Cobh and Cork, Ireland
Walking into a B&B 20 years ago in Cork at 2 am, exhausted, hauling two children and just wanting to sleep we were afraid the doors may not open due to our many delays that day. To our delight we were greeted by a smiling, sincerely concerned Irishwoman that only wanted to make our lives easier. She felt the children needed a wee bit of warm milk to help them sleep, generously retrieved some biscuits for us and then we settled down feeling the warmth of the Irish society surround us. What a wonderful welcome to Ireland. This generosity of spirit will never be forgotten.
Ireland has a long and troubled history. Human existence in Ireland dates back 12,500 years. Jumping to the 6th Century there is documentation that writing and the Celtic Church existed. With the advent of boats and weapons Ireland became a target for invasions from surrounding countries. By the 8th Century the Vikings invaded and built many trading posts. The Normans -Vikings from France-invaded Ireland in 1169 and took control of a small portion of the island. Also during this period the 800 years of English political and military influence began. England struggled to merge Ireland into one country for decades but due to the unique Hiberno-Norman lordships and the Gaelic territories it was not possible. These attempts caused constant fighting. And this is just the beginning.
By the 1500’s Ireland became a battle ground for the Protestants and Catholics due to the failure of the English Reformation. The battle lines were drawn between the Catholic Reformation and the Protestant Reformation. Besides these conflicts Ireland also fought many internal and external wars between 1569-1601. Finally after the loss of the battle of Kinsale Ireland officially became part of Britain in 1601.
Throughout the 17th Century the division between the Protestant landholding minority and a dispossessed Catholic majority grew. These tensions divided the Irish and the conflicts intensified. This recurrent divisive theme is still apparent today. Even in the 19th century when the Irish Parliament was abolished and Ireland became part of the UK the Catholics were not granted full rights. This was finally rectified in 1829.
As if these invasions, colonization and sectarian tensions weren’t enough a tragic potato famine began in 1845. The Great Famine lasted from 1845-1849. This tragedy caused the death of 1 million Irish and caused another 1 million to emigrate. The English did not respond effectively to the Irish starving and still shipped Irish wheat and barley out of the country. According to UN standards Britain’s lack of action constituted genocide of the Irish people. The Irish were so angered by this that some of the emigrates to Canada refused to stay in that British Colony and walked to the US. These individuals were starving, poor and determined to survive.
After the famine the Irish understandably wanted to be independent from Britain. In 1916 a rebellion started this struggle. This battle called the Easter Uprising was the most significant uprising in Ireland. The sites of this struggle and buildings utilized are documented in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. It’s a beautiful park and the signage explaining the troops movements and strongholds is very insightful.
Fighting continued throughout Ireland until the Irish War of Independence. At that time Ireland seceded from the UK. In 1922 the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed. This treaty acknowledged the Irish Free State but England kept 6 of the northeastern counties which are now Northern Ireland. The signing of this agreement started the Civil War which lasted until May of 1923. The ramifications of this brutal and violent war also exasperated the rift between the Protestants and Catholics. Murder and executions were rampant.
From 1922-1937 there were a variety of leaders and in Northern Ireland a great deal of unrest due to the separation from Ireland. During WWII Ireland was neutral throughout the war making sure Britain could not use their ports and get a foothold back into the country. By 1949 Ireland declared they were the Republic of Ireland and officially seceded from the British Commonwealth.
This left Northern Ireland alone. With disgust of being part of Britain and the sectarian issues “The Troubles” began and lasted from 1968-1998. The issues were based on the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The Irish Nationalists (mostly Catholics) wanted to unify all of Ireland whereas the Unionists (mostly Protestants) wanted to remain affiliated with Great Britain. Bombings in Belfast, England and a desire for independence initiated by the Irish Republican Army were constant. Finally The Good Friday Agreement was signed on April 10, 1998 bringing the British and Irish governments together in the hopes of peace.
