Cobh, Ireland – Titanic’s Last Port of Call

This morning we woke up and looked out of our window to a choppy and grey Atlantic ocean. A bit different from the azure waters of our last cruise in the Caribbean in January this year. We were due to arrive in Cobh in the afternoon. Cobh, of course, used to be known as Queenstown, and the Titanic had made a port of call there in 1912 to pick up many Irish emigrants, a lot of whom were travelling third class. So Cobh has quite a connection with the Titanic and we were looking forward to our walking tour of the Titanic Trail later on.

Meanwhile, we had nearly a whole day at sea to look forward to on the Balmoral. It’s just a pity that the weather was windy and rainy as it prevented us from going out on deck. Not to worry though; there was a full programme of lectures, music entertainment and other activities to keep us occupied.

The first of these was a lecture by Dr Michael Martin who was a historian telling us all about Cobh (Queenstown) and some of its people who had been passengers on the Titanic. There were some really interesting personal stories about what were just ordinary working class people at the time; strange to think that their names are still being mentioned and they are still being talked about 100 years later. One of the stories concerned a lady who had boarded the Titanic in Queenstown along with her five children. When the ship sank and bodies were found they found a female body which had a bottle of pills in the pocket of her jacket. They were able, with a struggle, to make out the name of the pharmacist in Queenstown who had prescribed the pills and they wrote to him. He confirmed that he had prescribed the tablets for a lady called Margaret Rice. And so she was identified by a bottle of pills. Her body now rests, along with hundreds of others, in Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They never did find any trace of her five sons.

After a tasty lunch in the Ballindalloch restaurant we had a look around the ship and had a brief afternoon nap. Then it was time to go to the next talk given by Susie Millar about her great grandfather, Thomas Millar, who had worked at Harland & Wolff and helped to build the Titanic. He was then given a job on board the ship as a deck engineer. Her presentation was entitled “Thomas Millar and the Two Pennies”.

Just before Tommy Millar boarded the Titanic he gave each of his sons a shiny new 1912 penny each and told them not to spend them until he came back from America and the family were all together again. The boys were sent to live with their grandmother near the shore of the Belfast Lough and they used to enjoy playing in and round the water. Of course, we know the story of the Titanic and what happened in the early hours of 15th April 1912, and when the boys’ grandmother received a telegram from New York explaining what had happened to the ship, she went to find one of the boys playing at the water’s edge, sailing a little paper boat he had made. As she watched, the little paper boat hit a rock, filled with water, sank and disintegrated into a soggy sheet of paper. She asked the young boy if he remembered his Daddy going off to sea in a big ship and, when he said he did, she said “Well, the same thing happened to that big ship as what’s just happened to your wee boat.” When the boy asked if his Daddy was coming home, his grandmother told him “no”. She then asked him if he was going to make another little paper boat, whereupon the young boy burst into tears and said “I hate boats”. So that was the way he learned of his father’s death on board the Titanic.

Suffice to say, the two shiny new pennies were never spent and have been passed down the generations; Susie Millar herself now owns them and they are temporarily on display in Phoenix, Arizona, at one of the many Titanic exhibitions around the world. A lovely little personal story that you wouldn’t normally come across in a book about the Titanic.

We had originally been due to arrive in Cobh today at 16.00 hours, but due to our late departure from Southampton and the adverse weather we were experiencing, we were going to be delayed a couple of hours, so we were now not due in until 18.00 hours. We therefore got decided to go to get something to eat earlier, as we would miss our usual dinner sitting. We went and had a pre-dinner drink then along we went to the Palms Café for our dinners, before getting changed into warmer clothing for our walking tour in Cobh.

What a tremendous welcome the Balmoral had when we arrived in Cobh. All along the shoreline were crowds of people greeting the ship, as well as the Lord Mayor and some MPs themselves. It was almost like a real maiden voyage as we had experienced crowds and a welcome party like this in 2004 when we were on the maiden voyage of the QM2. We disembarked the vessel and waited for our tour guide to take us on the Titanic Trail around Cobh, formerly Queenstown. The weather had faired up a lot and now the sun was shining, just ideal for walking.

Our guide was called Phil and he was quite a character, very knowledgeable about Cobh, its history, the people and the town’s connection with the Titanic. He injected a bit of Irish comedy into his talk so it was very entertaining. We passed the original White Star Line office building as well as an official memorial monument to the 1500 lost souls of the Titanic. We also went into the magnificent St Colman’s catholic cathedral, a lovely piece of architecture. Aside from the Titanic the city of Cobh looked an interesting and picturesque place to visit anyway, with lovely little waterside bars and restaurants. Our walk lasted about two and a half hours and ended with a visit to a traditional Irish pub for a glass of Irish coffee; just what we needed inside us as it was starting to get a bit chilly. The coffee was nice and strong. 🙂

As the Balmoral was not due to sail until 23.30 hours, we went along to the Commodore Hotel on the sea front, where they had put on a show in the function room simply for passengers of the Balmoral. It was a traditional Irish three piece band, called “Something Simple” singing and playing folk songs; they were really good and we enjoyed a cold pint of Guinness while listening to them. 🙂

Then, back on board the Balmoral at around 10.00pm, we went along to the Neptune lounge where the show tonight was a comedy magician called Mark Shortland. He was actually a very good magician and we enjoyed his show. We were quite tired afterwards though, so we just went back to the cabin for our second night on board, en route across the Atlantic.

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