Maritime column: Why Cork Harbour has long been a safe haven for ships

Maritime column: Why Cork Harbour has long been a safe haven for ships

Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce believes that the cruise industry will re-open this year.

The Cork Coat of Arms — the ‘Arms of Cork City’ — were officially registered by the chief herald on August 23, 1949, and described as: “On waves of the sea, a ship three masts in full sail proper between two towers, gules upon rocks also proper, each tower surmounted by a flag argent charged with a saltire of the third” with the motto, ‘Statio Bene Fida Carinis’.

In heraldry, ‘gules’ describes the tincture with the colour red. The city’s old corporate seals show a ship sailing between two castles or towers, which evolved into the arms now in use. These had a varied interpretation before their 1949 registration, sometimes simply showing a ship between two towers.

The image was chosen to show Cork as a safe harbour for shipping — adapted from the Latin of the ancient Roman poet, Virgil, as “a trustworthy harbour for ships” — though Virgil had contrary references to maritime dangers. While the visual interpretation is taken to be the harbour entrance, the 1824 Researches in the South of Ireland, written by Thomas Crofton Croker, says that: “Foreign vessels were received in a canal which flowed nearly where Castle St stands and were enclosed by means of a portcullis, between the Queen’s Castle and the King’s Castle. Descriptive of this locality, the city arms is a ship between two castles, with the motto, ‘Statio bene fida carinis.’

“The ancient trade of Cork was very limited, and entirely confined to England and the ports in the Bay of Biscay — the principal import was wine from France and Spain and, in return, it exported staves, hides, fish, skins, and wool. 

"All the traffic was carried on in foreign bottoms (ships); for Cork, in the reign of Elizabeth, only possessed a few fishing barks, nor were there warehouses established for the reception of merchandise and every trader brought his goods at his own risk and disposed of them in the best manner he could from on board his vessel.”

Croker, born in Cork in 1798, was a descendent of the Elizabethan English settlers of Cork and the son of a British army officer. Thomas was a “senior clerk of the first class of the Admiralty of London”, who saw Cork Harbour as benefiting particularly from war and suffering in the years after 1815, when peace prevailed: “The convenience of Cork Harbour, in time of war, rendered it the rendezvous where all vessels trading with the ‘new world’ assembled for convoy and the victualling of such fleets alone created an extensive consumption for its staple commodities. Few cities, therefore, felt the transition to peace more severely, being without manufacturers and solely dependent on trade for the support of its inhabitants.

“The failure of several banking and commercial houses produced a depression of credit and checked the means by which Cork had attained its commercial eminence. 

"Vacant stores and untenanted houses are melancholy proofs of the declension of its prosperity and to those who remember what that city was previous to 1815, its present appearance is entirely cheerless — this gloomy effect, it is to be hoped, may prove of a temporary nature and confidence, and prosperity be again restored without the renewal of hostilities.”

Croker also recorded that Carrigaline was “the principal village” on the western side of the harbour, where “tradition states the first Earl of Cork intended should rival Cork in commerce, and had actually proceeded so far in his gigantic undertaking as to have marked out the groundplan of an extensive city; but the scheme, which originated in the comparative distance of their situations from the sea, ended with the life of its projector.”

Carrigaline is growing rapidly in size, but could one imagine that it was once projected to exceed Cork City?

Concern in Cobh 

These days, at the eastern side of the harbour, there is concern in Cobh that, while the harbour is busy with cargo shipping, there hasn’t been a cruise ship for some time, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which wiped out the business.

Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce believes that the cruise industry will re-open this year. There are some slight, uncertain as yet, indications that this may happen. So the chamber has organised a forum, entitled ‘From Cruise Liner to Cork Harbour’, to examine ways to promote Cobh to the cruise market.

“Cobh is in a unique position to maximise opportunities for trade and business and place itself firmly on the map as the cruise industry re-opens in 2021.”

This is to be an online ‘open forum’ with involvement from the Port of Cork, Cobh Tourism, Visit Cork, and Excursions Ireland, and will be held tomorrow week, Thursday, July 15, from 9.30-10.30am.

“All are welcome and we’d love to get questions and comments on this important topic for Cobh,” says the chamber.

Unlike the Croker description of Cork in those past years as an “entirely cheerless, gloomy city,” Cobh appears focused on positivity. Anyone interested can register for attendance on the chamber website.

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