Since these centuries of conflict the last 20 years has seen peace in the region. The population is more educated, the school systems are free, the society economically is collaborating across sectarian lines and the island is benefiting from these developments. Ireland is modernizing their government in many ways. Where homosexuality was criminalized, divorce and abortion were illegal and contraceptives (even condoms) were regulated now the society is completely different. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993, sales of contraceptives were deregulated in 1993 as well, divorce legalized in 1995, same sex marriage allowed now as of 2015 and a repeal of the abortion ban happened in 2018. Ireland’s evolution has been remarkable in just 20 years.
Our ship docked in Cobh since it is the 2nd largest natural harbor in the world. A convenient location to Cork, Ireland as well. Cobh sits on the Cork Harbor and has always been an active maritime port . The stunning history is displayed by statues built along the promenade of the harbor as well as in their museums and exhibits.
The three most significant historical events have been 1. Cobh was the last port of call for the Titanic, 2. the Lusitania was torpedoed just 18 km from Cobh and 3. from Cobh a large percentage of the Irish emigrants left from this port. One can experience all of these historic moments by visiting Cobh’s various museums.
The Titanic Experience offers insights into the passengers, cabins and many other aspects of the Titanic. A visitor receives a ticket with an individual’s name on it and at the end of the tour you discover whether you lived or died. Many cruisers seemed to enjoy and talked about the interesting facts they learned at this exhibit.
Cobh has a memorial in the center city square for the Lusitania and it’s victims. After reading Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Eric Larson I was glad to pay my respects. The city of Cobh was very involved in rescuing, housing and helping the survivors recover from this event in WWI which happened May 7, 1915.. Of the 1962 crew and passengers on board only 764 were saved.
Finally the Cobh Heritage Centre has facts about their port’s involvement in the mass emigration of Irishmen, woman and children from 1845-1851 due to the potato famine. In that time frame over 1,500,000 Irish left Ireland for either Canada or the U.S. A good percentage went through Cobh. The Heritage Centre has a genealogical reference center. iI your families passed through Cobh you can discover more of the particulars here.
To golf in the green expanse of the Irish countryside is a dream come true. The most famous course outside of Cobh is Old Head. Rich and his friends golfed at Cobh Golf Club located 10 miles from the cruise ship. A beautiful course with the signature hole being an island green including breathtaking views of Cork Harbour. For a wee price of $60 for greens fees, cart and rental clubs the day was a hole in one!
The city is beautiful and it is a very short walk from the pier. There are nice restaurants, bakeries, pubs and souvenir shops. Spending a morning or an afternoon is plenty of time to experience the wonders of Cobh.
Cork is easily accessed by the Cobh port. A train sits just 100 feet from the terminal. After departing the ship purchase a “return’ ticket from the train master. This means you are going to Cork and returning. It is more cost effective. The train ride is just a half an hour.
When arriving in Cork have a good map which is available at the train station and head out. It seems as if the City Center is a mile from the train station. Just follow signs to the City Center. We had heard a lot about the English Market so that was my goal. This nearly 400 year old market had raw meats, fish, great home made scones and other items for sale. After seeing markets in Lyon and Valencia’s Central Market it was a bit of a let down.
Cork is a fun town to walk around, people watch and see the church. Try to end up near North Main Street and Castle Street and have your fill of the antique and book shops. The pedestrian walk ways make it easy to get around.
I was able to enjoy Cork for a morning and felt I’d seen most of it. The town is a little depressed so don’t think a full day is needed.
Some of our cruisers decided to go to Blarney Castle from Cobh. The 600 year old castle is only 19 miles from the pier and most excursions just took 4 hours or so. The grounds are beautiful and kissing the Blarney Stone will give you the gift of the gab. Others enjoyed going to the charming town of Kinsale where the final battle was fought mentioned above. It is only 30 miles away. Other day trips offered were Charles Fort and Desmond Castle. Enjoy.