Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 7: Cobh, Fota House, and Cork City

Today was a fairly easy day with little time in the coach. We started by driving to Cobh (known as Queenstown prior to Irish independence). It's a nice little port town that is notable for several reasons. First, it was the last port of call for emigrants on their way to America. Second, it was the first port of call for tourists on their way to Ireland and Europe prior to air travel. Third, it was the last place where the Lusitania stopped before being sunk off the Old Head of Kinsale (just a little down the coast) and it was the place where survivors were taken. Finally, it was the final port of call for the Titanic on its ill-fated voyage. There are monuments throughout the town that celebrate these facts. The monument to Annie Moore is one of the most widely known—partly because it is duplicated in the States.

The Lusitania memorial is particularly grim. Indeed, I'm not a fan of the monument but find it interesting because the Irish Tourist Board spent quite a lot of money on the surrounding plaza and lighting—an odd expense considering that I highly doubt anybody (other than me) would come to Cobh to see a monument!

Of course, we were here to visit a heritage center devoted to both emigration and the experience of trans-Atlantic steam travel, the Queenstown Story.

Seasickness was a problem.

The exhibit does a nice job of explaining how the great liners—the Titanic, for example—were built.

And it goes into detail about what it was like to get on, off, and to travel by steamer. I especially liked this display because it includes the advert for the S.S. United States in the background. The United States was the single fastest ocean liner to ever cross the Atlantic, the final winner of the Blue Riband. The boat is now floating in the Philadelphia harbor and a committee is anxious to try to save the ship—a very good cause because there are literally no other remaining examples of the grand trans-Atlantic steamers left.

After leaving Queenstown Story, it was off to Fota House. During the eighteenth and even into the nineteenth century, power was intimately connected to land. The more land you had, the more impressive your house, the more powerful you were. In Ireland, where most land was owned by wealthy English landlords, this was especially true. While the homes owned by landed aristocrats are called manor houses in Britain, here in Ireland they are referred to as "big houses." Fota, although modest by comparison to some, is a great example of such homes and the tour does a great job of illustrating what life was like for both the landowner and his staff.

The above photo shows the house from the landscaped area behind the home.

Our guide.
The entryway.

Beautiful ceilings, no more fancy than those in my office at UNE (of course).

At one stage, our guide demonstrated a courting seat by chatting up Courtney.

She crushed the poor man by refusing his advances. A sad moment for your man, I'm sure!

Oddly, I'm far more interested in how the staff lived than I am the wealthy landowners. Landowners acquired status by doing as little as possible beyond the occasional hunt, while the staff had to do all of the work.

This is a laundry machine. It makes even the 30-year old antique in my apartment building back home look advanced!

These bells denoted the room where service was required. One might ring at any hour of the day or night, so the staff had to be ready.

I'm always struck by the fact that the rich and powerful liked their meat to be a bit spoiled. Thus, they hung it on a wrack like this.

I seem to recall our guide saying something about the birds hitting their prime when the heads fell off. Sounds yummy.
So much for Peter Cottontail. Poor bugger.

Of course, it wasn't all rotting critters. There were pots and pans to use.

And dusting to be done. [Okay, so this is not exactly a period dust pan. You must admit, though, the photo makes it look as though it would be right at home at the MOMA in New York!]

Lawn decorations matter.

Once done at Fota, it was back to Cork City for a bit of a wander, then on to a fascinating lecture by Dr. Aoife Bhreatnach—the foremost historian of Irish Travellers (a minority population that represents Ireland's "other" and which is horribly treated by the "settled" community). Interested readers would do very well to read her superb book: Becoming Conspicuous: Irish Travellers, Society and the State: 1922-1970.

As for me, when I'm in Cork City I visit the English Market—a fantastic indoor shopping area that features an extraordinary selection of olives, seafood, restaurants, sandwich stalls, t-shirt and hen night shops, and much, much more. I adore the place.

Along the way, I snapped a photo of Shandon—famous for its bells (which visitors can play... they even provide sheet music).

Much to the students' horror, I've been trying to document their trip with lots and lots of candid photos (I actually throw away the bad ones, so how candid can they be?). This is what the student sees just before they hear the shutter...

Just call me the Great Green Hunter.

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