The next stop on our road trip in a sort of anti-clockwise direction around the south coast of Ireland was Cork City. We had a few things that we wanted to see but top of the list was Cobh (pronounced Cove) about 20 minutes along the coast to the east of Cork.
On the surface, this just appeared to be a pretty seaside port/harbour but there is so much more to it. It lies on the edge of the second largest natural harbour in the world (number one being Sydney) overlooking Spike Island. The island has a fascinating history all of it’s own but I will leave that to you to dig deeper if you want to Spike Island. Cobh has been renamed a couple of times but between 1849 and 1920 it was known as Queenstown and was the last port of call for the Titanic before it headed off across the Atlantic.
Having previously visited museums in Southampton and Nova Scotia about the Titanic, we just had to go. The Museum is in the original White Star Line booking and departure office. On entry we were given the boarding pass of a passenger due to board. I was Hilda Mary Slayter a second class passenger and Jon was third class. Starting to sound a bit like Rose and Jack?
The tour was excellent with lots of information we never knew, especially about the class divisions right through the boarding process. There was a brilliant photo taken by a passenger as he approached the White Star Line landing jetty. He had sailed from Southampton to Queenstown and was disembarking. There is a poor copy below but it shows three passengers top right on the balcony – these were the first class passengers. There are around 7 on the top left balcony – these are the second class (including Hilda) and then the remaining 113 third class passengers are crammed on the jetty. All waiting to board. Third class on Titanic we discovered was still better than being third class on land. Running water, lighting, your own bunk and three meals a day to name but a few of the luxuries.
I could ramble on forever about it all but there are just a couple of things I must mention. Firstly, the people of Queenstown never got to see the Titanic. To save time the ship anchored on the other side of Spike Island and passengers were ferried out by tender. Secondly, one lucky young man, John Coffey, jumped ship. He was a member of the crew who it is rumoured had a feeling of foreboding about the voyage. Closer to the truth is probably that he lived in Queenstown and signed on just to get a free trip home! Finally (I promise), apart from the Titanic history, it was the point of departure for much of the emigration to the US, transportation to the penal colonies in Australia and in WWI involved in the rescue of 700 survivors from the Lusitania which was sunk by a German U-boat.
Cork City Gaol
A short drive back to Cork and a bit of nifty navigation by Jon through narrow winding streets brought us to the intimidating looking former gaol. We wandered around on our self guided tour which gave a good insight into life for women, men and children incarcerated there as well as some of the political history of Cork.
The city of Cork appears to be split in two by the River Lee with bridges crisscrossing it. We embarked on a mini-jwalking tour to see some of the sights with the time we had left. The Elizabeth Fort built on high ground overlooking the city sounded interesting but we couldn’t help but feel it needed an injection of cash to improve the visitor experience. It had been used as a police station in the past and also had a large WWII air raid shelter on site. Good job it was free admission.
We wandered back to the town centre and spent a while drooling over the produce in the covered English Market. It is an impressive building and a real hive of activity.
With tired legs we headed back to our airbnb to recharge our batteries. It could only have been 30 minutes later when our host, Maria, asked if we wanted to go to a Zumba class. Jon politely declined but with borrowed leggings and baggy T-shirt I headed off to my first ever Zumba experience. At this stage I was fairly relaxed because Maria had said it was the first time she had been too but her other airbnb guest, Mercedes, had been before. We met Mercedes at the health club and she looked like she spent her whole life exercising. No baggy T-shirt to be seen. All lycra and gorgeous. Now I had this illusion that Zumba was a fun way of exercising to music. Silly me – this class was very high impact and so fast it was hard to move your arms and legs one way before we were off in another direction. I am sure after a few classes you get to know the moves and it becomes easier but I did feel that I was moving around a lot but not actually exercising anything. I am happy to trade fitness classes for a jwalk on a mountain or beach! Mercedes looked like she hadn’t broken a sweat, Maria and I must say had more of a glow.
Rock of Cashel
Our first foray into County Tipperary. The impressive photos in our guide book of the Rock of Cashel meant it was a definite port of call on the next leg of our journey. Mostly from the 12th century it is a hotch potch of a tower, chapel, cathedral, gravestones, living quarters and St Patrick’s Cross.
All of these are situated on the top of a natural stone formation giving it height and grandeur. It reminded me a little of Carcassone in France on a much smaller scale.
Another castle in Ireland? We have only scratched the surface but as we were passing. For me Cahir Castle was more impressive and the guide really helped. He pointed out cannonballs which had been lodged in the outer walls since 1599 and 10,000 year old giant Irish deer antlers (now extinct). He also gave us a whole long list of films that had used the location from Excalibur to The Tudors. I never thought I would say it, but even I am getting a little “castled-out”.
To rest up after all this history, we arrived at the Ashdown Park Hotel. Just one of those things that this came up cheap on booking.com so we mingled with the vintage car rally types in the dining room feeling like impostors. Next stop Dublin – sort of hoping there isn’t a castle but it will be Jonno’s turn to give you the abbreviated version.
By the way, in case you were wondering, Hilda Mary Slayter the second class passenger who boarded the Titanic at Queenstown survived. She had been shopping and travelling alone for her wedding and her possessions, all of which were lost, included: “one satin opal and pearl wedding dress with silver opal and mesh scarf, satin slippers, silk stockings and a hair bandeau,” worth $4,000. There was also a “blue satin silver net dress, silver and blue scarf, silver tissue and osprey and Italian embroidered lace hand made blouses” worth another $3,000. Jon’s third class passenger did not survive and rather shamefully he can’t even remember his name.
12/09 – 13/09/2017