Cork Harbor, on the south coast of Ireland, is the second largest natural harbor in the world after Sydney Harbor in Australia. It has helped to shape world history and today is a thriving port and emerging tourism hub. The Lower Harbor is a vast expanse of sheltered water which has six significant islands. All, apart from Spike Island are now connected to the mainland. Great Island is the largest island with the town of Cobh dominating its southern shore. The harbor entrance is a narrow channel at Roches Point, just under one mile wide and Cork City is located 9 miles upstream from here on the banks of the River Lee.
1. From 1848 to 1950, over 6 million adults and children emigrated from Ireland – over 2.5 million departed from Cobh in Cork Harbor, making it the single most important port of emigration.
Annie Moore and her two brothers were three such emigrants who left Queenstown on the SS Nevada on the 20th December 1891. Annie Moore became the first ever emigrant to be processed on Ellis Island in the United States when it officially opened on 1st January 1892. A statue of Annie and her brothers stands on the quayside in Cobh, while a statue of Annie herself stands on Ellis Island.
2. In the early part of the 18th century sailing for pleasure started to become popular in Cork Harbor. In 1720 the 9th Lord Inchiquin and five of his friends got together to formalise their activities and in so doing established the first Yacht Club in the world - The Water Club of the Harbour of Cork on Haulbowline Island.
In 1831 King William IV granted the club the privilege of using the prefix “Royal” and it became known as the Royal Cork Yacht Club. In 1854 the club opened a magnificent new clubhouse in Cobh which now houses the Sirius Arts Centre. The club now operates from the pretty village of Crosshaven, nearer the mouth of Cork Harbour.
3. Cork Harbor is associated with two of the world’s best known shipping tragedies.
The RMS Titanic departed Southampton on her maiden voyage on 10th April 1912. She sailed first to Cherbourg and then onwards towards Queenstown, now Cobh. Titanic arrived at the mouth of Cork Harbor at lunchtime on 11th April. 123 passengers and mail were brought from Queenstown to the massive liner on two tenders, Ireland and America. Seven passengers disembarked including renowned photographer Fr. Frank Browne. Just one and a half hours after arriving, the Titanic weighed her anchor for the last time ever.
Less than four days later the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank with the loss of over 1500 souls. Seventy nine of the Cobh passengers perished. All of the 123 Cobh passengers are remembered on a glass memorial wall in the Titanic Memorial Garden in Cobh.
On the afternoon of 7th May 1915 the Lusitania was sailing from New York to Liverpool along the south coast of Ireland on her 202nd crossing of the Atlantic. At 14.10 she was struck by a torpedo fired by the German U Boat U-20 and sank in just 18 minutes. The rescue effort was co-ordinated from Queenstown and survivors and bodies were brought into Cork Harbor and placed in temporary morgues in the town. On 10th May 145 victims were buried after a mass funeral. Bodies were brought to the Old Church Cemetery all morning and the public funeral left Cobh town centre at 3 pm with just three hearses and two vehicles. Despite this it stretched for over a half a mile from the Old Church Cemetery back towards the town.
4. Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbor is the headquarters of the Irish Navy. There are currently eight ships in the fleet with one more under construction. The Navy is tasked with fishery protection and the interception of narcotics and other illicit cargoes through routine patrols and intelligence led operations. In 2015 three Irish Naval vessels were deployed sequentially to the Mediterranean to rescue migrants fleeing Africa in makeshift and unseaworthy vessels. The LÉ Eithne alone rescued 3,377 migrants before returning back to Ireland. In the 48 hours of June 28th and 29th she picked up 1,240 people. The LÉ Niamh rescued 3014 people and the LÉ Samuel Beckett is currently deployed in the area.
5. The Cork Harbor skyline is dominated by the spire of St. Colman’s Cathedral. Construction of the impressive neo-Gothic Cathedral started in 1868 and the spire was completed in 1915. The spire houses a carillon of 49 bells, the largest carillon in Britain or Ireland. When Laurel and Hardy visited Cobh in 1953 their signature tune Dance of the Cuckoos literally rang out around the town to welcome them!
