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Cobh – Historical Tales

Laurel and Hardy in Cobh. Illustration by Derry Dillon.

A mercy mission from Boston, the bells that rang out for Laurel and Hardy, Sonia O’Sullivan and a remarkable Titanic survivor are among the cast on Turtle’s panel in Cobh railway station, illustrated by Derry Dillon, translated by Jack O Driscoll.

 

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THE OPIUM KING & THE APOSTLE

In 1847, the USS Jamestown pulled into Cork Harbour with 800 tons of food and clothing. The supplies had been donated by citizens across the USA eager to help relieve the hunger, disease and death that was devastating Ireland during the Great Hunger. The warship was skippered by Black Ben Forbes, a Boston merchant who had made his fortune as an opium trader. Forbes went on a nine-day tour of County Cork. His unlikely guide was Father Theobald Mathew, the ‘Apostle of Temperance. This was the remarkable Capuchin friar who had somehow persuaded half the adult population of Ireland to give up alcohol by 1845.  Fr Mathew died at 18 West Beach on the Cobh waterfront in 1856.

 

WORLD CHAMPION

 

In 1969, Cobh-born Mary Shealy married John O’Sullivan, a Dublin-born naval officer who played goalkeeper for the Cobh Ramblers, having initially hurled with Brian Dillons GAA club. Sonia, their eldest child, loved running to and from St Mary’s National School, a kilometre away, especially at lunchtime with no schoolbag to carry. She enjoyed it so much that she joined the Ballymore-Cobh Athletics Club and began to train. Sonia O’Sullivan went on to be the greatest female athlete in Irish history, winning Silver in the 5000 metres at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and becoming a 3-time World Champion and the world record holder over 2000 metres. She was renowned for her dramatic kick in the final stretch, a trick she learned when she left home for school at the last minute and needed to hurry up.

 

COMEDY GOLD

 

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were one of the best-known comedy duos in cinematic history, starring in 107 films together. In 1953, the slapstick stars sailed from New York to begin one last tour of Ireland and the UK. Cobh was their first port of call. Already stunned by the thousands who lined the quay to greet them, the two men were greatly moved to hear the Laurel and Hardy theme— the Cuckoo Waltz — booming out from the gigantic carillon bells of St Colman’s Cathedral. On landing, they tracked down Staf Gebruers, the carillonneur, and the 22-stone Hardy gave him a bear-hug. They later declared that hearing the Cuckoo Song on the Cobh bells was one of the greatest thrills of their lives.

 

THE BISHOP’S BELLS

Bishop Browne.

 

In 1914, Bishop Browne of Cloyne ordered a carillon of 16 bells for the newly completed Cobh Cathedral, the greatest construction project in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Taylor’s of Loughborough, the English foundry, then persuaded the bishop to bump up the order to 42 bells because Cobh is such a perfect amphitheatre. Although the carillon was ready by 1915, the threat from German U-boats meant that no merchant ships were willing to transport them across the Irish Sea. The day was saved when Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, the senior officer in Cork Harbour, provided a naval escort to bring them safely to Cobh. A further 7 bells have since been added to the carillon.

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

 

Cobh, or Cove, was renamed ‘Queenstown’ after Queen Victoria briefly disembarked from the Royal yacht here in 1849. The name held until 1920 when, pledging allegiance to Dáil Éireann and the Irish Republic, Cobh Urban Council renamed it Cobh. An extensive fleet of American destroyers was based here during the last 18 months of the First World War, helping to tackle the threat of German U-boats and to conduct merchant and troopships safely between Ireland, England and the Western Front.

 

AN EXPERIENCED SURVIVOR

 

In 1912, RMS Titanic dropped anchor 7 nautical miles out from Cobh and collected 123 new passengers. Three and a half days later, the luxury liner struck an iceberg and sank with the loss of 1,517 lives. Among the survivors was the Irish-Argentine stewardess Violet Jessop. Seven months earlier, she had been on the Olympic, another ocean liner, when it collided with a warship. Amazingly, she was also on the Britannica when it hit a mine and sank in 1916. On that occasion, she zipped to her cabin and grabbed her toothbrush before plunging into the water. She later explained that the toothbrush was the item she most regretted leaving on the Titanic. See here for more.

