Reconstruction of Cobh pier to recall emigrants’ last steps

Work could begin this spring on a project to allow Irish people and those of Irish origin retrace the last steps of their ancestors before departing Cobh for faraway shores.

Possibly one of the most historic piers in Ireland is set for significant investment and an ambitious redevelopment plan.

The project to conserve the ‘Heartbreak Pier’ in the Co Cork harbour town will provide a chance for visitors to set foot on the last piece of Ireland touched by over a million emigrants.

As the last port for sailings to America and Australia, Cobh was where Ireland’s emigration story began for over a million people.

Part of the story will be further told as visitors take to the proposed new walkway just above the old pier, which is believed to be over 150 years old.

Work could begin at Cobh pier in months if planning permission is granted, with a target of completion by March 2019.

The plans are the subject of a planning application to Cork County Council which is due to issue a decision by the end of January.

While the walkway would be raised above the pier, it is designed to retain as much visibility as possible, and visitors will still be able to set foot on the planks below.

“Visitors will have a full view and will be able to once again step on an original plank, the same last point of land contact for emigrating passengers,” said Gillen Joyce, owner and manager of the Titanic Experience.

It operates from the building that once housed the White Star Line shipping company right above Heartbreak Pier, and has been overseeing the project in partnership with Cork County Council and the Port of Cork authority.

The plan is to provide interpretive information stations that will give visitors an experience of the sights and sounds once seen and heard by those who emigrated through the harbour town in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“We are developing a theme of Last Step, First Step which represents emigrants’ emotional last footsteps on Irish land before their exciting first steps in lands new,” Mr Joyce said.

A sail-like design has been incorporated into the plans which were submitted to Cork County Council for approval in November.

The pier itself has already undergone extensive work in recent years to stabilise it from the effects of erosion, weather and storms.

The latest phase of the project would see the new structure supported by steel piles driven into the seabed.

Work could begin within months if planning permission is granted, with a target of completion by March 2019.

Access to the pier would be through the public park, with a small charge proposed to help fund its upkeep and future preservation.

An estimated €500,000 is to be spent on the development, with support from Fáilte Ireland’s grant scheme for large tourism projects helping the project significantly.

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