The Fighting Irish

Today was grand. In every way. We docked in Cobh (pronounced Cove) which is a small hamlet with a deep water dock. There’s a Titanic museum at the pier but it’s validity may be questionable according to locals. Nonetheless Cobh is a few train stops from Cork and there were definitely Titanic passengers from Cork. Either way, the train station is literally across the parking lot from the dock. And aside from our ship the other vessels were naval ships and fishing boats. We disembarked into a slightly misty morning and boarded the train to Cork. It was $4euros per person each way.

The train was extra busy due to the ship’s passengers and crew. I’m sure the locals were wondering where all the traffic was coming from. At the second stop there was a second cruise ship from the Costa lines. Lots of tourist activity. We exit the train at Cork and start our walk into town. Our cycling city tour starts at 10:30 am (a change from 10 am to accommodate us in case we were late) and we were to meet our guide at St Peters Quay. When we got to the right address (a bit tricky since not all buildings are numbered) it appeared to be a vacant building. Rudy was sure it was a scam and loudly declared as much. When suddenly a graffiti laden weird door opens and a man pops out. “Hi! I’m James your guide … I just heard you talking “. We are momentarily caught off guard and James continues with ” you’re early but I am just getting the bikes out now”. Not sure what to expect we were pleasantly surprised when James reappeared with two brand new bikes, vests and helmets. He fills us in. “You’re the only 2 on the tour today so we can start when you’re ready… “. Wow. A private tour. Another pleasant surprise. James gives us some of his background and the summary is he’s a local who has given up a career in pharmaceuticals for a full time business in cycle touring. We put on our gear. And we are off.

The tour starts with a short walking of the bikes up a hill to a less trafficked area and we hope on our bikes for a short ride to our first stop. A tiny humble street where a small yellowish row house has been designated a heritage site. This is the home of the first Irish immigrant to the USA. There’s a statue of her (young girl with her suitcase at the harbour in Ireland and a replica in the US at Ellis Island). We continue to the butter museum and all the while at each mini stop James provides copious informative narratives on the violent history of the Irish.

We venture back down the hill and tour through a lovely park and western edge of town where the river splits into two. Then we head back up hill to the University of Cork; one of 4 Queens universities in Ireland. It’s open house day for high schoolers choosing post secondary and the amazingly historical campus is flooded with giddy youngsters getting a taste of college life. At the campus there are a couple of interesting stops: the cathedral, the stone hall and the mud hut (a typical Irish homestead for the poor lands people of yore).

From there we head to Fort Elizabeth and the most famous cathedral in the city. James lets us know that in one of the (numerous) revolutions the Irish took up a position at the cathedral and the British at the fort and cannonballs flew between the two. None of the revolutions was ultimately successful and Ireland finally got their independence via negotiations. As a result during WWII Ireland abstained and was neutral as they would not fight along side Britain. In fact, their position was rewarded by Nazi Germany and supplies were shipped in as aid. (I wonder if that’s the warm friendship that was effortless between my parents and the Eldons where Brits were still mad a Germans in the 1950’s??)

From the fort we head downhill again back into the city centre. Where we can see the original city walls (Cork was built over very swampy land laden with canals) and the old buildings with steps up to the first level (out of the water).

We are back where we started (3 hours and a bit later) with so much more respect and empathy for the fighting Irish. What a resilient and proud people. And so welcoming and friendly.

After a quick lunch and local IPA (of course) – where the server tells us her brother is in Canada and she will be visiting BC this summer – we venture back to the train station via the city mall and shops. Marks and Spencer’s was a must for me (I remember the store in my hometown very well!) but since we can’t transport food into the ship I had to leave the onion crisps on the shelf.

We hop back on the train and sit with a local man who married a girl from Ottawa. The Canadian connection is alive and well here. He fills us in on more local information and points out places of interest along the way. He inquired about the hockey play offs and how the Maple Leafs (groan) are doing. He’s a sports fan and likes hockey and the Super Bowl. We share a laugh.

Ireland has made an impression on us that will endure until we meet again.

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