia around the walls and behind the bar.
Back to Rose’s, for a lovely lasagna and garlic bread. Got back to the hotel around 11 and all that fresh air today is making me sleepy!
My last day in Cobh started with a clear blue sky though a little cool. After breakfast I walked down to the Queenstown museum. There’s a statue outside the exhibit building of a woman named Anne Moore with her two brothers. In 1892, on January 1, she was the first immigrant processed through the brand new facility on Ellis Island, New York. Inside, I bought a pin at one of the giftshops. The design is a not quite closed circle with a staff or something (not a sword) crossing it. It’s called a Tara design and symbolizes the ancient high kings of Ireland who’s seat of power was a place called Tara.
I had time to wander through the exhibits this morning. They are set up in three eras. The first focuses on the convict transports and the second, the era of and explores the conditions on board. In the middle of the 19th c. the potato famine drove emigration into the millions. Between emigration and death, Ireland’s population halved during the course of just a few decades.
The beginning of the 20th c. led into the steam liner era for both emigration and transatlantic transport for business, holiday etc. Many liners called at Queenstown as their last port before the crossing. There were artifacts, passenger and supply lists, posters, photographs and video exhibits. There were reconstructions of state rooms and lots of information printed on display boards.
I came back to the hotel to have a cup of tea in my room and having a rest. I am feeling a little off today, but a rest and a restoring cuppa made a difference so I was brighter by the time Rose arrived. We picked up her mother and got on the road into rural County Cork to Barryscourt Castle, another of the square tower castles. Unlucky day for us though, it was closed Thursdays! Guess what today is? Yep. Too bad because it looked like there was a lovely little tea room on the grounds. I think the interior of this castle is open to the public normally.
Back out into the countryside, blue skies and rolling hills to the Stephen Pearce pottery showroom near the factory in Shanagarry. Pearce’s signature design is unglazed brown with a white glaze trim. I very nearly bought a small bowl and napkins but Rose says the shop at Blarney is huge and had really good prices on everything. I’m taking a bus tour next week and that’s going to be one of the stops.
After a search for a loo, we drove into a town called Middleton, a busy little spot, for a late lunch. We went to a small Italian restaurant called Leonardo’s, a long narrow eatery with two long rows of tables. I had something fairly heavy so I didn’t have to have anything for my supper.
I found out some of the meanings behind the more common place names in Ireland, many of which have common prefixes or suffixes. There’s “carraig” meaning “rock”, “Bally” meaning “town” and “Kil” meaning “church”. “Lough” is “lake”, similar to “loch” in Scotland and pronounced much the same.
Tonight Rose, Mal and I went to a performance in the Sirius Arts Center on the waterfront. The artist performing is a singer/songwriter called Mick Hanley. The building used to be the Royal Cork Yacht Club which was also the first and oldest yacht club in the world. Mick Hanley is a country/folk singer with a fantastic voice. He played a very entertaining acoustic set, just he and his guitar and his songs all had stories. We three met a couple of Rose and Mal’s friends across the road in the Pillars bar which was built inside a building that may possibly have been a church at one time but which has large pillars out front.
Back to the hotel to make sure everything is packed up and it’s off to Dublin tomorrow morning where Rose, Mal and I are joining seven other friends for a weekend in Dublin. Then I’m going on a bus tour around the Republic of Ireland with one of those friends.
Cobh is a pleasant town. It’s well worth a side trip from nearby Cork where cruise ships often dock, as well. I haven’t actually spent any time in Cork other than seeing the train station and by all accounts, it’s an interesting city so that will have to wait for another time.