The town of Cobh rises from the sea on the southern slope of Great Island in Cork Harbour. Built on the side of a hill, its towering cathedral - St Colman's - took a renowned 50 years to complete and is now a significant landmark in the area. Once referred to as "the saddest spot in Ireland", Cobh is now a successful and popular tourist destination. As it is only 15 miles from Cork city, it provides the convenience and excitement of the city's attractions and yet retains its own unique identity. This identity, of course, finds its roots in the town's history during the latter half of the 19th century. From the 1840s onwards, the town was the embarkation point for people immigrating to the 'New World' - America and Canada. The potato crop partially failed in 1845 before completely failing in the following years. For a country whose staple diet was the vegetable, this was a national disaster and subsequently, the overriding cause of the poverty which swept through Irish villages and towns. During the Famine, of the six million people who left Ireland, two and a half million of these did so from this harbour on the County Cork coast. Ironically, although many fled to prosperity, a high number of the émigrés did not even see land after Cobh. Travelling conditions of the time were so poor and unhealthy that many perished during the journey. The vast majority of the people leaving were the landless and impoverished, those without futures in the country of their birth. In those days, Cobh was called Queenstown until it reverted to its old Irish name in 1922.
The renowned Heritage Centre now tells the Queenstown Story, presenting a poignant selection of photos and letters which were written by many émigrés during their outbound journey. A visit to this exhibition is guaranteed to bring home to you the severity of the times and the sadness of the port in those days. Cobh's links with the luxury liners of the past are also revealed in the Heritage Centre displays. Queenstown was also a port of call for the great Liners which berthed in the harbour up to the 1950s. As the harbour is one of the largest and safest in Europe, it was an ideal place to stay overnight. Unfortunately Cobh, or Queenstown as it was then, is also famous for another sad connection for it was the final embarkation for the Titanic in 1912. It waited in the harbour for two hours while 123 passenger joined the ship, three in first class, seven in second class and the remainder in steerage (infamously, the part of the ship where most of the passengers lost their lives) Just three years later, this area of water was the scene of another tragic sinking. The Cunard liner, The Lusitania was sailing en route to Liverpool form New York when, just ten miles from the Old Head of Kinsale, it was torpedoed by a German submarine. The nature of the sinking meant that it was extremely difficult to launch lifeboats. 761 travellers were rescued, while 1198 people lost their lives. Many were never found. 150 of the bodies which were recovered were buried in mass graves 3 miles from Queenstown. 80 of these were never identified. So, as you can see, the town of Cobh has tragic elements within its past. Today, its harbour still plays host to a variety of ferries and cruise liners while you can join one of the daily harbour cruises which will circle Haulbowline and Spike Island. One of the leading sailing schools in the country operates from the region and as you can imagine, sailing and windsurfing are well-supported in the area. There are fine restaurants, often specialising in seafood dishes, within the town.