Cork and Cobh

Today in Cork, Ireland my day didn’t go according to my loosely formed plan. The primary reason for that is that I didn’t check the local calendar before vaguely mapping out my day.

(When travelling, I rarely do more than form a loose, informal plan for the day. Typically, I do that only at the start of the day. I do map out when I’ll move from one city or town to another city or town before even leaving for a trip. Transportation and hotel reservations require that. But, except when I pre-book a day-trip from a location (as is the case for tomorrow), I rarely definitively decide in any detail what I’ll do each day until the morning of that day.

And I often start with only a plan for the morning, not the whole day. It’s not because I anticipate that things will go wrong, but rather because I can’t predict how long I’ll want to spend at each activity. So I expect to want to add or subtract activities as the day unfolds.)

Wait. Where was I before I rambled off on that sidetrack? Oh, yeah.

Unexpectedly for me, today is the August Bank Holiday here in Ireland. Who doesn’t venerate banks and want to celebrate them with a holiday? I mean, besides everyone who isn’t a banker. And probably not even some of them.

No, it’s not that. As best I can tell, “bank holidays” are synonymous with what we call “statutory holidays” back home.

Today is the first Monday of August. By coincidence, many of the provinces in my home country of Canada have provincial statutory holidays today too. My home province of Ontario calls it different things in different municipalities.

In my hometown of Toronto, we called it either Simcoe Day or Civic Holiday over the years. Although, to be honest, I’m not one hundred percent certain what we call it today. I propose that we coalesce around a common name of “It’s Summer; Summers Are Too Damned Short Here; Let’s Have a Holiday Day.” If that’s too long, we can shorten it to “ISSATDSHLHAH Day.” The pronunciation would be a tad difficult, but work with me.

But I digress. Again. It’s one of my many bad habits.

Getting back on track, the consequence of it being the August Bank Holiday is that a couple of the places I wanted to visit today were closed.

Being ever nimble (that was a joke), I took advantage of my unexpected spare time by taking an afternoon trip to a nearby coastal town, Cobh.

Before getting into that, a short aside. Did I mention that I have a strong tendency to ramble off on tangents?

Yesterday, I said that the weather forecast for today called for rain all day. I should have been more optimistic. This time, the meteorologists were wrong in the right way. When I looked at today’s forecast this morning, it pushed the rain off to early afternoon. But even that was overly pessimistic.

The sky was ominously threatening all day, but it never opened up and drenched me, or even sprinkled upon me. I think it rained for a while when I had dinner, but that didn’t affect me. And it is, after all, all about me. I don’t know why the rain god blessed me today, but I hope He, She or It continues to do so for the rest of my time in Ireland.


In the morning, I took in two sights that were open despite being the August Bank Holiday, namely Cork City Gaol and St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral.

Cork City Gaol

The entrance building at the Cork City Gaol
The entrance building at the Cork City Gaol

Cork City Gaol hasn’t operated as a jail for many years. Like the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, today it serves as a museum telling the history of the jail.

Cork City Gaol opened in 1824. It released its last prisoners or transferred them to other prisons in 1923. In 1993, the former jail opened as a tourist attraction. During its time as a prison, it housed men, women and children. Many of the inmates were convicted of common crimes. Others were political prisoners.

The museum rents an audio guide for a couple of euros extra on top of the €8.50 (for seniors; €10 for other adults) admission price. I learned only after renting the audio guide that the narrative on it is pretty much identical to the text on a pamphlet they handed me on entry. That pamphlet allows me to be more accurate with the words below than I am in most of my posts.

The main cell wing of the Cork City Gaol
The main cell wing of the Cork City Gaol

When it opened, people considered Cork City Gaol to be significantly more progressive than previously existing prisons. As the audio guide and pamphlet say, “Inside will seem grim to you when you first see it, but before gaols like these were built prison life was dreadful to the point of barbarism.”

The self-guided tour took me to the governor’s office, then into the jail itself and some of its cells.

Mannequins representing the former occupants sit in the governor’s office and the featured cells. The audio guide and pamphlet provide the story of some of the real people who worked at or were incarcerated in the prison.

For example, one inmate, Mary-Ann Twohig, was convicted of stealing a man’s cap and a few other low-value items. She was heavily pregnant at the time of her conviction, but the judge nevertheless sentenced her to two months in Cork City Gaol.

One month into her sentence, she gave birth to a son in the jail’s hospital. She was let out of jail a few days early when her son, about a month old then became seriously ill. The mannequin representing her in a cell showed her breastfeeding her baby. Well, at least they didn’t separate mother and baby. Such humanitarians.

As another example, a mannequin representing Edward O’Brien is shown being whipped with a cat o’ nine tails by a mannequin of a jailer. Edward, a nine-year-old, had been convicted seven times previously. The conviction that earned him a three-week sentence consisting of twice-weekly whippings was for stealing a couple of brass ball cocks.

Good times. Good times. (I hope I don’t have to tell anyone that that’s sarcasm. I assume it’s obvious.)

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral

Exterior of St. Fin Barre's cathedral

Today I learned that some saints aren’t single-name saints. Now that I’ve said that, someone will probably remind me of a couple of multiple-name saints that aren’t top of mind for me right now. Others may tell me about other multiple-name saints I never heard of before. But before reading about St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in my walking tour app, I couldn’t think of any.

St. Patrick? Sure, he’s a big saint here. St. Peter, St. Luke, St. Francis, and St. Matthew, among others? Yup, I’ve heard of them. Who hasn’t? The saints go marching in, as they sing.

