The Titanic has been inescapable for the last few weeks, and I must say I’m not Titanic-ed out at all yet. I have long had a fascination with the famous ship, and on its 100th anniversary, I was eager to go somewhere with a Titanic connection.
Cobh, in Co Cork, wears its Titanic connection more lightly than Belfast. It had no input in the building of the ship, and therefore could never be ashamed of its link with the liner. However, the spectre of tacky still is not completely banished- Titanic Deals poundshop anyone?- but in the main, the town has commemorated theTitanic with sensitivity and pride.
Cobh was of vital strategic importance to the British navy during the empire’s rule in Ireland. The visit of Queen Victoria in the 1850s led to the town being renamed Queenstown by the British authorities. It reverted to Cobh after the foundation of the Irish state.
Some 123 passengers embarked on the Titanic at Cobh and for 79 of them, it was the last time they would ever see land. Two White Star Line tenders left the pier outside the White Star Line Offices, bringing the passengers aboard the Titanic. This pier can still be seen, although it is in a state of disrepair. Some locals call it the Heartbreak Pier.
All this and more is elaborated on Michael Martin’s Titanic Trail, a guided tour of the town and its connection with the great liner. It leaves at 11am and 2pm daily from March to October from the historic Commodore Hotel. For those interested in the paranormal, ghost tours of Cobh are also available.
More details on Cobh’s general history can be found at the Cobh Heritage Centre, beside the railway station.
The Titanic Experience is an interactive exhibition on the waterfront in what used to be the White Star Line Ticket Office. This dainty little Victorian building, fronted by golden lions, houses an impressive recreation of what the Queenstown passengers would have experienced on their way to the Titanic. As the guide tells us that we are standing in the exact spot that the 123 passengers stood as they boarded the tenders that took them out to the Titanic almost a hundred years before, a shiver goes down my spine.
It’s similar to the feeling to the one I got when I saw the ship’s bell at the TitanicArtefacts Exhibition at Citywest two years ago. Like in Citywest, each ticket to the exhibition holds the name of a passenger. I’m Hannah O’Brien from Pallasgreen in Limerick. Four months pregnant, Hannah survived but her husband was lost.
It’s a real family affair in Cobh- the weather is sunny and showery all at once, and loads of families are wandering around. The Titanic Experience recreates the first and third class cabins. First class would be considered luxe even today, and I have to say, I’ve stayed in hostels far worse than a third class cabin. The kids in the Titanicexhibition are excitable until we ‘hit the iceberg’. Because of space restraints, the Cobh Titanic Experience is creative with their depiction of the sinking. Officer Boxhall, our virtual guide, tells us the ship’s struck and iceberg. We go in and watch the sinking on a big screen.
We are watching from a lifeboat, and the sinking unfolds in front of us. The sounds of the groaning, dying ship deafen us, and we watch the lights flicker and die (the electricians kept the lights going until the very end, probably helping to save many lives). The magnificent ship cracks in half, and the screams of the drowning and dying are a horrible cacophony as theTitanic rushes to her final home two and half miles under the Atlantic.
There is complete silence in the room, even among the giddiest toddlers. It’s strange to think that a mere recreation has had that effect on us, but it illustrated the horrendous deaths faced by those lost on the Titanic. We will never know, mercifully, how it felt for them- struggling against hypothermia and trying to stay afloat, listening to the shattering screams of the dying.
Sure watch the movie in 3D and make the “maybe they’ll see the iceberg this time” joke. (Actually, don’t. Try and come up with something a bit more original). But don’t forget that this was a huge tragedy in which over 1500 people died, and the event should be commemorated, rather than celebrated.