This morning, we put in at Cobh, Ireland, and spent the day traveling the area around it.
We saw Charles Fort, near Kinsale, and strolled around the town of Kinsale itself. We visited St. Multose Church there (built by the Normans in roughly 1190 AD), where Prince Rupert, whose fleet lay at anchor in the bay before the town, proclaimed Charles II king when he learned that Oliver Cromwell had just beheaded his uncle, Charles I.
We drove through the countryside. We heard about the great potato famine that began in roughly 1840, during which roughly 1.25 million Irish starved to death while approximately the same number emigrated to North America – reducing the entire population of Ireland by between 20% and 25%. Potatoes, introduced to Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh during the time of Elizabeth I – who may have loved him, but whose successor, King James, later had him executed – had become the staple food of the Irish diet. A typical Irish man might eat between eight and fourteen pounds of potatoes in a day, an average woman as many as eight or nine pounds. So when a blight destroyed the potato crop in the ground not just for one season but over and over again during the 1840s, it was catastrophic. The people might have returned to hunting and fishing, of course, except that the aristocracy in Ireland – many of them English Protestants who had been granted lands in the country by the English monarch as a reward for their loyal support of the English Reformation against Catholic resistance – controlled game lands and fishing areas and denied them access to traditional and available sources of food. Truly unbelievable depravity.
We went to a private home on the grounds of which an Irishwoman who was working as a nurse in New York City on 11 September 2001 had planted (I think) 343 trees in honor of the fire fighters – many of them of Irish descent – who died in the World Trade Center. It was a very moving place. Each tree was identified with a photograph and a name. Our driver/guide was plainly emotional himself when he realized, from the new monument on the grounds, that she herself had died of cancer since he had last been there.
The Irish, he said, love Americans. They almost all have American relatives. Twenty-two American presidents have had Irish ancestors. The two most popular in Ireland, he reported, are John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. (Too bad, that.) Yes, Ronald Reagan was Irish, too. Yes, of course. But so too, in small part and much more excitingly, is Barack Obama!
We went to Blarney Castle and waited in line for two hours, partially on the stairs of the castle itself, waiting to get up to the Blarney Stone – to kiss which is to be granted the gift of gab. Having been there, I think I’ll now choose a rock, put it in my back yard, and charge fifteen dollars for people to kiss it.
We went out to the point of land nearest the place where the Lusitania was destroyed by a German U-Boat, bringing the United States into World War I, and saw the place where the Titanic docked for the last time before its fatal departure for New York.
I have to say that, as much as anything else, I really enjoyed our driver/guide’s personality, and the Irishness of his language. This place, as is well known, is verbal magic. The land of Yeats, Synge, Joyce, Swift, and Wilde.
Six hours out from Cobh, Ireland.