And I’m particularly fond of St. Michael for a non-religious reason that many, if not all, of the regular readers of this journal will know.

But St. Fin Barre? Never heard of him. And, as I said, I can’t think of any other multiple-name saints off the top of my head.

But there is a St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral here in Cork. And it’s worth a visit. It has a great many beautiful stained glass windows on the side walls and the curved wall behind the altar. The altarpiece and ceiling above it are also stunning. An attractive strip of floor mosaic runs across the church, between the choir stalls and the altar if memory serves.


Cobh is a 26-minute train ride from Cork. Trains run every hour.

I read somewhere that one pronounces “Cobh” as “cove.” Two also pronounce it as “cove.” But legislation requires that groups of three or more must pronounce it “Pogreimir.”

A Cobh street
A Cobh street

I am of course joking about that. Groups of three or more are free to pronounce it “Grelingmore” or “Pogreimir” according to their preference.

Cobh, nee Queenstown, nee Cobh, nee Ballyvoloon lies at the end of a weird-shaped cove off the sea. I’m sorry. That’s not fair. It undoubtedly often tells the truth at the end of a weird-shaped cove off the sea too.

Actually, Cobh is on an island. However, only a very narrow channel to its northwest completes its journey to islandhood, to coin a term. The train to and from Cobh travels over a causeway built over the channel, but not at its narrowest point.

Cobh is an attractive, but unassuming town. Brightly coloured low-rise buildings face the water across a street that runs parallel to and near the sea.

You might be wondering about the “Cobh, nee Queenstown, nee Cobh, nee Ballyvoloon” above.

A Cobh intersection
A Cobh intersection

The original name of the town was Ballyvoloon. Then, when it became a Royal Navy port, they named it Cove, or Cobh locally. Those navy people were such creative folk, weren’t they?

In 1849, Queen Victoria came to town and they renamed it Queenstown in her honour. (I expect them to rename it Joelstown after my visit.) It went back to Cobh after the Irish War of Independence.

The town’s primary claims to fame are its attachments to two seafaring disasters. Cobh has the honour of being the last port the Titanic sailed from before its encounter with an iceberg. As everyone knows, the makers of the Titanic said it was unsinkable. The iceberg said, “Hold my beer.”

Cobh was also one of the two towns that received survivors when a German U-boat sank the Lusitania.

The tour book I use on this trip listed only two attractions in town, The Queenstown Story and The Titanic Experience.

I’d love to tell you about the Titanic Experience, but I can’t. The museum is housed in a small building beside the sea. Its street face shows only a single story. Because the ground slopes down to the sea, the museum’s backside shows a basement too, but that seems to be a restaurant. So, it can’t be a large museum unless it’s a cleverly disguised TARDIS.

Despite seemingly being quite small, customers can visit the museum only by guided tour. Maybe they need to protect the TARDIS from errant tourists.

When I arrived at the museum, a sign saying “All tours are sold out today” sat outside. I went in to confirm that the only way to enter was by guided tour. It was. So, I have no idea what is inside.

The Queenstown Story

The Queenstown Story is a small museum that focuses on emigration, but it also has exhibits on seafaring associated with Cobh in general and, more specifically, the two voyages that give it its claims to fame, the sinkings of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

A ship model at The Queenstown Story
A ship model at The Queenstown Story

Emigration is a recurring theme in Ireland. I lost count, but I think this is the third museum I visited here that had emigration as either its sole focus or one of its primary focuses. A sign in The Queenstown Story quotes the former U.S. President John F. Kennedy as saying on a visit to Ireland, “Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold, or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that’s its people.”

I am a fan of the late JFK, and I don’t have any Irish blood in me, but I nevertheless find that insulting. “Hi, I’m so glad to be here in your country, where people do nothing but leave.”

Besides, it’s also more than a bit of an exaggeration. Ireland may not be the largest exporting country in the world, but it does and has exported more than its people.

But, enough said about that. The Queenstown Story delivers its information through text panels, short videos, ship models, and interactive touch screens.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

St. Colman’s Cathedral

St. Colman's Cathedral exterior
St. Colman’s Cathedral exterior

The tour book I use here doesn’t mention St. Colman’s Cathedral, also known as Cobh Cathedral, other than to say that if you climb the hill it sits on you get a good view of Cobh. I climbed the hill. It does offer a good view.

I also went inside.

It’s possible that the reason the tour book doesn’t list St. Colman’s Cathedral as a sight to see is that, unlike me, the cathedral is not as old as it looks.

The outside is quite imposing. To my untrained eye, the exterior has a gothic appearance. I posted a picture of it here. The art historian who regularly reads this journal (you know exactly who you are) should feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong about that.

St. Colman's Cathedral interior
St. Colman’s Cathedral interior

But the cathedral is very much more recent than the Gothic era. According to Wikipedia, the construction of the church was completed in 1919. However, construction took a long time, with excavation of the site starting in 1868. Although, that still doesn’t place it anywhere near back in the Gothic era.

Part of the reason construction took so long is that, after construction reached well above ground, the bishop of the day decided that the proposed cathedral was too plain for his tastes. As a result, the cathedral that stands today doesn’t at all follow the original plans.

The interior of the cathedral is very attractively decorated. It contains an ornate altarpiece, lovely stained glass windows, and a nicely tiled floor. It may be newer than it looks, but I thought it was well worth a visit.

Walking Through Cork

My jaunts to the couple of sights I saw this morning, and to and from the train station, took me along some very welcoming, interesting streets and over the River Lee. I posted some pictures below.


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