By Seán McCárthaigh
Plans to make a major visitor attraction out of the Cobh pier from which passengers sailed to join the Titanic are facing opposition from tourism and heritage bodies in the town.
Several appeals have been lodged against the decision of Cork County Council to grant planning permission for a pedestrian walkway and viewing platform over the derelict Titanic Pier, along the town’s waterfront.
Conservation work is also proposed for the pier itself, dubbed “Heartbreak Pier” by locals in the 19th century, when it was the main embarkation point for 1m emigrant passengers to the US, Canada, and Australia.
The €500,000 project, the brainchild of the owner of the Titanic Experience in Cobh, Gillen Joyce, originally entailed the erection of sail-style canopies over the structure. These were subsequently removed and replaced with an 18m spire.
One of the more controversial aspects of the plan for Titanic Pier is the proposed erection of a pay kiosk and barriers across a section of the existing public park on the Promenade.
Council planners have estimated the project will require 11% of the existing quayside at the Promenade.
The development is being opposed by Cobh Tourism, Cobh (Great Island) Historic Preservation Group, and Cobh Tidy Towns, as well as a local councillor.
Many take issue with the use of part of the Promenade for a private visitor attraction. Cobh Tourism has called for Titanic Pier, as an iconic symbol of emigration from Cobh, to be made a protected structure to attract public funding.
Cobh Tourism chairwoman, Fionnghuala Smith, expressed concern the walkway would replace the iconic pier with a modern structure: “The original pier will effectively disappear from view.”
She also complained that the spire does not serve any purpose, adding that it is “extremely obtrusive and dominates the skyline”.
“It will detract significantly from the former, iconic White Star Line pier. In four words: it is an eyesore,” Ms Smith said.
She added: “The proposed design, especially the spire, does not do the pier or the town’s tourism product justice, and will result in a major loss to the town’s connection with its past.”
Cobh Tidy Towns chairwoman, Ruth Ring, said the organisation appreciates the need to preserve the pier, but is unsure the planned works “would be in keeping with the town”. She said the proposed kiosk and barriers, to facilitate a private, planned walkway, would obscure any view of the pier from the Promenade, as well as the vista to Spike Island.
Local Labour councillor, Cathal Rasmussen, appealed the decision to grant planning permission for the project, over concerns about the kiosk’s location and size. Mr Rasmussen said that allowing access from a public park “runs the risk of opening the floodgates to future applications for other developments” and urged Titantic Experience to explore using other points of access to the pier.
Only 44 of the 123 passengers who boarded Titanic in Cobh (then called Queenstown) survived, after it hit an iceberg and sank 600km south off the coast of Newfoundland, with the loss of 1,517 lives, on April 14, 1912.
Titanic itself remained moored off Roche’s Point, at the mouth of Cork Harbour, at its last port of call on its ill-fated maiden voyage. Passengers were brought by tenders from the White Star Line terminal in Cobh to join the ship before its departure for New York.