We stopped in Cobh, a waterside town near Cork, for lunch. Whilst there, our local guide Michael, a historian and author, regaled us with a number of tragic tales connected with the town.
First, we heard about the terrible Potato Famine of 1845-1849 that brought about the deaths through starvation of one million Irish people, and subsequently led to the mass migration of those who survived the famine to other parts of the globe seeking a new start and a better life. For many of those who emigrated, Cobh was where they said farewell to the country of their birth. The vast majority never saw Ireland again. A statue of Annie Moore and her young brothers looks out over the waterfront. Annie was the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island in America.
The second tragic tale was of the sinking of the Lusitania after it was torpedoed by a German U-boat just 26 miles offshore from the port. Over one thousand people died. Many people from the town risked their own safety to rescue the survivors, answering the distress calls in their fishing boats and making their way to the stricken boat in time to save many lives. Other townsfolk provided aid, food, shelter and comfort to the survivors. Some helped to bury the dead in the local cemetery. A statue in the town honours the efforts of the people of Cobh who answered the call to help in whichever way they could.
Michael’s third tragic tale was of the fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912. The ship sailed out of Belfast on its voyage to America, and stopped at Cobh to take on some new passengers. The new passengers were processed in the White Star Line building on the waterfront. The building still stands today. From there, they were ferried in boats out to the Titanic, anchored just a short distance away. Cobh was the ship’s final port of call. Four days later, it hit the iceberg and sank. Many more perished than should have been the case, as a number of the lifeboats were sent off with vacant seats. The poorer passengers in steerage class, were prevented from sharing the first lifeboats to leave the ship, as these were exclusively used only for the wealthier passengers travelling in the first and second class cabins. A plaque in Cobh honours the people who lost their lives in the Titanic disaster. It was originally unveiled by a woman who was at the time the last living survivor of the Titanic. She was only a 9-month old baby when her mother wrapped her in a pillow case and passed her across to a helping hand in the lifeboat. so that she too could climb into the boat.
For me, there was one more tragic tale that I could relate to Cobh, as I spotted a sign announcing a tribute to Irish blues music legend, Rory Gallagher, who died of liver failure in 1995, aged only 47. Far too young. I saw Rory play at Dallas Brooks Hall back in 1975 and he was outstanding. Cork was his home town, and Cobh was one of his hangouts. Such a shame.
Michael finished his tales of woe and left us all to find a place for lunch. It was bright and sunny, and the gloom cast by Michael’s grim tales soon disappeared. We left Cobh thinking that this was yet another Irish town that we would have loved to see more of.