Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Relationship with Ireland

This article, written by Michael Gallagher, public relations executive and historian for Cunard Line, is part of an ongoing series of key moments in Cunard Line's history

Ireland, particularly the town of Cobh, has a significant part in the long and varied history of Cunard Line.

Known as “Queenstown” from 1850 to the 1920s, this very attractive town’s relationship with Cunard began in 1859, making it one of the oldest of the company's ports of call. Cobh remained a regular fixture in the Cunard schedules every year until the 1960s, apart from 1914 - 1918 and 1939 - 1945. In the 1930s, as many as five Cunard ships were calling at the port every month.

When emigration from Europe to the United States and Canada began to mushroom from the middle of the 19th Century, the majority of the two and a half million emigrants Cunard carried to the New World came from England, and from mainland Europe substantial numbers of Irish emigrants boarded in Cobh where Cunard ships stopped on the westbound route from Liverpool. In the 100 years from 1848, over six million people emigrated from Ireland to escape crop failures or poverty; and of these, two and a half million departed from Cobh – many on Cunard vessels.

In early 1914, Cunard’s Ivernia established the record of embarking 1,000 passengers in Cobh – a record that stood for many years and perhaps still stands!

Despite the misery in which so many of these emigrants had existed, and despite the tears and sadness at leaving a home they might never see again, emigration was fundamentally a story of hope. For a good many of them, the hope became reality, and the prosperity found in North America enabled them and their descendants to visit their native lands on the great transatlantic liners that incessantly moved between the Old World and the New.


Mauretania, at the time the largest liner calling at Cobh, made history in September 1947 when she embarked officials and players of the Gaelic Athletic Association, who were bound for New York to take part in the first All-Ireland Football Final to be played outside Ireland.

Cunard and Cobh will be forever linked due to the sinking of the Lusitania on the afternoon of Friday 7 May 1915, ten miles off the Old Head of Kinsale. She was torpedoed by U20 and sank within 18 minutes. Of the 1,900 people on board, only 761 survived. Many of the recovered bodies were taken to Cobh, and over 140 unidentified bodies were interred in three graves at the Old Church graveyard just outside the town. Most identified bodies were claimed by relations and sent home for burial – but over 900 missing persons were never found. Today a Memorial to Peace and to the loss proudly stands in the centre of the town, and it has become the tradition in recent years for visiting Cunard ships to pay tribute to the Memorial and commemorate the loss.


Caronia, the famous “Green Goddess,” would offer several Around Ireland cruises during her career and was a regular visitor to the country.

On 23 July 1990, as part of Cunard’s 150th Anniversary Round Britain voyage, QE2 was greeted by 60,000 people and units of the Irish Navy on her maiden arrival at Cobh, in the Irish Republic. Her arrival also coincided with the opening of the new cargo terminal at Ringaskiddy (where she berthed) and the Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, was entertained to lunch to mark the event. Her departure that evening was again greeted with huge crowds, especially as she passed Cobh itself, where every square foot of the town overlooking the water was jammed with sightseers.

Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria are regular callers to Cobh and further strengthen the unique bond between Cunard and Ireland.

Queen Victoria at Cobh

Other Irish ports have associations with Cunard:

A notable development took place on 8 May 1929 when Scythia made Cunard's first call at Galway. Within a few years, four Cunarders a month were calling there.

Dublin also figured in the company's plans. In 1932, Samaria and Antonia brought over from the U.S. and Canada hundreds of pilgrims for the Eucharistic Congress being held in that city. Both ships served as floating hotels during the Congress.

Lancastria would make annual pilgrimages, under the auspices of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland, to Loudres and the Holy Land, with a stop at Civitavecchia being made to enable the pilgrims to attend the opening of the Holy Door in St Peter's, Rome.

Source: Cunard Line