By Corey Sandler
Our first port of call in Ireland is at Cork, close to the bottom of the island.
In actual fact, as they would put it, we docked in the industrial port of Ringaskiddy, across the wide harbor from Cobh.
We journeyed overland about 10 miles to Cork, the big city hereabouts. It was once a grand place, and it holds onto something missing almost everywhere else: a real downtown with locally owned shops.
I spent the morning documenting street signs, shop signs, and the urban landscape. Here is some of what I saw in Cork today:
Cobh: A Place of Beginnings and Endings
Across its history, Cobh has had an outsized importance as the place of arrival for invaders from Nordic kingdoms, early Britain, and from England, and as the last call in Europe before the long, long voyage to Canada, the United States, and Australia.
One of the closest European ports to Canada and America, Cobh—or Queenstown as it was known then—was the place from which millions of Irish departed to seek a new start in the new world, the land of milk and honey, the place where the streets were paved with gold.
The population of Ireland was estimated at 8.2 million in 1841; half a century later, in 1891, the population was said to be 4.7 million.
As many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930 from Queenstown, as well as a few other Irish ports, and British ports like Liverpool. Today, more than 10 percent of Americans trace their roots to Ireland.
There was another wave of generally unwilling emigrants who passed through Cobh and other Irish ports. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, large numbers of convicts were transported to Australian penal colonies by the British government, many through Spike Island in the harbor of Cobh.
One reason for the penal colony in Australia was to alleviate pressure on overburdened prisons at home. Across about 80 years more than 165,000 convicts were transported to the Australian mainland and Van Diemen’s island, now known as Tasmania.
The transport began about 1778, partly because it was no longer feasible to send convicts to the upstart British colonies in North America. About 60,000 convicts had already been sent to the American colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Most of the transported prisoners were convicted of relatively minor crimes: despite colorful depictions to the contrary, in general murderers and prostitutes were not shipped to the colonies.
Queenstown was also the last piece of land touched by passengers on the doomed ship Titanic in 1912. And Queenstown was just out of reach of the Lusitania, which came the other direction from New York before it was torpedoed and sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915.
Today it is a pretty port, a welcoming place, and partly populated–for those who know its history–by ghosts. Memento mori: A reminder of mortality.
All photos and text Copyright 2019 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. See more photos on my website at http://www.coreysandler.com
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