Yesterday’s bleak morning weather continued through much of the day, although there were plenty of shipboard activities to keep passengers’ minds off it with Michael Martin giving a lecture on Cobh, the Balmoral’s next port of call, in addition to the usual range of shipboard activities. After struggling with on board connectivity (thus the lack of photos – I’ll have to upload more later) I lost track of time, noting only that our arrival in Queenstown would be delayed a couple of hours.
As matters turned out, the delay turned to be fortuitous. I looked up suddenly to see land slipping past, and the grey skies and rain that had been falling earlier cleared in time for our arrival. Those few hours meant that we sailed in with blue skies and an exquisite evening. What an astonishing welcome it was – a rainbow in the sky that might have been ordered for the occasion, and the streets of Cobh lined with well wishers come to welcome us in to port.
This time I joined the passengers who dressed for the occasion and, wearing a c.1912 green silk walking suit (with, alas, no hat – it was forgotten in the packing, and I was bareheaded in a 1912 fashion faux pas) and walked into a throng of people all welcoming us ashore.
The Mayor of Cobh, Jim Quinlan, formally welcomed us in a Civic Reception, and then we were free to wander the streets. I’ve always found this an extraordinarily beautiful town, and (as a result of Ireland’s neutrality in World War II) it escaped much of the terrible bombing that irrevocably changed the architecture and character of many other ports such as Liverpool and Southampton. Tiers of houses rise up the slopes facing the harbour, and many of the shopfronts had remarkable displays in honour of the centennial – books, newspaper articles, models, children’s paintings and even mannequins dressed in Titanicera fashion.
Cobh is also rich in memorials not only to the Titanic, but also to the tragic Lusitania, the Cunarder sunk by a u-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale. Many of the survivors, as well as the bodies retrieved from the water, were brought ashore here, to be buried in the Old Cemetery in mass and individual graves.
It’s not only the tragedies with which it has links that are remembered here, though – there’s also the memory of the many migrants who emigrated from here to new lives. I have my own ancestors who sailed from Cobh to Australia in the 19th century, as did many on board the Balmoral. Our stay was limited to a few hours, but they were lively, colourful and warm ones as the bands played music in the streets and the pubs over flowed. I spent a couple of hours in the Mauretania pub (I’ve always had a weakness for it thanks to the name – a memory of the Cunard vessel) drinking pints of Guinness and chatting with a gentleman who had come down from Cork city to see the Balmoral come in. Elsewhere, the band at the Commodore was prevailed upon to play “A Nation Once Again”, the song that Irish immigrant Eugene Daly played in the tender as he and his fellow passengers prepared to join the Titanic.
There were still groups of people waiting to wave us off as midnight approached and we were away. It was an odd feeling to leave behind that beautiful town with its well-lit streets and head into the dark of the open seas, with only a canopy of stars overhead and the occasional fishing craft to illuminate the night outside our own floating haven.
Woke up this morning to a heavily rolling ship and the news that this will continue for a while yet, at least until tomorrow afternoon. There was still a very big crowd who made it to the second sitting of Senan Molony’s talk on The Irish Aboard Titanic, and afterwards I finally had the chance to catch up with friends-of-friends who are on board. At some point I will have to rug up warming and go for a turn on the decks. I think everyone on board is mindful that today is the 10 April – exactly 100 years since Titanic sailed from Southampton.