 

THE PRINCE OF PERU

 

William Russell Grace was born at Riverstown [Glanmire?], near Cobh, in 1832. He made his fortune selling goods from a floating warehouse off the coast of Peru to traders in guano, aka dried bird or bat poo, a key ingredient in fertilizer. He went on to be the first Roman Catholic to serve as Mayor of New York. During a second term, he received the Statue of Liberty from France on behalf of the American people. W. R. Grace and Co., the company he founded, was one of the world’s biggest fertilizer and chemicals giants. When Ireland was on the brink of a second famine in 1879, he commissioned the USS Constellation, an American steamer, to sail from New York to Cobh with 3,315 barrels of food, clothing and other relief supplies.

NAVAL COMMANDER

 

In 2000, Ensign Marie Gleeson of Cashel, County Tipperary, became the first female cadet to capture the prestigious Fastnet Trophy, having achieved first place in her class. She went on to command the LE AOIFE from 2013 – 2015 and served on a UN mission in Chad. She very kindly met with my father, my brothers and I when we visited the naval base at Haubowline in 2018, at which time she had served over 20 years in the Irish Navy and reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander. She retired from the Irish Navy in 2019 and founded NavMar Leadership.

 

VIAGRA FALLS

 

The Pfizer Pharmaceutical plant began producing Viagra at its plant in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, in 1988. It generated over $1billion in sales every year for 17 years, reaching a peak of $2.1 billion in 2012. Sales of the drug, which assists with erectile dysfunction, appear to be on the rise in 2022.

 

A LITTLE EXTRA

 

  • Malcolm Doherty, producer of Daphne Guinness, is the son of Jack Doherty of Cobh.
  • Nemedian, son of Milesian, buried in Cobh.
  • Patrick Cleburne, the US Civil War Confederate General, was born in Cobh in 1828.
  • Baseball player Patsy Donovan was born in Cobh in 1865. Between 1892-1903, he played major league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the St. Louis Cardinals and other teams. He managed the Boston Red Sox during the 1910 and 1911 seasons, and persuaded the team to sign George ‘Babe’ Ruth in 1914.
  • The Heritage Centre is in the old station master’s house.

 

With thanks to Cllr. Kieran McCarthy (Cork) and Christy Keating for walking me through Cork and Cobh.

 

AN CÓBH

 

RÍ AN ÓIPIAM AGUS AN tASPAL

In 1847, ghabh an USS Jamestown cuan i gCorcaigh agus 800 tonna bia agus éadaí ar bord aici. Thug daoine ar fud Mheiriceá na soláthairtí sin d’Éirinn agus iad ag iarraidh cur i gcoinne an ocrais, an ghalair agus an bháis a bhí ag bualadh na tíre go dona le linn an Ghorta Mhóir. Ba é Black Ben Forbes captaen na loinge cogaidh sin. Ceannaí as Bostún ab ea é a rinne a shaibhreas mar thrádálaí óipiam. Chuaigh Forbes ar chamchuairt naoi lá ar fud Chontae Chorcaí. Bhí duine nach mbeifeá ag súil leis mar threoraí aige, an tAthair Tiobóid Maitiú, nó ‘Aspal na Measarthachta. Bráthair Caipisíneach ar leith ab ea eisean ar éirigh leis, ar chuma éigin, a thabhairt ar leath de na daoine fásta in Éirinn éirí as an ól faoin mbliain 1845.  Fuair an tAthair Maitiú bás ag 18 West Beach ar imeall an uisce sa Chóbh in 1856.

CURADH AN DOMHAIN

In 1969, phós bean a rugadh sa Chóbh, Mary Shealy, oifigeach cabhlaigh darbh ainm John O’Sullivan. Ba as Baile Átha Cliath dósan agus ba chúl báire le Cobh Ramblers é.  Sonia, an iníon ba shine acu, ní dhéanfadh aon ní í gan an ciliméadar idir Scoil Náisiúnta Naomh Muire agus a teach féin a chur di ar cosa in airde, go háirithe ag am lóin nuair nach mbeadh mála scoile le hiompar aici. Thaitin sé chomh mór sin léi go ndeachaigh sí le Cumann Lúthchleasaíochta an Bhaile Mhóir/an Chóibh agus chrom ar thraenáil. Ainm an lúthchleasaí mná is fearr i stair na hÉireann atá ar Sonia O’Sullivan anois. Bhuaigh sí an Bonn Airgid sa rás 5000 méadar ag Cluichí Oilimpeacha Sydney in 2000, ba Churadh an Domhain í 3 huaire agus bhí an churiarracht dhomhanda aici sa rás 2000 méadar. Bhí cáil uirthi as an ruathar rábach a thugadh sí roimpi ar an stráice baile. Ba sheanchleas aici sin ón am a scaoileadh sí faoin scoil ag an nóiméad deireanach agus í faoi dheifir mhór.

