The Origin of the Titanic Trail Guided Walking Tour of Cobh
Like all new ideas, the development of a guided walking tour in Cobh to be called the Titanic Trail was not universally welcomed when first mooted by me. Perhaps it was the fact that there was no other daily Titanic attraction in Ireland (or anywhere else) in 1998. Perhaps it was the notion among some local residents in Cobh that nobody would be interested in such a thing. Maybe it was the fact that up until then Cobh’s economy had been centred on industry other than tourism. Or worse still, maybe the prospect of an outsider from Dublin regaling visitors with the history of the locality when he wasn’t even born here was a stretch too far. After all, Cork Harbour boasted an oil refinery, a shipbuilding yard, a Naval Base, a steel mill, an electrical power generating station, a fertilizer plant and numerous global pharmaceutical giants all of whom provided gainful employment that nurtured a local economy. Who needed tourism?
Thankfully not everybody was dubious about tourism. In the early 1990s the Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce initiated a consultant report that had suggested tourism may be a viable industry for the future. As a result of recommendations made, the Queenstown Story Heritage Centre was conceived and although it struggled initially, it eventually became an iconic attraction to those interested in the heritage of the area. However there was one small issue about its location. Despite the fact that the building was housed in an attractive Victorian railway station, the access and egress routes of coach tours to and from the museum did not expose visitors to the town’s magnificent built heritage and harbour views.
Although I had never worked in the tourism sector before 1997, (I served 23 in the Navy) the fact that thousands of potential visitors were missing the greatest assets that Cobh and the Harbour had to offer, seemed painfully obvious to me. However there were two incidents that really inspired me to create a walking tour in Cobh neither of which occurred in Cobh itself. If fact both locations were over 2,000 miles from the town and in opposite directions!
In the late 1980s I was in the United States as part of a Naval delegation were participating in the St Patrick’s Day celebrations and Parade for Boston. On a quiet afternoon when the heady celebrations had died down I happened on the ‘Boston Freedom Trail’. I found myself fascinated by the idea that I was standing beside the actual buildings in which history was made. Hearing the stories in the specific location of occurrence resonated with me deeply. I then thought of my home town of Cobh where ships headed off from its piers to unknown oceans, where millions of emigrants made their way at times in desperation of finding a better life elsewhere and where soldiers and sailors departed and arrived from distant wars. What a great diversity of international heritage!
I realized there and then that people would be fascinated to hear those stories in the same way that I had been engaged in places like Boston, Philadelphia, Mesa Verde Colorado and so many more. Any doubts I had about the ability to create something in an environment where some people thought it would result in failure was laid to rest in another place in a very different part of the world.
Two continents away on 1994 I was serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The region had a long tradition of volatility and suffered military, religious and ethnic conflict on a scale that was incomprehensible to those of us who were lucky enough to have been born and reared in peaceful western democracies. In what was a routine mission, myself and a small number of comrades, had been assigned to attend a conference in the conflict-ravaged city of Tyre. We went through our usual routine of collecting and checking our side arms, donning our flak jackets, notifying operations that we would be travelling to the gathering at a specific time and in a specific vehicle. The journey from our camp through the war torn area of operations was uneventful other than the occasional sound of nearby artillery fire. We arrived safely at the location and deposited our arms in a designated UN safe area before continuing into the conference room where the only place to put our distinctive blue helmets and bullet proof vests was under our chairs. After a few minutes a Lebanese gentleman arrived to greet us and began to advocate with great pride and amazing enthusiasm all the joys and benefits of considering a vacation in his beautiful country. My abiding impression of that day was that even in the face of the most extraordinary challenges, the right mix of determination, creativity and single-mindedness can generate success when many see failure.
So in 1997 I decided I would create the Titanic Trail guided Walking tour of Cobh. I set about researching the historical backdrop of area and so began a fascinating meandering through the mists of time. Join me in coming blogs on my journey of discovery and amazement.