Photo and story by Mitchell Smyth
Meridian Writers’ Group
Moore and her young brothers Anthony and Philip stand on the pier. Anthony
points out to sea while Annie looks wistfully inland, toward the home she’ll
never see again.
they’re an icon of the millions of men, women and children who left Ireland in
the great emigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This seaside town, the
port of Cork city, was the main port of departure for people fleeing the Irish
famine of 1845-50, and for the later waves of emigration to North America,
Australia and New Zealand.
Through this port passed,
in 1848, farmhand Patrick Kennedy, whose great-grandson would, 112 years later,
become America’s 35th president. John Ford, evicted from his County Cork
cottage, embarked from here in 1847. Little did he know that his son, Henry,
would change the face of industry worldwide.
The Moores’ footnote to
history is the fact that they were the first emigrants processed through the
then-new Ellis Island immigrant centre in New York harbour when it opened
January 1, 1892.
Kennedy, Ford and the
Moores were just five of the 2.5 million who left from Cobh (pronounced “cove”)
between 1791 and 1950, when emigration slowed.
The story is told in “Cobh:
the Queenstown Story,” a superb presentation in the Cobh Heritage Centre, on
the waterfront just behind the Moores’ statue. (The town was named
Queenstown during the period of British rule in Ireland, the years during which
the great bulk of emigration took place).
The centre is housed in
the former railway station, through which the immigrants
passed, from the days of the sailing
ships to the great ocean liners of the last century. There are galleries and
reconstructions and audiovisuals.
But audiovisuals here
doesn’t just mean a slide or video show. As you move through the galleries you
hear the sound of rigging stretching, wind whipping the sails, the shouts of
the sailors and, pathetically, the cries of the hungry and sick steerage
passengers as gale-lashed ocean waves pound a back-projection screen.
One gallery deals with
the Australian connection. From 1791 until the 1840s, tens of thousands of
Irishmen (and about 9,000 women) were transported to Botany Bay, the penal
colony. Some had been accused of political crimes, such as involvement in
abortive rebellions, but mostly it was civil convictions, some as trivial as
the theft of a loaf of bread.
The museum tells how
emigration swelled so that by the turn of the last century more than 1,000
Irish a week were passing through the port in the busy months of April to
September. Most took steerage passage, first on sailing ships and later on the
ocean steamers, the billboards and posters for which enliven the galleries: the
The last two ships have
sad associations with the town: for the
, it was its final port of call en route to
America. The inbound
was about 15 kilometres off the coast when it was torpedoed by a German
submarine in May 1915. Many of its victims are buried in Cobh.
For more information on
the Cobh Heritage Centre visit its website at
For information on travel
in Ireland visit the Tourism Ireland website at
The preserved radio room from the Foynes flying boat terminal recalls the
days when this Irish seaport was a major hub of air transportation.
Courtesy Flying Boat Museum
Seaside village once
centre of world aviation
By Mitchell Smyth
Meridian Writers’ Group
you walk down the main street — pretty well the only street — of
this seaside village, it’s hard to believe that it once was as well known to
air travellers as Heathrow is today.
From 1939 until 1945
Foynes was a flying-boat port, the first touchdown for the giant Yankee
Clippers after a sometimes-hazardous journey across the Atlantic, and the last
port of call for passengers before setting off for New York on the westbound
Those heady days are
recalled in a museum located, appropriately, in the old terminal building. The
building itself dates to the 1860s — it was Foynes’s first public bar.
Offshore, in the Shannon River estuary, there’s a placid stretch of water, a
perfect “landing strip” for the airborne palaces that crossed the oceans before
the days of tarmac runways.
Their story is told in
pictures, artifacts and dioramas in the museum, which also includes the radio
room of the terminal and — the newest attraction — a full-scale
replica of a Boeing B-314 (the Yankee Clipper).
the museum’s curator, says the Clippers could carry up to 40 passengers on the
transatlantic run. “It was the pinnacle of airplane luxury,” she says. “Every
passenger had a bed; the stewards pressed their clothes and polished their
shoes; and in the dining room they were served on fine china and drank from
Such luxury didn’t come
cheap. The round trip fare was $675, about half the price of a small house at
the time. The people who could afford it — or could put it on an expense
account — were tycoons, movie stars, military planners (the Second World
War was raging, but Ireland was neutral) and diplomats.
The museum explains that
over the Atlantic there was what the pilots called a “point of no return,”
where the captain had to decide if there was enough fuel to complete the
journey (this varied according to weather) or to turn back.
(The Clipper route was
Long Island Sound, New York; Shediac, New Brunswick; Botwood, Newfoundland;
Foynes; and Southampton, England, or vice-versa. The trip took about 24 hours.)
One of these aborted
flights has a footnote in history. Late one night in 1942 a group of passengers
who had taken off from Foynes returned in a rainstorm. In the terminal, chef
Joe Sheridan made them coffee and to cheer them up he added sugar and a healthy
belt of Irish whiskey and topped it with thick cream. “Is this Brazilian
coffee?,” asked one of the passengers. “No sir,” said Sheridan, deadpan,
“that’s Irish coffee.”
And Irish coffee it is to
this day. And that’s why every fall Foynes sponsors an Irish coffee-making
festival, where bartenders from all over the world compete. The prize is handed
over by Irish actress Maureen O’Hara, the museum’s patron, whose late husband,
Capt. Charles Blair, flew the last flying boat out of Foynes on Oct. 22, 1945
and a few days later flew a land plane into the new Shannon International
Airport, across the estuary from Foynes. The age of the transatlantic flying
boat was over.
The Flying Boat Museum is
open April through October. For more information visit its website at