A historic pier at which an estimated 1 million Irish emigrants bade farewell to loved ones as they left for America and Canada is about to be saved in a major €500,000 restoration project.
Heartbreak Pier, as it was dubbed by locals in Cobh, was the departure point for generations of Irish emigrants from the then Queenstown, including the 123 people who boarded the SS Titanic on April 11th, 1912.
The Titanic passengers departed from the White Star Line Pier on board the tenders PS Ireland and PS America to join the ship, which had moored off Roche's Point before departing for New York.
Of those 123 passengers, just 44 were to survive when, on April 14th, the SS Titanic hit an iceberg some 600km south of Newfoundland and went down with the loss of 1,517 lives.
Now the historic departure point at the rear of the White Star Line building is to undergo a major restoration after falling into disrepair. It has a scheduled completion date of March 2019.
Gillen Joyce, proprietor and manager of the Titanic Experience and partner in a joint project with Cork County Council and Port of Cork to save the pier, explained what the project entailed. "The pier at Cobh was a victim to erosion, storm damage and weathering and, as a structure, was sure to be lost to the sea, and with it a significant piece of the town's maritime history," he said.
“Having transformed the White Star Line building and seen the impact of the site on visitors, we felt passionately about saving ‘Heartbreak Pier’ and ensuring it would not be lost to the elements.”
Mr Joyce said the pier, which is believed to be about 150 years old, earned its nickname from the poignant scenes it witnessed.
“As many emigrants did not have the means to return home to visit once they left Ireland, it became known as Heartbreak Pier, representing the heartache of a final goodbye to family and home.”
Contemporary walkway structure
Work to stabilise the pier began in January 2016 and now a new phase of investment will see the creation of a contemporary walkway structure to provide a viewing point for visitors.
“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.
“Now for the first time in decades, visitors may truly connect with the past, by setting foot on the planks of this poignant pier where so many boarded tenders to leave Ireland – never to return again.
“Key to the design of the pier walkway is a new structure which interacts with the old pier, and is designed to retain as much visibility as possible so visitors will have a full view of this historic place.”