In planning the creation of an historical walking tour, the one thing there was no shortage of in Cobh, was historical sites and narratives. Surprising as it may seem now, there was little association in between Cobh and Titanic in the mid 1990s. Although the Irish Titanic Historical Society based in Dublin had diligently preserved the memory of the ship and its narrative applicable to Cobh, it was not really in the mind frame of visitors or indeed tour operators. A local man called Vincent Keaney was probably the first to invest in the idea of creating a vibrant and exciting link between Titanic and Cobh for the tourism industry. He opened a Titanic style restaurant and bar in the same office block that once was occupied by the agency for the White Star Line itself. Vincent was a knowledgeable Titanic enthusiast whose ideas were always fresh and innovative. It was unfortunate that this development didn’t work out in the way he had envisioned it.
Meanwhile there were countless Titanic enthusiasts around the world that had read a great deal about the ship, had developed a keen interest in its story but associated its last port of call with a place called Queenstown. I have been told by hundreds of people over the years that it took them a long time to make the connection between the pre-independence name of Queenstown and the current name of Cobh. Creating a product called the Titanic Trail to be based in Cobh helped clarify the link!
Prior to the 1990s, despite the fact that the Titanic had worldwide appeal, its association with Cobh was miniscule. The ship briefly called to the mouth of Cork harbour and fate dealt a blow that was to consign that stop as the last port of call. For most of the 90 minutes it spent at the mouth of the Harbour it would not have been visible to most of the population of Cobh !! However for those that embarked and disembarked, there is a wealth of associated built heritage and a meaningful narrative to be gleaned from the study of the human stories surrounding the ship set into its proper historical context. Titanic was a working vessel built to ply the North Atlantic route to deliver, convey, carry and transport cargo, goods, mail and people. In the minds of the vast majority of people who found themselves on board she was an emigrant ship. Like thousands that had come before and would come after her.
So my concept of a ‘Titanic Trail’ was not to be so much about one ship, but more about the fascinating backdrop of the harbour where she last stopped and about the movements, motivations and experiences of the people who had passed through it for centuries. Thus this approach opened multiple topics of engagement for visitors taking the tour. The expansive narratives of migration and arrival. The great stories of exploration and adventure. The pitiful accounts of desperation and flight. The strategic placement of military assets and fortifications. The progession of sail to mechanized propulsion. The expansion and opening up of new worlds. Cobh in Cork Harbour was was a fitting place to deliver discourse on such things, Cobh’s spectacular built heritage a fitting backdrop to the treasures of our past. A finite selection of places of interest then began and Cobh had so much to offer !