Cork showcases its historical ties with the US whilst highlighting the cruise contribution
May 4 is a significant date in Cork’s history, it being 100 years since the arrival of the US fleet during the First World War. On that day Commander Joseph Taussig of USS Wadsworth led six destroyers of the US Atlantic Fleet into Cork Harbour.
Between 1917 and 1919, about 6,000 US naval personnel were stationed in Cork Harbour and Bantry Bay, engaging in the war against German U-boats and seeking to ensure convoy security.
Captain Michael McCarthy of the Port of Cork said that between 1915-1917 an average of 600,000 tonnes of shipping was being sunk every month by U-boats. “You have to bear in mind that back then the average ship weighed 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes so that’s an indication of the number of ships being sunk,” he said. The arrival of the Americans soon made life very difficult for the underwater hunters.
The presence of the Americans was as much social as military. Many young Cork women got married and moved across the Atlantic whilst local men found employment constructing bases such as those at Aghada and Whiddy as well as joining baseball games.
Over the course of this year, a series of events are planned throughout Cork Harbour and Bantry Bay, aimed at commemorating and bringing to life a time between 1917 and 1919 when, rather than Cork people going to America, America will come to Cork.
As over 50% of today’s passengers visiting Cobh (Queenstown) come from the US, these events will be of particular significance and interest. For example the Sirius Arts Centre has an exhibition on Portraits: Women of Cobh and US Sailors’ Irish Wives 1917-19 and a World War One harbour trail has been developed and
Conor Nelligan, Cork County Council’s heritage officer, commented: “The programme of events will be promoted both at home and abroad, and particularly in the USA, to encourage people to join us in Cork to commemorate the arrival of the US Navy 100 years ago.”
It was the sinking of Cunard-owned Lusitania on May 7 1915 which was an influence on America entering the war. To mark the centenary and to commemorate its 1,198 victims, Cunard Line’s Queen Victoria called Cobh for a day of remembrance complete with relatives of those lost at sea.
Returning to the present day, tourism ambassadors have begun selling Cork city’s visitor attractions to passengers onboard for the first time in a bid to capture a slice of an estimated €12m market.
The port hosted three cruiseships - Le Soleal on North Custom Quay, Midnatsol on South Jetties and Serenade of the Seas in Cobh - with up to 5,000 passengers and crew on April 27, its busiest day in what is expected to be a record season with up to 65 ships expected to call between March and November.
Cork City Council launched its tourism ambassador pilot project by placing four specially trained staff on board the Serenade of the Seas in a bid to entice passengers to visit the city.
Figures show that each passenger spends an average of €73 a day while onshore, worth up to €12m a year to the local economy. Port of Cork statistics show that even before the liners arrive in port, about half the passengers have booked short excursions to places such as Blarney, Kinsale, the Jameson Experience in Midleton, the Rock of Cashel, and Youghal, but the rest are independent travellers.
Port officials told city businesses last year that they were losing out on this category of passenger, a market which could be worth up to €3.6m annually.
Port spokeswoman Sara Mackeown said they will deliver up to 100,000 passengers and up to 60,000 crew to Cobh or the city quays this year alone but that, once the passengers arrive, it is up to businesses to seize the opportunity.
City council spokesman Paul Moynihan said the launch of the tourism ambassador scheme is a direct response to that business need. “It’s up to everybody to capitalise on the economic opportunities here and we are delighted to place these ambassadors on board the ships,” he said.
The Port of Cork’s 2017 cruise season kicked off on March 20 with a call from Saga Cruises’ Saga Pearl. Commercial manager at the Port of Cork, Captain Michael McCarthy, said: “The numbers of calls are up compared to 2016 and we feel very positive about this increase in business. It’s also very encouraging to see cruiselines bringing their newest vessels to Cork on maiden calls. It is our ambition to attract larger cruiseships and increase our cruise calls to 75 per year. Already in 2018 the bookings are indicating we will achieve this goal, if not exceed it.”
The Port of Cork also operates Bantry Bay Port Company, which will see eight cruise liners calling to the West Cork area this summer. Bantry Harbour and Glengarriff can accommodate smaller boutique cruise liners whose passengers tend to look for active expedition cruises.