I’m writing this post sitting in Horizon Court Buffet on Sea Princess, looking out at thick fog as we cross The Atlantic leaving Cobh, Ireland.
The fog horn is blasting out every couple of minutes, and it’s very eerie, but I’m bursting with some wonderful warm memories of Cobh, pronounced Cove.
Sea Princess was buffeted by some strong winds and rough seas on the crossing from Dover to Cobh, but our Captain kept kept us well informed and tried to maintain a course to give us as smooth a crossing as possible.
Songs, Merriment and Much Laughter in Cobh, Ireland
It was with joy early the next morning that we entered the calm waters of Cobh’s natural harbour and watched a whole new world unfold around us.
We cruised past Spike Island on our port’s side, also known as Ireland’s Alcatraz. As we rounded Spike Island the town of Cobh came into view.
It seemed as if there was terrace upon terrace of colourful houses all stacked up on top of each other rising up the hillside.
Standing prominently, and very impressive, was St Coleman’s Cathedral, its Gothic spire towering above the town.
We disembarked the ship early and walked into Cobh within a few minutes, where we were able to explore the deserted streets of the sleepy town before even the townfolk had awoken.
Two things grabbed our attention.
Flowers and Australiana
Firstly the town was bedecked with colourful flower arrangements both in huge pots along the streets and in hanging baskets cascading from buildings.
The other thing was the rows of bunting, predominantly Irish and Australian flags, which at first seemed somewhat odd, but later we would find out why the two were mingled together.
Also many of the shop windows had Australiana displays ranging from blow-up kangaroos to a photograhic exhibition about Ned Kelly.
Australia Day Celebrations
Today, with the arrival of Sea Princess, the town of Cove was celebrating its annual Australia day recognising the strong ties between Cobh and Australia.
For Cobh was the embarkation point for masses of Irish people seeking new lives ‘down under’, many of whom were sent from Spike Island to the (then) penal colonies for petty crimes.
Deck of Cards
We walked up an impossibly steep street leading from the quay past a row of multi-coloured terraced houses that looked as if they were built on top of each other. These are known in the town as The Deck of Cards.
Although St Coleman’s Cathedral is impressive from the outside, actually being inside was breathtaking. The stained glass windows, mosaic floor and immense vaulted roof competed with many of the iconic cathedrals which we’ve visited in Europe on this Princess World Cruise.
The Lusitania and Titanic
Cobh has a rich maritime history and from this harbour millions of Irish people migrated to the New World.
It was also from Cobh that ships set out on a mercy mission to rescue the survivors from the Lusitania that had been torpedo’ d by a German u-boat off the coast on 7th May 1915.
Cobh was also the last port of call for The Titanic.
After a walk which took us up the hill, into the surrounding countryside and back down into the town we returned to the quayside and heard the melodious strains of Waltzing Matilda, sung in beautiful Irish brogue, coming from Kelly’s Bar.
Needing no more invitation than this we thought it was a good time to sample an Irish Stout and listened to some lovely Irish ballads by the resident singer Buster.
Instead of going to a restaurant for lunch we picked up a picnic from the local store and headed to the park to sit outside on a park bench and listen to the entertainment at the bandstand.
When we arrived a town celebrity Darragh McGann was singing. He’s also known as the Singing Taxi Driver and became a local hero when his performance of Danny Boy, as performed on Britain’s Got Talent, was viewed 360,000 times on YouTube. He had a lovely rich voice and sang some of our favourites including “I Did it My Way”, “You Raise Me Up”, and a stirring composition of his own.
Next up was one of Ireland’s only three military bands. They were fantastic. The music was rousing and foot stomping; mostly marches and some numbers from famous musicals
As they set into their rendition of Herod’s Song from Jesus Christ Superstar the clouds broke and blue sky and sunshine bathed the town.
The Titanic Experience
Our next stop was to visit The Titanic Experience. This interactive museum takes you back to the fated journey of the Titanic, and is a must-do if you are in Cobh.
When you buy your ticket you’re allocated one of the 123 passengers who embarked on the Titanic from Ireland.
My passenger was Hilda Mary Slayter, a 30 year old travelling back to America to get married, and Dave was Daniel Keane, a 35 year old tram driver who had saved hard to have enough to travel second class on the ship to start a new life in America.
Our passengers were both second class which meant they were in the minority because out of the 123 who set sail only 3 travelled first class, 7 second class and the remaining 113 were trailing third class.
The cost to travel 1st Class then was around 870 Pounds – which today equates to around US$70,000, and third class was 8 Pounds which today is around US$640.
The experience takes you in a virtual way through embarkation, then onto the tender out to The Titanic which was moored off the mouth of the harbour.
First Class and Third Class cabins, and also a dining area with menus has been recreated all giving you an insight into what life must have been like on board.
Finally you are taken into a room where it seems as if you are on a lifeboat on that fated night. It was eerie to watch a 3-D visualisation of the ship going down and to read later that the 8 members of the band had played on throughout the emergency to the last.
But now we wondered if our passengers had survived.
In the final interactive part of the tour you can find out the fate of your passenger and learn more about who they were.
Hilda was one of the lucky survivors and did reach America to get married. However, unfortunately Daniel perished along with so many others.
Blessing of the Bonnets Ceremony
Each year when the townsfolk of Cobh celebrate Australia Day they partake in a Blessing of the Bonnets ceremony.
“Roses from the heart,” is a unique memorial to the 25,566 convict women transported to Australia from Ireland and Britain from 1788 – 1853.
A beautiful bonnet has been made to remember almost all of these women and children. The bonnets in Cobh remember the women and children that died tragically aboard the Neva when it was shipwrecked off King’s Island.
A Hukka in Ireland!
A little later on we found parties were in full swing at the pubs dotted along the quayside. At one pub, The Mauretania the patrons spilled onto the street to listen to a singer and spontaneously people started to dance on the pavement and there was great merry-making.
We decided to go to the Rob Roy maybe because the board outside the pub read …..
…and a plaque above the board also said it was the meeting place for the U2 appreciation group – we’d like to go to one of those meetings, we thought!
The pub was filled to bursting with standing room only. We were told that the traditional Irish band had played for 7 hours straight and the atmosphere was buzzing.
And then to interrupt the great Irish music, Joel, one of the Princess entertainment crew did an awesome Hukka and brought the house down!
As we neared our embarkation time of 7.30pm, most reluctantly people began to spill out of the pubs and bars and make their way along the quay back to Sea Princess which was berthed close by.
Once on board we were relieved to hear the Captain announce that all passengers and crew had been accounted for and that we would shortly head off to our next port of call, Sydney in Nova Scotia, and he hoped for a smooth crossing.
We made our way on deck to look down on the band and the townsfolk who had all gathered to wave Sea Princess goodbye.
It was quite emotional as we heard the band play …
“When Irish eyes are smiling, the world seems bright and gay, the lilt of Irish laughter can take your troubles away,”
and we moved slowly out of the harbour and waived goodbye to what had been the most wonderful day where we were shown such magical Irish hospitality and fun for life.
I hope you get the chance to visit Cobh in Ireland one day … we’ve certainly been charmed by the Irish to return. I’m travelling as a guest of Princess Cruises on the World Cruise, but one day I’ll return independently to the Emerald Isle to discover much more.