Parents and children walked the harbour town in period dress as part of the events organised to mark the anniversary of the first train’s arrival there from Cork City on Mar 10, 1862.
Large steamliners started anchoring in the harbour near Cobh in 1859, then known as Queenstown since the visit of Queen Victoria a decade earlier. Mail and passengers were then carried by smaller vessels to the quayside.
But it was not until 1862, a year after trains first started running between Cork and Youghal, that the rail link opened between Cork and Queenstown.
A century and a half later, the Cork-Cobh line carries more than 550,000 passengers a year on almost 50 daily services, and the rail history was marked on the quayside alongside the rail terminus. The festivities included a farmers’ market, children’s entertainment and a display by Cobh and District Photography Club.
“We are the custodians of the railway and realise how important railway heritage is,” said Richard Fearn, chief executive of Irish Rail.
Public and Commuter Transport Minister Alan Kelly unveiled a plaque marking the 150-year celebration, and noted the major role the train service has had for generations of people of Cork and Cobh.
“The challenge for Government now is to build and maintain past successes. With over half a million people using this line last year, it would be my hope that this line will continue to serve the people of Cork and Cobh for many more generations,” he said.
The Cork and& Youghal Rail Company operated the initial services. Back in 1876, mail trains from Dublin to Cork were extended on to Cobh, where many passengers and post from London joined up with liners on their way from Liverpool to cross the Atlantic.
The journey involved departing London’s Euston station the night before by rail for Holyhead, taking a steamer across to Dun Laoghaire, a train to Dublin’s Westland Row (now Pearse Station), a horse-drawn ride across Dublin to Kingsbridge (now Heuston) and taking a late morning train to arrive mid-afternoon in Cork.
Before July 1876, the final leg required mail and passengers to take a down-river tender to Cobh to board the awaiting liner, bringing an end to a long journey — but still about 12 hours quicker than the version done entirely by sea.
This time-saving journey by rail rescued Phileas Fogg’s fictional attempt at reaching London in time in Jules Verne’s 1873 famous novel Around the World in Eighty Days.
The mail train from Dublin to Cobh continued running until damage to the Belvelly viaduct across the estuary around Great Island occurred during the Civil War in 1922.
The rail line also has sadder historical links, as Cobh was the departure point for thousands of 19th century emigrants. Trains from Cork also carried many of the passengers who boarded the Titanic at Cobh.
A book published by Irish Rail to commemorate 150 years of the Cork-Cobh line features many stories from its history. It includes the 1935 recollections of a Cork Examiner reporter of how the trains brought nurses and doctors from the city to attend survivors being brought ashore at Cobh from the sunken Lusitania in 1915.