Cobh Heritage Center (Queenstown)

Written by William Stites on May 29th, 2009

The Cobh Heritage Centre in Cobh or formally known as Queenstown, is a museum that contains exhibits about Irish emigration to America, Canada, and Australia.

The first exhibit depicted a model of a ship that the Irish traveled on to America. The voyages were very uncomfortable because of bad food, seasickness, and close quarters. Because of the poor conditions and inadequate bathrooms, disease spread rapidly throughout the passengers on the ship. These ships were called coffin ships because many of the passengers arrived in America alive. The Irish were forced to emigrate to America because of the potato famine in Ireland. Starting in 1845, a new type of potato fungus infected 90% of the potato crop in Ireland. Since families had no food for the winter one of the options they had to travel to America to survive.

As well as traveling to America, many Irish emigrated to Australia. The Irish government sent prisoners to Australia as a form of punishment and between 1791 and 1853, 30,000 men and 9,000 women were deported to Australia for committing a crime. Onboard, the prisoners were chained to the ship so they could no escape. Passengers suffered from food shortages and overcrowding so disease spread quickly. Many criminals died on the voyages, but in the 1830’s the government increased regulations so the death rate fell to 1%. This system benefited the Irish and Australia government by reducing the number of criminals in Ireland, reducing the overcrowding of prison. Once the Irish prisoners finished their sentences, Australian farmers could use the Irish as cheap labor. In 1853, people began to criticize the system because it did not deter crime and the prisoners’ conditions were inhumane. By this time, Ireland had enough room in their prisons for the criminals and Australia did not want any more prisoners in the country and the farmers could meet labor demands. The last ship left Ireland for Australia in June of 1853.

After the famine, Queenstown adopted new responsibilties. It’s ports began to open their ports to steam ships. In 1859, the Inman and Cunard lines, two companies who built steamships, started to make regular visits to the Queenstown ports. They carried international mail to other countries and opened up their ships to emigrants and travelers. Eventually, the Inman outgrew the Cunard lines and became the company with the fastest ships. It abolished coffin ships by creating tighter regulations and creating different seating areas on ships. Tickets were different prices depending on their location. This was the beginning of class divisions on ships and it forced other shipping companies to improve their facilities.

Cork Harbor also became a key assembly point for troops at war. The United States used it in the America Revolution. During World War I in 1914-1918, the Allies kept destroyers, anti-submarine controls, seaplanes and convoys to Queenstown’s ports for supplies. They also used to for a safe harbor for their ships.

An interesting fact about Cobh Harbor is that it was the Titanic’s last stop before it sunk. It picked up 123 passengers and then proceeded to the Deepwater Quay to load mail onto the ship. Three days later, before the Titanic could reach land again, it sunk and the majority of its passengers died. For many, the Cobh Harbor symbolized freedom and a new beginning in America. The passengers who boarded the Titanic in Queenstown on April 11 had the same dream, but they would never arrive in America. It is ironic that what was supposed to be the safest ship was the demise to thousands of people.

Although a tragedy left from Cobh Harbor, the people in Queenstown were able to help the victims of another disaster. The Cunard Liner’s Lusitania, a ship that was traveling from New York to Liverpool, was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine U20 on May 7th 1915. The Lusitania torpedoed 25 miles West of Queenstown and sank in less than thirty minutes. While wireless operators called for rescue ships, many locals prepared clothes, food and shelter for the few survivors. The first class Queen’s Hotel provided shelter for the victims of the Lusitania. Unfortunately, many of the passengers who were rescued did not survive. Three days after the ship sunk, nearly 150 victims were buried in mass graves in an old church cemetery.

Written by Group A – Paige, Madeline, Maddy, Graham, Samantha, Barry


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kaan says:

    Clearly, emigration for the Irish in coffin ships must have been a horrific experience. This experience was made all the better however by the changing of one variable – the ships. It is so interesting to see the impact steam ships had on emigration conditions. The death toll most likely dropped significantly. I also was surprised to see that the class system on boats was invented with these very steam boats.

    In regards to the Cobh Harbor, it is surprising to see that this harbor has so much history with disasters. The Titanic and the Lusitania may be two of the most famous boat sinkings and they both have relations with Cobh Harbor. Also, all the Harbor’s history with the WWI dockings is very interesting.

  2. Janet & Bill Anderson says:

    We are so enjoying the blog updates. We are learning so much about Irish history. Great pictures and videos too. Keep up the good work!

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