One of my favorite places to visit in Ireland was the seaport town of Cobh, Ireland. Set at the mouth of the harbor near Cork, shops and pubs line the waterside main street and the church looms over the town like a crown. But this colorful town with a funny name is not just a pretty tourist destination. Like a strong Irish Breakfast tea, Cobh is steeped in history.
A Funny Name
Cobh (pronounced Cove) has had quite a few names over the years. It was called Cove with the English spelling when Queen Victoria visited in the 1800s, and was renamed Queenstown to commemorate the event. Then, in the 1920s, the name was returned to the Irish Gaelic spelling of Cobh.
A Distinguished Port
Over the course of about 150 years, 3 million Irish emigrated from Cobh. With a current population of only 4.5 million in Ireland, it’s a staggering number. One and a half million left during the Potato Famine years, mostly bound for America, and the steady trickle continued for over a century afterward.
The Port of Cobh has a distinguished and tragic shipping history. A memorial exists in Cobh for the nearly 1200 souls who died when the ship Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915 not too far off of the southern Irish coast. Also notable is Cobh’s grim designation as the last port-of-call for the famed Titanic before her calamitous sinking.
Our Cobh Experience
Modern day Cobh is not nearly so grim. Full of charming pubs and quirky folk, it is really a great place to visit. I would have liked more time in this bright little town.
The drive to Cobh took us over a funny little ferry that shuttles cars quickly back and forth across the narrow channel for only a few euros round-trip. When we pulled into Cobh itself, we dubiously left the car parked along the street, as all the meters on both sides of the road were out of order.
The Cobh Heritage Center
We went to the Cobh Heritage Center for the exhibit called The Queenstown Story, but ended up grabbing a bite first at the cafe in the bright converted train station. The food was nothing special, but the building is worth a serious look.
The Queenstown Story inside the Heritage Center had creepy tableaus of waxwork figures, portraying the appalling conditions of early transatlantic voyages. The history lesson ended with a detailed explanation of passenger steamship innovation at the turn of the 20th century.
It was a lot of information. As a quick reader, I usually prefer reading display labels to hearing audio narration, but there was so much to read that by the end we had a bit of museum fatigue. Overall, however, it was an informative and engaging series of exhibits, and I did not regret the price of admission.
The Titanic Experience
After The Queenstown Story, we walked up the street to the old White Start Line Ticket Office to visit The Titanic Experience. After the wordy exhibits at the Cobh Heritage Center, the audio-visual narrative of The Titanic Experience was refreshing. The only big drawback was when a couple of times during the tour the size of the crowd made it hard to see the small visual display.
When you buy your ticket for the tour, you are given a boarding pass with the information for one of the final 123 passengers to board the Titanic at Cobh before it sunk. After the tour you can check the ultimate fate of your passenger. Our assigned passengers all survived except for Scott’s, a doctor in his mid forties. But the doctor’s family all lived, so we decided on a story for the good doctor where he managed to save his family before succumbing to a tragic end. We may have seen Titanic one too many times.
Wandering the Streets
After leaving the Titanic Experience, we wandered down the street that runs along the Harbor. We were hungry and hoping for a bit of pub-style food. At least, I was. I admit to being a little picky and refusing pizza. Our experience in France has made me weary of pizza in Europe outside of Italian influenced regions.
We passed some funny little places, like an alley full of found-object artwork and a mannequin in a bathtub. Sometimes there were neat stone walls, or colorful doors or statues. It was a perfect city for wandering, with so many places for the eyes to discover.
Meal in the Hotel
We finally stepped into a hotel bar where food was served. We were ushered into a ballroom with tables instead of sitting in the bar, and that ended up being a mistake. I think the server forgot about us more than once in the otherwise empty ballroom. The food was good, but overall we ended up spending a couple hours just getting a simple meal. The time could have been worth it with the right atmosphere, but the ballroom had a dirty carpet that they tried to vacuum during our meal with a big loud dusty vacuum. It just wasn’t hitting it.
By the time we tracked down our check at the end, it was already dark. Visiting the Cathedral was high on my list, but it was too late when we left, so we just stopped by on our way out of town, my patient travel companions stopping to let me snap some pics in the dark.
I would love to go back to Cobh. There is a tour that takes you up the tower and down to the crypts in the cathedral that I would book for next time. I imagine the views of the harbor are spectacular from the church. Next time I would not wait till after dark for that visit. Also, a boat trip from Cobh would be on the list, and there are a number of pubs and cafes I wouldn’t mind a chance to try.
Somewhere between the old rail station brick and the lacy ironwork of my last glimpse of the cathedral, this colorful little jewel of an Irish town won me over. Cobh is bright in my memories. Much like my beloved Clonakilty, I have unfinished business in Cobh. I will go back one day.