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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

'I went to Cork and stood on the dock some of my ancestors left from. I felt their ghosts...'

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

11 January 2022

On a whim, I decide to travel to Ireland since most restrictions have been lifted. Fares on Ryanair are cheap. It’s the add-ons that are expensive - like extra baggage, which I pay for.

There are places in Ireland that I want to visit but have been unable to do so until now. I am taking this short trip alone so I have nobody to answer to and I have selected some places to visit on either side of a stay in Tom's family home in Kilkee. But first I need to know that I do not carry the dreaded lurgy; the Coronavirus Omicron strain. Part of the travel requirements includes taking a Rapid Antigen Test each day for five days whilst I am here, so I won't visit the family until I've had a couple of negative tests.

At the airport, I collect a hybrid Corolla and set my phone’s GPS for the three-hour journey to Cork. I don't really want to go into the city of Cork; I want to visit the port city of Cobh and nearby Midleton to see a special sculpture. The day is superb; bright azure sky and the golden winter sun is shining. Now that I am hurtling down the motorway, I wish I had the time to drive the secondary roads, the little narrow lanes that are synonymous with Ireland. If it were up to me and if I had enough money, I would spend six months travelling the byroads of Ireland, stopping to look at ruins or to absorb the magical qualities of this land. But I have six days only and I have made a commitment to visit Tom's family.

I leave the motorway to visit the Rock of Cashel; stone ruins that date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. It was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years before the Norman Invasion. In 1101, the king donated the complex to the Church. Although many of the original buildings no longer exist, the oldest and tallest of the structures is a round tower, which dates back to 1100. The complex is shut, but I do get a good view of it from the carpark below.

I decide to travel directly to Cobh tonight and quickly change the destination on the GPS. I also check for some hotels that may be available. Cobh, also named Queenstown, was the last port from which the ill-fated Titanic picked up passengers before beginning its trans-Atlantic crossing to New York.

I arrive in Cobh as the shadows are lengthening and select a reasonably-priced hotel on the waterfront and park outside.

I ask whether I need to pay to park outside the hotel. This is the response.

‘Parking on the street is free for three hours and so because the parking inspector finishes work in half an hour, you can leave it there all night. Then the parking inspector starts work at nine in the morning, so add three hours to that and you can leave it there until midday.’

I forgot how the Irish are so lyrical when they speak. I love it.

My room overlooks the water and despite the industrial setting across the water - mostly wind turbines - the setting sun is magnificent.

I never have a problem travelling alone; in fact, I prefer it, although Tom and I have taken some wonderful trips over the years. I think that the older I get, the more introspective I’ve become. Perhaps selfish. I like to traipse through a place in my own time. I don’t want to breathlessly try to keep up or miss out on visiting places, the sites and museums, because they are of no interest to my travelling companion. Sometimes I want to wander; to touch ancient walls, feel the centuries of history reverberate through my open palm, immerse myself in the intricately woven fabric of time and place. Most people don't understand this.

I don’t waste much time this morning as I not only have a long journey to Kilkee, but I have things to do here in Cobh. My decision to come here was last-minute, so I don’t have time to book a tour at the Titanic Museum; the only way to see it during these Covid times. So I poke my head into the Immigration museum just a few steps from the hotel.

Instantly I am transported back in time to when the Irish were rounded up and sent to America and Jamaica as indentured servants. Voluntary indentured servants were difficult to find so ruthless sea captains rounded up or kidnapped people to fill ships for the slave trade. Cromwell used nearby Spike Island as a holding prison from the 1640s during his ethnic cleansing of the Irish population. It is said that he transported a total of 500,000 Irish people to the Americas and the Caribbean, 50,000 of whom left from Cobh.

After the American War of Independence, Irish indentured servants were no longer accepted, so the British needed to find another colony for their prisoners. By the 1780s huge hulks, ships that had been converted into prisons were floating off the coasts of Ireland and England. It is for this reason that Britain decided to send prisoners to Australia, a country inhabited by indigenous people for 60,000 years, but a country with no infrastructure in comparison to the rest of the world. Before long prisoners and free-settlers were leaving from Cobh to Australia, Canada, and other far-flung countries for few reasons other than population control.

I wander through the ages until the 20th-century migration and holiday cruises on ships such as Mauritania and Lusitania, the latter of which was torpedoed by the Germans; the survivors were brought to the nearby town of Kinsale.

This museum is fascinating and I spend time exploring each of the exhibits before continuing my journey. As I drive away in the midday sunshine, I admire the beautifully-kept terraced houses along the foreshore, many of which are painted muted shades of blue, green, and white.

I join the highway and within fifteen minutes I can see my next destination; the Kindred Spirits monument in Bailick Park in Midleton. Exiting the freeway, I wind through narrow streets, eventually finding a small car park close to the park. Nine stainless steel feathers from a central point reach towards the sky. This is the recently-erected (in 2017) monument that commemorates the generous donation of $170 by the Choctaw Nation to the Irish people during the potato famine. It may not be much money by today's standards, but this was an enormous amount of money in 1847; a gift of love from a nation of indigenous people who had lost their land only fourteen years prior. Today the Irish and the Choctaw are forever linked.

Today could not have been a better day to see this monument. The contrast between the stainless steel feathers and the azure sky provides perfect conditions for photos.

Once again I join the freeways and toll roads to head towards Kilkee, a three-hour journey. Again my preference would be to drive along the secondary roads, but time is of the essence.

Just before turning onto the Lislanahan Road, I stop and observe the beach below. The day is almost over and the beach is bathed in yellow light. These two days have allowed me to ease back into travel-mode. We have spent so much time in fear of COVID and I feel that it's time to gather confidence in moving forward. Of course, being vaccinated and having ready access to Rapid Antigen Tests helps. I'm going to enjoy my time here as much as possible, enjoy the freedom of movement and the ability to continue where I left off two years ago.

Title Quote: Luanne Rice

'I went to Cork, Ireland, and stood on the dock some of my ancestors had left from. I felt their ghosts gather round me, and I cried to imagine what it must have felt like - leaving that beautiful land and those beloved people, knowing it was forever.'

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