COBH – a “Top Ten” Irish Tourism Town

Cobh may not have received the top accolade at the Tourism Towns Awards announced in Dublin on 28th November, but can be immensely proud of being a top ten finalist along with towns like Westport, Ennis and Kenmare.

Chairman of Cobh Tourism, Hendrick Verwey outlines what the competition is all about and what the judges observed while judging Cobh’s entry.

 

This was the second year of the Tourism Towns competition and Cobh was eligible to enter for the first time by virtue of being in the top 150 in the National Tidy Towns competition.

The competition seeks to recognise exceptional effort on the part of communities that go the extra mile to welcome visitors, develop tourism and tell the stories that make their town special and worth visiting.

The competition is judged under four headings:

A Sense of Place – How does a town tells its own unique story to visitors, what’s special about it, and what distinguishes it from other towns?

Local Involvement – How does the local community work together to provide a really authentic visitor experience?

The Tourism Experience Available – What does the town have to offer visitors?

The Development and promotion of the town – How the town takes a unified approach to marketing and developing the town into a “tourism town”.

There are three distinct strands to the judging process; A written submission, a “Mystery Shopper” visit and a one hour presentation followed by a 2 hour tour that took place inCobh on 9th October. On that day in Cobh the sun was shining and the businesses and people of Cobh provided memorable and enjoyable experiences for the two judges.

The adjudication report released following the announcement of Kilkenny as Ireland’s TopTourism Town and Mulranny as Ireland’s Best Small Tourism Town commented that “The various agencies both voluntary and commercial appear to be fully aware of the town’s dependence on tourism and are doing something about it.

The written “Sense of Place” submission received special mention “as it was written in the first person and of their experience of a day in Cobh – exactly as requested! It painted an amazing picture of the local setting”. This essay can be read at the end of this piece.

The adjudicator’s remarks included

“In years gone by, Cobh was a notable industrial town with ship building and a steel plant but it is clear that, in recent times, the focus has shifted – realising that tourism is the future of the town. Several major projects have been brought to fruition due to the hard work and dedication of volunteers in groups such as Tidy Towns, Cobh Tourism and many others. This is not happening ad-hoc but with professional help involving the setting of goals and strategies. The Cobh community has a vision for where it wants to be in terms of Irish tourism and is well on its way there. It is good to note that stakeholders are working together. Efforts at creating a welcoming and friendly tourist town have led to the winning of awards such as ‘Best Cruise Welcome’ and ‘Friendliest Port’. Initiatives such as the ‘Animation’ ladies and Ambassadors are wonderful – the involvement of Transition Year students augers well for the future. The road train driver’s tour was delivered with enthusiasm and passion for his town.

You have imaginatively succeeded in creating a family fun type event out of every arrival of cruise liners to town This is approximately 62 days per year and growing. The local radio station is very supportive in this regard. Success in featuring in print media, and on national and international Radio & TV is invaluable advertising. .

The report was not all positive however and suggested that work needs to be done on further strengthening Cobh’s Social Media presence and increasing the frequency of Cathedral tours. It was suggested that the retail sector promotes itself more and strengthens what is being offered to the visitor in terms of shopping/eating/night time entertainment and the judges stated that they expected that a marine town would have more examples of quality sea-food restaurants.

Taking these comments on board and continuing to work hard at making Cobh the premier tourism destination on the south coast of Ireland will ensure Cobh performs strongly in this competition again in 2014.

All involved in making and presenting Cobh’s case in the 2013 competition can be justifiably proud of their involvement and the last words in the report say it all “Thank youCobh for a wonderful presentation of your town!”

Cobh’s written submission – Sense of place

A town’s sense of place relates back to the physical characteristics of the town, what it is known and remembered for and what makes it unique. This can relate to its welcome, its geographical location, its culture and heritage, its built and natural environment its accessibility and how it presents itself. It embodies all that a town is famous for and distinguishes the town from others around.

Please paint a picture of the town, what is special about it and how it is different from other towns in Ireland. It is this difference that sets the town apart. Its geographical location, history and culture and identity are ultimately what visitors remember and reminisce about. In essence we want you to paint a picture of your town as if it is being recounted by a visitor telling their friends about the wonderful time they spent in Ireland.

[Please provide a description of your town and its sense of place] (max. 600 words)

The memories of a visit to Cobh (pronounced Cove, not Cobe) will stay with me forever. Gaily painted houses are in places stacked up along the hillside from the shores of Cork Harbour, elsewhere neat terraces run east to west. Stately Victorian houses perch on the hillsides while the majestic St. Colman’s Cathedral stands dramatically above the town. Its magnificent spire reaches for the sky by day and the stars by night as subtle and haunting floodlighting accentuate its beauty.

It was the coming of the railway over 150 years ago and transatlantic liners carrying millions of people from Ireland through this major port of emigration that made Cobh prosperous. From Cork city to Cobh is just a 25 minute journey by rail or by road.

There are lots of things to see and do here: the visit of the Titanic, the emigration of so many, the harbour, its military history and its own “Alcatraz” island see to that. The streetscape has changed little in over 100 years. While sampling the Cork brewed stout, Murphy’s I think, in view of the crumbling pier from where the Titanic’s last passengers boarded tenders I was transported back over 100 years – sensing the excitement yet palpable sadness of those about to sail to a new life on the largest, most beautiful ship in the world.

The heart wrenching story of the torpedoing of the Lusitania as it approached Cobh deeply affected me. Many victims lie in the serene Old Church graveyard just outside the town with 11,000 other souls. Three large boulders mark their graves. A man told me how the locals provided comfort to those who had lost everything, about the coffins with only numbers on their lids and of the distraught mother scratching in the clay of a newly filled grave, looking for her baby!

The people still adore Cobh born running legend Sonia O’Sullivan and the photographs of Cobh’s most famous son Jack Doyle, boxer, entertainer and larrikin adorn the walls of the Commodore Hotel.

The harbour was a hive of activity with yachts and teenagers in rowing boats taking my eye away from the slag heaps on the horizon left by a once busy steel plant. Nearby the dockyard that provided thousands of families with their livelihood is silent apart from the seagull’s cry, its jobs long gone. Hospitality and tourism are providing much needed jobs. Despite Ireland’s economic woes the locals still seem to have a sense of fun, especially in the pubs.

As evening fell I walked along the now quieter town, admiring the colourful flower displays, good cheer emanating from the abundant restaurants, bars and cafés. An area known as the Holy Ground – in its heyday it catered for the needs of sailors – has views to where Titanic lay at anchor in 1912. Insights into the town’s history are everywhere – interesting signs, plaques and memorials, but even more interesting are the people and the stories that they are eager to share. It seems that everyone here wants to welcome the visitor and find out a little about you, not in that nosey way, but in a curious good natured homely way.

Dinner was amazing; clearly the fishing is excellent right outside the window in what the locals describe as the second largest natural harbour in the world.

Large cruise ships now bring passengers into Cobh as the great ocean liners once brought them away. And so to my abiding memory of this pretty, colourful and friendly seaport on the south coast of Ireland. A majestic Cruise liner slipping away from the dock, a brass band playing on the quay, ladies in period costumes gathered to wave goodbye and some locals on the hillsides waving white handkerchiefs as a fond farewell. As the ship’s horn bellowed I thought of the many thousands for whom the last glimpse of their native land was the same as the passengers on deck were having now.

 

 

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