Tribe of the Ring Fort

Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's a Shame about Cobh

After a couple years here, a rough statement of our opinion of Cobh is something along the lines of: steadfastly not living up to its potential. Among our expat crowd of South Africans, French, Americans, and among our native Irish friends, some variation on that theme is expressed.

Here's a rundown of the elements making up this assessment:
1. Cobh has a spectacular set of raw materials to work with.

It lies mostly on a steep hillside overlooking a well-sheltered natural harbour; the steepness allows many, perhaps most, a good share of this view. It is a view encompassing islands, towns, and the strait into the Atlantic through failry dramatic promontories of land and lighthouses.

Due to the properties of the harbour (plus some dredging), it has a steady stream of cruise ships, some among the largest, berthing at its very town centre. These ships spill hundreds or thousands of tourists from around Europe and the US into the streets. (Well, the docks anyways. The tourists, mostly, promptly depart on buses for parts unknown-but-guessed-at--or not given a second thought--by locals.)

It has a commuter railway into Cork City centre. Twenty-three minutes into town with no traffic. Mostly with a view over bays, inlets, and rivers. 5.25 euros roundtrip, less with a monthly pass.

It has the lovely, hilly, pastured and wooded landscape of Great Island all around it (except to the south, which is the aforementioned harbour). As in, not suburban sprawl, though to be fair sprawl is making inroads. Still, much good landscape surrounds it and leads to other fine shore locations around the island's perimeter.

It has had, for a while now, the humming Cork-City economy around it. Like 23 minutes away by commuter rail, or less when the many businesses at Little Island are included.

It has the humming Cork-City. Thriving, busy, pan-European vibe. Restaurants, pubs, shops and stores galore. The two branches of the river Lee running through its heart. Although it does, as a friend's architect-father put it, "need a new coat of paint."

And more which perhaps we'll add later.

2. It is not paying attention to its infrastructure.

Hundreds of residential units are ging up. Thousands if you include those recently built. But no new entries/exits from Great Island have been made for all the new residents. It's still got only the one-lane bridge leading onto Foaty Island (Sarah's commute route) and the Cross-River ferries over to Passage West (my commute). I've watched the queues for the ferry lengthen precipitously in the last year. And hundreds more residential units are going up. I hear of a proposed water-taxi into Cork City, but that will have to hurdle the exorbitant harbour fees that have forestalled other water-based transportation ideas. The traffic to and from this place, though eminently avoidable, will depress the quality of here for most.

3. It is rough, perhaps by choice.

Cobh's centre looks run-down. Dingy and ramshackle feel to it. Very few shops, restaurants, public spaces and so on to compete with what Cork City has to offer. Several boarded-up buildings directly in the centre's squares. A general feeling of neglect. The owner of a fine-foods shop that came and went told us one morning that a Town Counselor had come in and told her basically that Cobh does not want such things. In other words, new blood/life is neglected or resisted.

4. It has a poor-cousin rep among Cork County natives.

It is considered a "north side" (of the river Lee) town. That is, considered rough.

Went to see the nationally-known comedian Tommy Tiernan in Cork City, and the opening comic comes on and asks the crowd where they're from. First voice that pipes up says "Cobh" and the comic says "oh yeah, Cobh, nice place Cobh. I, ah, was just down there today having sex with my sister." Everyone laughs; all were in on the joke.

And generally, if you ask a native's (say, someone who grew up in a "south side" town) opinion, you'll get deprecating or lampooning comments.


That's it for now.


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