The Irish town of Cobh is a settlement on the southern coast of the Republic, located on the southern edge of the Great Island in Cork Harbour. The harbour front runs roughly east-west with many small, brightly-painted townhouses and buildings on the promenade. Much of the town sits on a hill that rises steeply behind the harbour. Two small islands, Haulbowline and Spike, sit in the harbour, with the entrance to the harbour to the south-east beyond Spike Island.
St Colman's Cathedral is the town's most distinctive landmark and its spire makes the cathedral one of the tallest buildings in Ireland. In 1912, when the Titanic made her only call at the town, the spire was incomplete. Period photographs show a flat-topped tower only. The spire was completed by March 1915. The harbour will have been the last sight of land for those amongst the victims of the sinking of the Titanic who boarded the ship at Queenstown.
A huge wave of emigration from Europe to America saw thousands of Irish emigrants depart from Queenstown aboard ship, heading for a new life in the United States. Many were escaping poverty and unemployment, tempted by the perceived opportunities in America. It is estimated that some 2.5 million Irish people emigrated from Cobh to the 'New World' over the course of a century, beginning in 1848.
Cobh has a long maritime history. It was the departure point in 1838 for the Sirius, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. Queenstown was an important port of call for the big liners. White Star Line vessels called at Queenstown on outward bound voyages from Liverpool and return homeward voyages from New York; and on outward bound voyages from Southampton, such as those undertaken by the RMS Olympic from 1911, and the RMS Titanic in 1912.
Cobh was also for many years home to the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Just off Cobh are two small islands, Haulbowline and Spike. Over the years Spike Island has served as a defensive fort and prison while Haulbowline still serves as the headquarters of the Irish Naval Service.