Ireland Stories and Tips

Visting Cobh

View from the Bella Vista hotel upper room Photo, Cobh, Ireland

Cobh is a small town on an island in Cork City's harbour, It used to be called Queenstown after Queen Victoria and was the embarkation point for thousands of Irish who emigrated during the Great Famine of the 1840's. There's also a Titanic connection as it was the last port of call before the liner headed off across the North Atlantic, ultimately meeting its icy cold fate.

There's a Heritage Center called the Queenstown Story, a nearby wildlife preserve on Fota Island, and a lovely cathedral (all three have separate reviews in this journal) and lots of lovely shops, pubs and monuments scattered around the picturesque and sometimes *very* steep streets that are lined with brightly painted buildings and houses.

I'm visiting friends Rose and Mal. I flew from Manchester to Dublin and took a shuttle bus to Heuston station. The bus came through the north side of the city and along the River Liffey. Interesting to see the different styles of buildings. They don't usually have a lot of flourishes, architecturally. Some brick, some stone, many plaster covered with bright paint. Not much neon. Instead, shop fronts are painted very brightly with floodlights over the signs.

The train journey was uneventful, as it wound it's way south through farmland, much of which I couldn't see anyway because of the banks and hedges beside the tracks.

Rose, Mal and their little Jack were waiting in the car at the station and they took me to a pub on the Island outside of Cobh. No worries here bringing children into pubs. They seem to be quite welcome. The food was good in the Elm Tree as was the beer.

Later I got checked into the Atlantic Inn, (no review as it's no longer open) right on Cobh's lovely waterfront. My room overlooked the harbour. From the fourth floor. No lift. Needless to say I made sure I had everything with me when I went down to breakfast in the morning so I didn't need to climb up more than necessary! Breakfast included, I paid 32 euros for a single en suite. To Rose's for dinner, drinks and a chat.

Slept well, bed comfy. The room was cold when I checked in but was marginally warmer when I came back. The quilt was super warm so I was cozy. The view over Cork harbour was panoramic in the crisp morning sun. One good thing about being on the top floor, the view is great! Shower was nice and hot and breakfast was great!

I walked along the waterfront taking photos. A group of kids of various ages were getting two small sailboats sails ready to launch in very businesslike fashion. I later saw the red sails glinting out on the harbour most of the morning. There's a military base across the harbour and I saw a couple of ships sail out.

The houses and buildings here are square, plastered with very little adornment, painted brightly and no two houses side by side are the same colour. The window casements are painted a contrasting colour and gleamed in the morning sun. There are LOTS of pubs, over 40. There are lots of shipping liner references, The Lusitania victims are buried in an old cemetery on the outskirts of the village and Cobh, or Queenstown then, was the last port of call for the Titanic before it headed across the Atlantic. There is a restaurant that was renovated with a Titanic theme with the bar was remodeled on one of the bars in the Titanic.

I browsed in the shops and got a few pieces of jewelry for gifts.

We next headed for the cathedral, which is just a few blocks up from the waterfront and dominates the skyline of the town. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Colman and was built between 1868 and 1925. The floor is parquet but up the aisles is a tile mosaic made to look like a Celtic knot runner carpet.A couple of entranceways to side chapels have swastikas worked into and around the knotwork but back when the it was built the swastika was considered a good luck symbol! The view from the Cathedral yard over the town and harbour was fabulous!

We went for lunch at the golf club on Fota Island, a 780 acre island that used to be an estate. The island now contains a golf course, a wildlife park and gardens and the old estate house. We had a bowl of chowder and Irish soda bread in a sunny informal dining area in the bar.

I spend an enjoyable hour or so walking the paths in the wildlife park and watching the animals. Most of the enclosures are open with just a fence around the perimeters. There was a bison, kangaroos, penguins, elands, giraffes and loads of water birds and flamingoes and peacocks roaming around. There are a few small islands in a manmade lake that houses several species of monkeys. My favourites were the giraffes! They seem to move around in slow motion, only awkward when they attempt to get up off the ground or reach down to the grass.

I walked through the arboretum and past the rose gardens to the estate house (separate entrance fee) whose main feature is some wonderful plaster work on the ceilings which are restored to the Regency period. The house was an 18c. hunting lodge and later enlarged in the early 19c. There isn't much furniture in the house but there are interactive displays on things like the house's history and hidden nooks and crannies. The kitchens had lots of copper pots and a big contraption that is used to hang the proceeds of the day's hunting, birds mainly.

Rose met me and on the way back across the bridge to the island that Cobh is on, we stopped for a photo op of Belvelly castle. Ireland has hundreds of these tall square castle towers dotting the countryside, some intact, some mere shells and some in a state somewhere in between. Belvelly is unsafe to go into now. Rose thinks it might be Norman and it does have narrow cross openings like those used to fire arrows through. Nearby is an old Martello Tower as well. We then went back downtown to the Titanic bar for a drink and I tried my first real Irish Guinness and surprisingly I really liked it! The bar has lots of pictures from the Titanic and some lovely antiques and memorabilia around the walls and behind the bar.

Back to Rose's for our supper. Got back to the hotel around 11 and all that fresh air today is making me sleepy!

The next day after breakfast I walked down to the Queenstown museum. I had time to wander through the exhibits this morning. There were artifacts, passenger and supply lists, posters, photographs and video exhibits. There were reconstructions of state rooms and lots of information printed on display boards.

I came back to the hotel to have a cup of tea in my room before Rose arrived. We picked up her mother and drove into rural County Cork to Barryscourt Castle, another of the square tower castles. Unlucky for us though, it was closed Thursdays! Too bad because it looked like there was a lovely little tea room on the grounds.

Back out into the countryside, blue skies and rolling hills to the Stephen Pearce pottery showroom near the factory. Pearce's signature design is unglazed brown with a white glaze trim.

Then there was a search for an accessible loo that Rose's mother would be able to manage with her cane since the one at the shop was downstairs.That sorted, we drove into a town called Middleton for a late lunch.

I found out some of the meanings behind the more common place names in Ireland, many of which have common prefixes or suffixes. There's "carraig" meaning "rock", "Bally" meaning "town" and "Kil" meaning "church". "Lough" is "lake", similar to "loch" in Scotland and pronounced much the same.

Tonight Rose, Mal and I went to a performance in the Sirius Arts Center on the waterfront. The artist performing is a singer/songwriter called Mick Hanley. The venue was just a small room set up to seat 50. The building used to be the Royal Cork Yacht Club which was the first and oldest yacht club in the world. Hanley played a very entertaining acoustic set, just he and his guitar and his songs all had stories. The tickets were 10 euros each so they couldn't have made a lot but those that were there came away satisfied. We met some of their friends across the road in the Pillars bar and then back to the hotel to make sure everything is packed up and it's off to Dublin tomorrow morning.

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