Center in Cobh Traces Path of Irish Emigrants

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COBH, Ireland -- Of the 6 million people who emigrated from Ireland between 1848 and 1950, 2.5 million of them sailed from Cobh.

Pronounced "cove," the city sits on Great Island, one of the three islands in Cork Harbor that are linked by causeways.

In many ways Cobh is to the Irish what Ellis Island is to Americans, except the Irish were departing instead of arriving.

The railway station where most of the men and women arrived before setting off for a new life has been renovated to reflect the style of the turn-of-the-century era.

The station is home to the Cobh Heritage Center, which features a permanent exhibit, "Cobh, the Queenstown Story."

The exhibit outlines the role Cobh played in Irish emigration, the deportation of convicts and the sad stories of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

Cobh was rechristened Queenstown after a visit from Queen Victoria in 1849. It reverted to its original name in 1921.

The town, with its Victorian seafront and rows of steeply terraced houses, has one of the world's largest natural harbors, which contributed to Cobh's rise as a prominent naval base in the 18th century and later to its development as a major port for merchant shipping and luxury passenger liners.

The famine years of 1844-48 triggered a mass emigration, and the poor headed for the U.S., Canada and Australia.

The center's exhibition presents a collection of photographs, letters and passenger lists that trace the stories of emigrants on their way to begin new lives in foreign lands.

Audiovisual displays presented on large video screens re-create the horrifying transatlantic journeys made by emigrants in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

The exhibit also highlights the journeys of the 40,000 or so convicts who were sent to Australian penal colonies on so-called "coffin ships."

These ships earned their foreboding name because so many passengers died before the overcrowded and disease-infested vessels arrived at their destination.

Reconstructed cabins take visitors from the worst conditions aboard seagoing vessels to the opulent surroundings found aboard the luxury liners of the time.

A section of the museum is dedicated to one of those liners, the Titanic, which made its last stop in Cobh before setting off on its doomed Atlantic crossing in 1912.

Three years after the Titanic disaster, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine just off Kinsale, southwest of Cobh.

Many of the survivors, as well as the casualties, were brought here after the attack.

Visitors are taken through the ordeal in re-created hotel lobbies and a hospital where the injured lie in wait for medical help.

Cobh Heritage Center

Phone: (011) 353 21 813-595

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