6. The Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster (IMERC) is situated in the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy in Cork Harbor. IMERC promotes Ireland as a world-renowned research and development location, which will unlock Ireland's maritime and energy potential. IMERC aims to harness and integrate diverse research and industry expertise through the development of an innovation cluster. The potential for commercialising ocean energy is huge. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2050 ocean energy could have 337 GW of installed capacity globally, saving 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions and generating 1.2 million direct jobs. In Europe alone, the industry expects to install up to 100GW of projects by 2050, providing around 10% of the EU’s electricity. Ireland, at the eastern edge of the Atlantic is in an excellent location to trial and test this emerging technology and to be at the forefront of innovation in this sector.
7. The Spit Bank is located to the north of Spike Island in Cork Harbor and on some Spring Tides becomes completely dry. The Spit Bank Lighthouse is a navigational aid at the edge of the shipping channel. When it was built in 1853 it was completely innovative as it used patented “screwpiles” to anchor it to the mud bank. Belfast Engineer Alexander Mitchell lived in Cobh to supervise the construction. He was blind from the age of 20 and died in 1868 near Belfast at 88 years of age, leaving behind a legacy of “screw pile” lighthouses, piers and bridges all over the world. (information courtesy of SailCork.com)
8. Spike Island lies at the centre of Cork Harbor and is reached by ferry that departs Cobh several times each day in the summer months. An impressive star shaped fort was constructed on top of the island by convict labour from 1792. Spike was used as a holding centre for convicts that were transported to Australia and Barbados and when transportation ended the island was used as a penal colony. Laterally the island was a British Army Base, Irish Army Base, Irish Navy training facility and as a prison for juvenile offenders until it was closed following a riot and burning in 2004. In 2010 the ownership of Spike Island was transferred to Cork County Council and it was opened to visitors. Spike Island is currently being developed into a world class tourist attraction. Camden Fort Meagher is another fine example of a coastal artillery fort. It occupies a hillside location near the village of Crosshaven and close to the mouth of Cork Harbor. Sixty five percent of the fort is located underground in a labyrinth of tunnels and passages. The fort has been brought back from a derelict condition by the local community working in association with Cork County Council and is now open to the public at weekends throughout the summer.
9. After Ireland gained her independence in 1922, the seas around Ireland and three Treaty Ports – Cork Harbor, Berehaven and Lough Swilly remained under British control. For the duration of World War 1 Queenstown was the base for a miscellaneous British Fleet. However from May 1917 American Destroyers operated out of Cork Harbour and were controlled from here under the control of the Royal Navy Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly. Accommodations, Military Hospitals and recreational facilities for the American sailors appeared overnight. Control of the Treaty Ports was returned to Ireland in 1938, shortly before the outbreak of World War 2.
10. Fota Wildlife Park is one of Ireland’s Top Ten visitor attractions and sees almost 400,000 visitors annually. It is situated just to the north of Great Island in Cork Harbor, on part of what was the estate of the Smith-Barry family for nearly 800 years. First opened in 1983 it now covers 75 acres, where animals roam freely in a parkland setting. These include Kangaroo, Emu, European Bison, Zebra, Giraffe and Ostrich. Other animals in enclosures include Humbolt penguins, Meerkats and Cheetah, while several species of monkeys and Gibbons inhabit islands within the park’s lakes. Recent new developments have been the addition of a Tropical House and an Asian Sanctuary where Sumatran Tigers and Indian Rhinos are the latest arrivals.
11. Since 2009, Fáilte Ireland and the Central Fisheries Board have designated Cork Harbor as a Centre of Angling Excellence. Reef, wreck and shore fishing regularly produce specimen sized fish, including Bass, Red Gurnard, Golden Grey Mullet, Thick Lipped Mullet, Whiting and Blue Shark. Cork Harbor not only provides access to unique and varied fishing but everyone involved in the angling product ensures that angling holidays in Cork are a uniquely Irish experience where anglers and their families enjoy the “craic, as well as the fishing”!
The European Federation of Sea Anglers (EFSA) European Boat Championships will be held in Cobh from 16th – 23rd September 2016.
Cork Harbour is just 25 minutes from Cork International Airport which has daily flight connections to London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle making it easily accessible from North America. From May 2016 direct flights will operate between Boston and Cork with Norwegian.com.
* Originally published in 2015.