Thursday, 22 December 2016


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Cobh (Cove)

2004_0425image0002.jpgCobh (pronounced Cove) was originally known as Cove before it became Queenstown. That might seem typically Irish but in fact stems from a perfectly logical sequence of events and in itself is descriptive of the town’s long and important history. Cove was so called until honoured by an impromptu visit by the young Princess Victoria on her first state visit to Ireland in 1849. Cove was the first place she set foot - her scheduled landing point was Cork but the people of Cove turned out en masse and she was so moved by the colourful throng that she instructed the ship to anchor so that she might meet the crowds - subsequently the town felt so honoured by her visit that when she became Queen they wrote asking if they might name the town in commemoration of her visit. Queenstown later became Cobh the Gaelic spelling of Cobh (there is no V in Gaelic) when the Irish state became an independent republic and references to external ruling sovereigns was deemed inappropriate.

So as Cobh the place became synonymous with the British Navy and wars against and sometimes as allies with France, Spain and the USA - as a supply depot and safe harbour. The town and its merchants growing rich on the profits from such trade. Architectural examples abound from this era when the town modelled itself on English seaside towns, such as Brighton, frequented by Victorian families in search of watering places and health resorts. As Queenstown it was the departure point for some 2.5 million migrants to the USA seeking a new life and opportunities together with tens of thousands of less enthusiastic deportees to Australia.

Later, Winston Churchill when first Lord of the Admiralty spent many months in the town overseeing the despatch of troops and supplies to the far flung British Empire. To this day, Cobh, regards its natural deep water harbour facilities as key to its survival and is currently developing new moorings to cater for the huge cruise ships entering Irish waters.

The major steamships all availed of the facilities at Cobh prior to making fastest record times to America – the steamships prime cargo was in fact mail – there was much more money to made from carrying letters and parcels than there was from live cargo. These ships were named ‘Steam’ Packets to differentiate them from their predecessors which were sail powered and of course the word packet became used to describe bulky letters. Cobh has direct links to the Titanic - being its last port of call on its first and only voyage. The crew and passengers of the Lusitania which was sunk by torpedo in 1915 - both survivors and dead - were offloaded at Cobh keeping them well away from Cork so that the media could be effectively censored – bad news during times of war has always been managed. Conspiracy theories still abound as to why both ships sank so rapidly.

From many vantage points in the town you can see Spike Island which for many years acted as a holding centre for deportees and subsequently a prison – conditions were on occasion so bad on the island and the attendant hulk ships – catering for the overspill - beached in its environs that the citizens of the town would gather food and clothing to alleviate the suffering of those impounded.

Cobh is a perfect base for a wide variety of leisure and sport activities including fishing, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, powerboating and of course walking and golf

Cobh offers an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants and a variety of hotels and B+Bs. Nearby Fota, famous for its wildlife park together with its beautiful Regency house, arboretum and gardens is a really great day out. Fota is an island of some 750 acres which was once the home of the Smith Barrys. Over a period of some 200 years from the mid 18th century they progressively developed a ‘charming’ hunting lodge into a remarkable estate incorporating an exquisitely decorated and remarkably modern property and transformed the grounds or ‘demesne’ to become a paradise representing their own perceptions of style and good taste. The visitor is transfixed by the sheer power of inordinate sums of money spent over centuries to achieve arboretums that those planting them would never see and an effect that no ‘changing rooms quick fix’ could ever aspire to. These people had taste, panache, power and literally moved the earth if not heaven to achieve their aspirations – employing vast quantities of estate worker labour and talented architects over many generations to fulfil their vision. Just the stone wall enclosing the estate is a thing of beauty and unimaginable cost.

A golfing village with luxury hotel accommodation should be completed in 2006.

Cobh’s old railway station has been transformed into a fascinating museum depicting life in the town from the early days of English colonialist rule to modern times. It concentrates upon the migration to America and depicts in graphic form, the appalling conditions which existed on the so called coffin ships. It puts into perspective the misery of budget airlines when you consider that migrants sold everything they owned to travel in those conditions.

A guided walk around the quirky and steep lanes is highly recommended. I particularly liked the sculpture of the man in the boat, in the little park - which also houses the bandstand - by the waterfront. Cobh is an excellent locale from which to travel to other resorts and picturesque locations and Cork city is 30 minutes by road or a combination of road and ferry if you prefer a more interesting journey or wish to visit the delights of Carrigaline and Kinsale, West Cork and the dramatic landscapes of Kerry.

The Sirius Arts centre, St. Colman’s cathedral which dominates the town skyscape and Cobh Museum are all worthy of your attention.


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