2nd April 2012
Just weeks after the Cobh rail line celebrated its 150th anniversary, the eyes of the world will be on Cobh next week as it marks the centenary of the RMS Titanic’s maiden – and only - voyage.
Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, the railway had been instrumental in preparing the little harbour hamlet of Queenstown (Cobh) for the vast explosion of international trade and commerce.
Of course, ships had been crossing from the Co. Cork port on a regular basis since the diminutive “Sirius”, a sail and paddle-steamer, made the first voyage in 1839. The directors of the Cork & Youghal Railway quickly saw, and seized upon, the potential for a line to Queenstown and the port overtook and replaced the alternative option, Galway, as the Irish departure point for the Americas.
The rapid growth in travel was reflected by shipping interests who realised that, instead of the then existing option of a longer passage from Liverpool, the new railway opened up a shorter journey for passengers and mails via Holyhead-Dublin-Cork shaving off more than a day’s sailing time; the expansion of the railway network around Dublin was linking previously unconnected major routes in the capital, including the vital link with Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) to the Great Southern & Western Railway’s Cork main line.
The resources available to satisfy the customer by these companies points to the sharply-honed commercial ethics then at play; there is the story of the hapless businessman J.S. Piza who, on urgent business from London to New York had booked a saloon passage on RMS Teutonic out of Queenstown in December 1892 but missed his train at Kingstown through his own fault. Determined to make the sailing in time he hired a special train from the GS&WR at Kingsbridge (Heuston) costing £44 10s,and after travelling the 177 ½ miles in 3hrs 25 minutes, on arrival at Queenstown found the tender long gone to load passengers and mails on the vessel out in the harbour. He hired a fast tender from White Star rivals Clyde Shipping Company, and made it to the Teutonic which was by now proceeding at half speed off Fort Westmoreland bound for New York.
By the time RMS Titanic and her sister ships Oceanic and Britannic were having their keels laid by Messrs H&W at Queens Island in Belfast, Queenstown was a thriving town with excellent facilities to accommodate the Transatlantic traffic. “Titanic” called at Queenstown on her maiden voyage out of Cherbourg and Southampton in 11th April 1912 and when she weighed anchor to depart into the darkness of her fate, Queenstown became famous for all the wrong reasons. Of the 2,206 on board, 123 had boarded at Queenstown.
Cobh, as it is now known, carried on until the advent and affordability of reliable air traffic brought about the demise of the great ocean liners and their trade. Meanwhile the railway carried on in its other vital role, the commuter traffic which had grown quietly alongside the immigration and the mails, serving six stations to Cork Kent Station.
Today, the railway link between Cork and Cobh has not only retained its vibrancy as a commuter link, but also opened up a burgeoning tourist industry which includes Fota wildlife park and House, and of course the flagship interpretative centre, the Queenstown Story run by Cobh Heritage Centre, ironically yet appropriately located in part of the railway station buildings.
To end, another irony: the Cork-Cobh railway line is again serving trans-Atlantic liner traffic, this time the growing number of huge cruise ships carrying far greater numbers than ‘Titanic’ , which now call at Cobh as part of their regular itinerary. In 2011, we saw 44 cruise ships call, with thousands of cruise passengers using the rail line, with a similar number expected this year.
‘An Irish Connection' premieres in Cobh, from the 11th -14th April 2012 to coincide with the Titanic’s Centenary events. The evening outdoor Gala Concerts by the waterside, tell the story of emigration and the Titanic’s connection with Ireland through music, narration, dance and song.
To be in with a chance to win two tickets for the concert on Friday 13th April (plus rail tickets!) why not enter the following competition! (Competition now closed)
For information on events in Cobh to mark the centenary of Titanic, check www.titanic100.ie .
Search train times to attend the events at www.irishrail.ie