Four of my great grandparents were born in Ireland, so of course I was ecstatic to discover the land where they were born. It was quite different than what I imagined it to be. It was VERY hilly. I wasn’t able to look in any one direction without seeing hill after hill in the background. No hill was the same either; some were zig-zagged with cream, rose, tawny, and blue-grey colored houses and buildings, while others were cloaked in green and brown fields. It was magnificent looking! Yet, Cork itself most definitely had a city feel to it with cramped buildings, litter thrown about, and graffiti written on brick walls.
Before even leaving the airport, the plane was filled with loud and intoxicated 20-something-year-olds who were ready to party the night away even though it was only about 1 p.m.! When we got to the city center, the streets were filled with people running about. People were wearing crazy green, white and orange wigs; some men dyed their beards green; there was even a whole crowd of adults dressed as leprechauns having a jolly time outside of a pub. The buildings were illuminated with green lights. Every bar was decorated for the holiday and stuffed with a green people filling. There was security outside every pub, ready to check ID. We hopped from bar to bar checking out what each had to offer. We didn’t stay out too late, but we were told how it gets pretty crazy in the early hours of the morning.
The next day, we set out to explore Blarney Castle and Gardens. It was neat to see the famous castle, but it was super simple inside. It was like a child built a huge rock fort and asked people to imagine that the girls would sleep in this room, boys in that room, and that the kitchen would be here. It was hard to imagine though, even for someone who has a decent imagination. There were photos taken of each person as they kissed the Blarney stone, which could be purchased before exiting the castle; but the photos seemed to be a hit or miss. My favorite part was the stunning castle gardens. Any person could spend hours wandering around them, pretending to be in a fairytale of some sort. While strolling around, the three of us were able to find the poison garden, an adorable waterfall, the fern garden, the ice house, and the horse’s graveyard. We would’ve stayed longer, but it was snowing and our toes were numb with the cold.
The next day we ventured to Cobh. First, we went to the heritage center where we were able to learn about Irish emigration. It was super factual and did a great job of incorporating events that I would’ve never even thought to ask about. For instance, did you know that the Irish didn’t just emigrate to America, but also to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain? There were also a lot of Irish Prisoners who were forced to emigrate, so who knows? Maybe, if you’re Irish, one of your ancestors could have been a prisoner who had no choice but to emigrate. It was also neat seeing that this museum had artifacts from the Titanic. There were real handwritten letters that had been sent to family members, photographs of the passengers just before they boarded the ship, and even a piece of the baseboard that was in the Titanic itself. It just goes to show how luxurious and grand the Titanic was at the time.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the heritage museum was a building dedicated to teaching people about the Titanic and what it would have been like to be on it. The admission ticket was designed to look like the ticket to board the ship. Each ticket had the name of a real passenger from Cobh, so the tour group could imagine they were those real passengers. At the end of the tour, there was a list with all the names that indicated whether each passenger had survived or was lost at sea. For me, the greatest part of this tour was finding out that the building that I was standing in was the actual building that the Irish passengers had to go through to check in, drop off the little luggage that they were able to carry with them, and await the arrival of the ship that would supposedly bring them endless opportunities in the new country. During one part of the tour, the group was guided outside and showed the very run-down heartbreak pier where the passengers said goodbye to their loved ones. The pier received this nickname because when family members said goodbye to the ones they loved, they knew that it wasn’t just going to be for a week, a month, or even a few years but rather for the rest of their life. There was no easy way to communicate to someone on another continent in 1912, so friends and family members said goodbye full well knowing that after their loved one left, they would be as good as dead… no pun intended, considering they probably did actually die in the tragedy. The person that I was assigned to on my ticket did not survive, sadly.
Between these two places, I was able to learn about Denis Lennon and Mary Mullin. These two people are who Jack and Rose from the movie Titanic were truly based on. From what I understand, the Mullin’s owned a general store where Denis was employed. Denis and Mary had come to love each other, but Mr. and Mrs. Mullin forbade the two from being with each other due to the difference in social class. The young lovers secretly planned to elope and start a new life in America. The plan was perfect. When the Mullins found out what was happening, they sent their son, armed with a gun, in hopes to stop the two. Mary’s older brother had just barely missed them. Denis and Mary had escaped only to meet a horrible fate at sea; both had drowned. Spoiler alert: This means that not only should Jack have died, but Rose should have also.
After having some newfound knowledge of this heartbreaking disaster, we headed back to the city center to explore the Cork City Gaol (A.K.A. the city’s jail). It was neat to see, but it also seemed a bit touristy to me. After the prison had been shut down due to insufficient conditions for the prisoners, it was turned into Cork’s first radio station, until 1957 when it became completely abandoned until being restored in the 1990s.
Overall, discovering Cork was a great experience. I was able to learn so much about the rich history that it has to offer, received the gift of gab as I kissed the Blarney Stone, and even got to pretend what life may have been like for my great-great-grandparents, before they made the life changing decision to sail across the Atlantic and start a better life in America sometime in the late 1800s. When all was said and done, I was able to have the perfect ending to a perfect trip. We were able to exchange some interesting stories with the taxi driver who drove us home from the airport back to Uni. He told us that his late mother had been a survivor on the Titanic. It was mind blowing to learn. He also told us that he had been a taxi driver for a very long time and had the pleasure of driving some very famous people around, including Paul McCartney on the day after John Lennon had been shot, and at one point, had driven Muhammad Ali somewhere. It’s crazy cool who you get to meet when you start traveling. I wonder who I’ll meet next.
Tip of the day: When packing for a trip, think about what you’re bringing. If you’re not able to get to wherever you’re spending the night, you may have to lug your belongings with you for the whole day, whether it’s a heavy backpack or a small suitcase.