Following in RMS Titanic's Wake
Over the summer, RealClearHistory Editor Samuel Chi embarked on a two-week tour of the British Isles and France. He filed a few dispatches via the transatlantic telegraph cable, which we just received now.
COBH, Ireland - Aboard the MS Caribbean Princess, the first part of our itinerary followed closely the maiden (and only) voyage of RMS Titanic. We began in Southampton, just as Titanic did, made a stop across the English Channel (we in the Channel Island of Guernsey; Titanic in the French port of Cherbourg), and then arrived in Cobh, Ireland.
Cobh (pronounced "Cove," which was its original name) is located on the southeastern coast of Ireland. Historically it's better known as Queenstown, the name of this small but important port when it was under British rule. It was here on April 11, 1912, when Titanic made its last, ahem, scheduled stop.
Queenstown, the name it took in 1850 after a visit by Queen Victoria and kept until 1920, looks remarkably unchanged over the past 100 years. There's an eerie timelessness to this place. Sure, there are ATM machines now and your mobile phone works wonderfully, but from the dock where our ship was tied up it bears a striking resemblance to photographs taken a century ago.
One of the more famous pictures of the Queenstown docks was snapped by Father Frank Browne, who sailed from Southampton to Queenstown on a ticket gifted to him by his uncle. Browne wanted to continue sailing to New York, but was ordered off the ship by his Jesuit superiors, who were expecting him in Dublin to continue his seminary training. Browne obeyed the order, which most likely saved his life, and also the unique visual records of Titanic's voyage from Browne's photographs.
Whereas Browne and half a dozen others disembarked in Queenstown, 123 passengers boarded Titanic - most of them perishing four days later. Even before the disaster, Queenstown was known as "the Saddest Place in Ireland." Between 1851 and 1921, over two million Irish immigrants to America bade their families farewell in Queenstown. Back in the day, there was virtually no chance for the poor immigrants to make a return voyage, so for most, it was the last time they'd ever see some of their loved ones.
That history is vividly captured at the Cobh Heritage Centre, adjacent to the quayside train station. On display are documents and photographic records of the Irish immigrants' plight and journeys, dating to the Irish Potato Famine in 1845 that precipitated the mass emigration. And besides Titanic, another famous and ill-fated ship also has a connection to Queenstown. Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland during World War I in 1915. Most of the 761 survivors were ferried to Queenstown while 150 victims were buried in mass graves just up the hill.
There are statues and plaques commemorating the dead from both Lusitania and Titanic in the small town center. Across the street, the old White Star Line ticket office on the dock is preserved and refurbished, now housing a small interactive museum Titanic Experience.
In a kid-friendly fashion (I have an 8-year-old and appreciated the help), the story of Titanic is told through photographic and interactive exhibits. You're handed a ticket upon entering the museum, on it is the name of one of the 123 passengers who embarked Titanic in Queenstown. You'll see what they experienced on the ship from replicas of accommodations, all the way until the meeting with the iceberg. At the end, you'd learn their fate. (Hint: If you're a man, it probably won't work out too well, as only a handful of those Irish male passengers survived.)