 

GO RAIBH GÁIRE DO CHAIRDE MAR CHEOL LEAT

Agus 107 scannán curtha amach acu, bhí Stan Laurel agus Oliver Hardy ar na leathbhádóirí grinn ba mhó cáil i stair na bpictiúrlann. In 1953 chuir ardphleidhcí seo an stáitse chun seoil ó Nua Eabhrach d’fhonn camchuairt dheireanach na hÉireann agus na Ríochta Aontaithe a thabhairt. Cad é mar ionadh a bhí orthu, ar shroicheadh an Chóibh dóibh, nuair a chonaic siad na sluaite bailithe ar feadh na cé rompu. Agus cad é mar thógáil croí a fuair siad ar chlos chlogra ardeaglais Naomh Cholmáin dóibh, mar ba é a n-amhrán féin, an Cuckoo Waltz, a bhí á bhualadh amach go hard na spéire. Sos ná stad ní dhearna siad nó gur tháinig siad chomh fada le fear buailte an chlogra féin, Staf Gebruers. Croí mór isteach a fuair seisean ó Hardy, fear a raibh toirt nár bheag ann. Is é a déarfadh an dís ina dhiaidh sin nár ghliondar croí acu go bualadh na gclog an lá úd sa Chóbh.

 

CLOIG AN EASPAIG

Sa bhliain 1914, d’ordaigh an tEaspag Browne, Easpag Chluana, clogra 16 chlog don ardeaglais nuathógtha sa Chóbh. Bhí sé ar cheann de na tionscadail tógála ba mhó i stair na hEaglaise Caitlicí Rómhánaí in Éirinn. Chuir Taylor’s of Loughborough, an teilgcheárta Shasanach, ina luí ar an easpag 42 clog a ordú i ngeall ar fhoirfeacht an Chóibh mar amfaitéatar. Cé go raibh an clogra réidh faoin mbliain 1915, ní leomhfadh aon long thrádála iad a iompar trasna Mhuir Éireann mar gheall ar an mbagairt ó U-bháid na Gearmáine. Ach tháinig siad go dtí an Cóbh nuair a chuir Aimiréal Sir Lewis Bayly, an t-ardoifigeach i gCuan Chorcaí, roinnt long chogaidh ar fáil chun iad a thionlacain isteach sa chuan go sábháilte. Cuireadh 7 gclog eile leis an gclogra ó shin.

 

CAD IS AINM ANN?

Tugadh ‘Queenstown’ ar an gCóbh tar éis don Bhanríona Victoria a theacht i dtír ón luamh Ríoga ar feadh scaithimh in 1849. B’in ainm an bhaile uaidh sin go dtí 1920 nuair a ghlac Comhairle Uirbeach an Chóibh mionn dílseachta do Dháil Éireann agus do Phoblacht na hÉireann nó gur tugadh ‘An Cóbh’ air an athuair. Bhí cabhlach fairsing scriostóirí Meiriceánacha lonnaithe anseo sna 18 mí dheireanacha den Chéad Chogadh Domhanda. Ba mhór an chabhair iad chun dul i ngleic le bagairt U-bháid na Gearmáine agus chun longa trádála agus longa trúpaí a thionlacan go sábháilte idir Éire, Sasana agus an Fronta Thiar.

 

AN BHEAN MHÓR INSTE SCÉIL

Sa bhliain 1912, chuaigh an RMS Titanic ar ancaire 7 muirmhíle amach ón gCóbh agus phioc sí suas 123 paisinéir nua. Trí lá go leith ina dhiaidh sin, bhuail an só-línéar in aghaidh cnoc oighir agus chuaigh go tóin poill. Cailleadh 1,517 duine. Bhí an t-óstach Éireannach-Airgintíneach Violet Jessop ar an lucht inste scéil. Seacht mí roimhe sin, bhí sí ar bord an Olympic, línéar farraige móire eile, nuair a bhuail sí faoi long chogaidh. Cad é do bharúil ach nach raibh Jessop ar bord an Britannica freisin nuair a bhuail sí mianach agus chuaigh go tóin poill in 1916. An uair sin, thug Jessop sciuird chuig a cábán agus fuair sí a scuab fiacla sular léim sí san uisce. Mhínigh sí ina dhiaidh sin gurbh é sin an rud ba mhó a chuir aiféala uirthi a fhágáil ina diaidh ar an Titanic.