Cork and Beyond

We made a decision to forsake a lot of the south western coastal scenic routes of which there are many, and head directly south to Cork. The Ancestors were calling me!

I’ve seen the family tree but now I wish I had taken more notice or bought some notes with me. Sometime in the mid to late 1800’s, two brothers and a sister from Cork by the name of White, boarded the same ship as two sisters and a brother, surname I don’t remember!!! Whether they knew each other before boarding, whether they were tenants sent to immigrate to alleviate a landlord the cost of keeping them in a workhouse for the poor, or whether they actually had a bit of money to leave Ireland for a brand new horizon are all pieces of the jigsaw I do not have. But there is a story here. I can feel it as the pace of my heartbeat increases, I feel a flush in my face. Incredibly the six young adults become 3 pairs (before or during the journey I do not know!!!) They marry each other, arrive in Australia, move to country Victoria and split up, heading off like points in a compass in different directions, a few hundred kilometres apart. They each started farms and grew what they knew how to grow – potatoes!! I pick up the story with my grandfather, my dads father, who bought his family up on a farm they owned, covering most of Mount Bunningyong, just out of Ballarat! So many questions and I am curious. How old were they, what had they done before leaving Ireland, were there more siblings, what about the parents! How did they manage and cope in their new land? So many threads to pick up and run with. A project for when I get home?? Would I really want to embark on the research required to present an accurate historical account? A novel perhaps, of another poor Irish family of emigrants? 1.5 million people left Ireland due to poverty, and a further 1 million died in the Potato Famine during 1845 – 1850. The fare to leave, 5 pound for a steerage berth, a six to eight week journey, crowded and cramped in the bottom of a big old sailing boat, usually built to carry cargo, not humans! Rations, some bread and unsanitary water. Many emigrants died on the ships, there are many stories there.

Today in Cork there are vistas that would have been the same in the days of my ancestors. We though, have a more modern day experience.

The key to a good day in a new city is a good map. I am delighted to mention the “Use it EUROPE” map series. They are “non-commercial, no-nonsense and free – made by local young people” Anyone wanting to create a great map of their city can contact and get in touch. With this map I was able to create a walking tour of Cork that really suited Antonio and I! We had a great camp on a park by the River Lee, just 10 minutes walk from the city centre and started our sight seeing day in a reverent fashion! Sort of! I had learned that the bells in the Shandon Bell Tower at St Anne’s Church could be rung. By me! and Antonio! Complete novice bell ringers of course! But allowed. Thinking this is a pleasure tourists must queue for hours for, Antonio and I arrived before 10 to get a good spot in the line. Surprisingly we were virtually the first ones there and the first to make the climb into the bell tower. And bells we pulled! Not that we made a very nice sound mind you but such is the tolerance of the Corkites! There is a music stand and instructions on how to play something decent beside the bells, but hey, I just wanted to make a big noise. After pulling our tunes, we walked further up the bell tower to step onto the balcony, passing the bells as we went. Head muffs are mandatory here as you literally rub “earmuffs” with the bells as those below pull the chimes! Really quite amazing, 8 age old bells (1752) sharing an age old steeple (1722) with the pigeons (plenty of evidence of that!). The steeple is also much loved in Cork for its four walls being home to 4 large clock faces. Notoriously unreliable, known as the “Four Liars”, in a very Irish way, the four clocks rarely all show the same time!!!


For lunch, we enjoyed live theatre. There are at least 3 theatres and a dance company in Cork and for a midday special with lunch we chose The Cork Arts Theatre (Cats) Club. A local black comedy about a Galway Gal and her “drinking” husband. In 45 minutes we went from the beginning to the end of their marriage, brilliant performances, and great writing. Finally we wandered through the old streets, the Old English Market, (a covered roof market, built in the 1780’s), and along North Main Street, known for its array of Op Shops!

Leaving Cork, we visit Cobh on the Cork Harbour. Famous as the home of Jack Doyle (boxer), the last port of the Titanic. Its , current fame, the port for 40 cruise ships a season. To our surprise, we woke up, pulled up our blind and saw one!!!

"Cobh" - Styled on "Brighton", it once changed its name to Queenstown when the Queen visited.

We slowly head east for our ferry to Wales leaving from Rosslare. Passing through Waterford, New Ross and Wexford. At New Ross we visit the Ros tapestries. Truly beautiful works of art. There will be 15 all together and 10 are complete. It takes up to 5 years to complete one tapestry and many women are involved. The tapestries recreate the founding of New Ross that grew from a settlement of Irish and French when the King of Leinster, Dermot McMurrough, “Strongbow`’ went to France to gather a Norman force to help him fight in Ireland.

We could definitely have stayed longer in Ireland and will need to return at some stage. A month would be easily filled. We have enjoyed our time here very much. Antonio feels a European connection, especially since they have become part of the EU, converting to Euro and kilometres. Italians of course, some of the early immigrants and instrumental in many of the developments of Ireland. For me, I do feel close to kin! Certainly the Irish people we have met have been wonderful and friendly and nothing is too much trouble for them. The accent is superb! Whilst the villages and cities do not appear to be as wealthy and sophisticated as many of the English towns, the Irish have a down to earth, informal approach to life. They love their community. Their love of the pub is taken to a whole new, almost reverent level!! A place to be entertained and to entertain, to meet friends of course, but also to share hobbies, a book exchange, a poetry night. Even a night for the local knitting club. Anything can be enjoyed in a pub!

We have also noticed a lot of property For Sale and For Lease signs. Economically it’s still going tuff. The recession is talked about and felt. We hope this can change. A government minister on the radio was very upbeat about the future of Ireland and sighted an increase in tourism as a positive for economic growth. Well, we recommend visiting Ireland! Whilst we have not seen any leprechauns or 4 leaf clovers, no doubt, all will be ok. Goodness knows, after all they have the “luck of the Irish”! !!!


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