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Maritime Heritage of Cobh

Cobh, pronounced Cove, situated in Cork Harbour, has the second largest natural harbour in the world and is the largest in Europe.

When Queen Victoria visited Ireland for the first time in 1849 it was at Cove (which it was then known as) she first stepped ashore. She was only in Cove for a very short time and she “acquiesced” to the renaming of the town to Queenstown in honour of her visit. The town was renamed Queenstown from then and all shipping lines would advertise the town as “Queenstown” in their advertising and posters.

Following Irish Independence from Britain in 1920, the town was renamed Cobh, which is also pronounced as Cove.

Cobh’s history is entwined with great ships, majestic ocean liners and adventurous tales of the sea. As Ireland’s most strategic port of call for transatlantic liners, it became the main port of emigration from Ireland. The Statue outside the Cobh Heritage Centre shows Annie Moore and her two brothers. She was only 15 when she travelled to America and by a flip of fate became the first person to be processed through the newly opened Ellis Island Immigration Centre in New York. A gentleman before her stepped back to allow her through, not realising that the Mayor and Press were all waiting to publicize this historic occasion.

Some Cobh buildings along the main front were built with ballast bricks. These bricks would be left behind in Cove after the ships were able to fill their cargo areas fully. They were of a special brown, beige colour, so if you see any of them in a building you will know they may have sailed the ocean.

Many famous ships and ocean liners came to Cobh. From the age of Sail through to the great age of Steam and into the present age of Diesel. These included the paddle steamer ‘Sirius’, which in 1838 became the first ever ship to cross the Atlantic from this Harbour to New York without the aid of sail. The Cunard Ocean Liner Lusitania which was torpedoed in May 1915 with the loss of 1198 lives with her famous “Blue Ribband” winner sister ship, Mauretania, were weekly regulars.

Cobh, was the last port of call for RMS Titanic which anchored at the mouth of the harbour on April 11th 1912.  One hundred and twenty three passengers left from Cobh on the Titanic.

History of the Cunard Line Shipping Company


The Cunard Line began in 1840 with four wooden paddle steamers. In 1847 the service was increased to a weekly sailing across the Atlantic in each direction.  In response to competition from lines such as Inman, National and White Star, it was reinvigorated as the Cunard Steam Ship Co., Ltd., and the fleet modernised in 1878.  But by 1902 with the formation of the American combine, the International Mercantile Marine and German competition, it was under threat.  In 1904 it took the bold step of building the steam turbine-powered 20,000-ton Carmania.  Its success led to the building (with government assistance) of two 32,000-ton express liners, Mauretania and Lusitania (1907) which captured the Blue Riband.

Mauretania 1957with text

After the First World War the fleet was rebuilt and included the ex-German liner Berengaria (formerly Imperator).  The express service was moved from Liverpool to Southampton in 1919 and eventually two large liners, Queen Mary (1936) and Queen Elizabeth (1940) were built with government assistance.  Both played vital roles as troopships in the Second World War.  The White Star Line was acquired in 1934.

The line prospered after the war but passenger traffic declined in the 1960s, leading to a change from regular transatlantic services to cruising only, and to entry into the Atlantic Container Lines consortium for cargo services in 1966.  In 1971 it was taken over by Trafalgar House Investments Ltd., which continue to own cruise ships, including Queen Elizabeth 2 and Caronia.