In the course of my work as a naval historian and author I visit many museums and archives. Most are large and commercial, a little impersonal perhaps but full of interesting information. But occasionally I fall upon a collection which recommends itself because of its quirkiness or character; these are usually more fun to research in!
The town of Cobh (pronounced Cove) in Ireland is perhaps best remembered now as the last port of call for the Titanic before she was lost. But in World War One, then named Queenstown and under British rule and jurisdiction, the town was home to one of the largest naval commands of the war. The Coast of Ireland Command comprised Royal Navy ships and sailors together with US Navy vessels and thousands of American seamen and airmen, all serving under a British Admiral, Lewis Bayly.
When I decided to write the history of this command in the war, which turned into my book Bayly’s War, I naturally had to visit Cobh. The town is well blessed with museums relating to the great Irish diaspora and to the Titanic. But high above the harbour, housed in a nineteenth century ex-Presbyterian Church, is found the Cobh Museum, housing an eclectic range of local exhibits including many relating the Queenstown based Coast of Ireland Command.
Unlike its commercial sisters on the waterfront, this museum is entirely run by volunteers. Here Sean, Yvonne, Valerie and others help hundreds of visitors understand the world of Queenstown/Cobh better.
For my research I was given a free run of the museum, a huge pile of yet to be catalogued papers - and unearthed some gems for the book. I felt at home in the company of people who really cared about history and the place in which they lived. It was fun.
So I say without hesitation - go to Cobh, breathe in the Atlantic air and visit Cobh Museum.Open: Monday-Saturday: 11am - 1pm & 2pm - 5.30pm
Steve R Dunn is a naval historian and author, see: www.steverdunn.com