HAL 2019 World – Day 104 Cobh (Cork), Republic of Ireland

May 12, 2019 Paul Groves

Alas we’re winding down on the world cruise. Today is a light activity day and our excursion is a short one and begins late in the afternoon.

This morning we hopped on the shuttle bus for a 25 minute ride into the city of Cork.  Cork looks very much like Dublin in that a river runs through the center of it and the buildings that use to be storehouses along side have been repurposed into business offices and shopping stores.

We spent the morning walking around and window shopping.  Along the way we saw a building with statues of Laurel and Hardy at the top.  How odd we thought.  However on September the 9th, 1953, the S.S. America pulled into the port of Cohb (where we docked) and Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were on that very same boat.

They were still famous in Europe in a way that had faded back in the USA – so they embarked on a music-hall tour of Ireland and the UK to reach those adoring audiences directly. To their surprise the dock was lined with hundreds of excited children and their parents.

Stan Laurel later recounted “All the church bells in Cobh started to ring out our theme song, and Babe looked at me, and we cried. Maybe people loved us and our pictures because we put so much love in them. I don’t know. I’ll never forget that day. Never.”

We’d like to think these statues were due to this visit.

After lunch we boarded the shuttle bus back to the ship in time for our excursion to the Jameson Irish Whiskey distillery. 

On the way our guide pointed out a tree planted next to the freeway.  It turns out the tree was known as a “fairy tree” and rather than incur the enmity of the fairies, the freeway was built around it.

Our tour was in the old distillery which was active until 1975.  The first thing we saw on the tour was the chandelier made of Jameson bottles.  For over an hour we toured the site where we went through the process of making Jameson triple distilled whiskey from the huge vats storing the initial grain mixture, the triple copper stills, and finally into the barrels for aging.  Paul especially appreciated the chemical principles that were involved in the process.

One of the displays showed the color of whiskey inside the barrels over time until the optimal age of 15 years.  We then went into the barrel room of whiskey that had been in the barrels for around 5 years.  Due to the porous nature of the barrels we were able to smell the evaporated whiskey (the angels share) from the barrels.  Very heady.

Next we visited the microbrewery.  This was installed was a method of training new distillers as well as a method of trying new brands of whiskey before putting them into production at the new huge distillery next door.

Our final stop was at the tasting room where we tasted Jameson’s against two other undisclosed brands.  It was no surprise that everyone like Jameson’s the best. (The other two samples were Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels).

Not surprisingly the tour ended in the gift shop.  Not only were you able to buy any number of different brands of Jameson products but you could also fill a bottle directly from a cask and put your own label on it.  Our biggest surprise was the bottle of the special whiskey that you could purchase for a mere €6,000 (about $6,700)!

Sorry, Perry, we didn’t buy it for the bar.

On the way back to the ship our guide pointed out a sculpture of 9 eagle feathers.  The story surrounding the sculpture is so amazing we thought it was worth telling it.

In 1830 the “Indian Removal Act” forcibly cleared the Choctaw people from desirable lands in the Southwest and resettled them in what is now Oklahoma. While about 5,000 Choctaws remained in the South-east of the US, about 21,000 took the long journey along what later became known as the “Trail of Tears”.

In 1847, Irish people were starving in their millions following a succession of potato crop failures. The scale of this catastrophe was such that reports spread to all corners of the world. One such a report was read out by an Irish Chaplain to a group of Choctaw elders. The situation of the Irish must have resonated with their own recent tragic experiences, as they decided to raise money to send to Ireland for famine relief.

This gesture was never forgotten, and down through the years activists in Ireland and the Choctaw nation remained in touch.  In 1990, a number of Choctaw leaders took part in the first annual Doolough famine memorial walk in County Mayo. This recreated an infamous walk that took place in 1848 when many of the locals were dying from disease and malnutrition. Two years later, in 1992 – an Irish group joined the Choctaw for a commemorative walk from Oklahoma to Mississippi.

For many years, the gift of the Choctaw to the people of Ireland was remembered on a plaque in Dublin that read:  “Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”

Now, these words have been joined by a beautiful sculpture in the town of Midleton. 

The sculptor, Alex Pentek says of his work:  “By creating an empty bowl symbolic of the Great Irish Famine formed from the seemingly fragile and rounded shaped eagle feathers used in the Choctaw ceremonial dress, it is my aim to communicate the tenderness and warmth of the Choctaw Nation who provided food to the hungry when they themselves were still recovering from their own tragic recent past.”