Episode 1: 'Ship to Shore'
Eight navy ships leave this harbour to cover an area of 132,000 square miles – that’s five times the size of the island of Ireland. Each patrol is multitasking, and can be called on for fisheries protection, drug seizures or search and rescue.
The programme looks at the contribution made by the 1,100 men and women of the Naval Service to harbour life, and the reason they spend so much time away from it.
At the entrance to the harbour, there’s a reminder that this place was once vitally important to another navy – the Royal Navy.
Two centuries ago, three forts were built to guard its entrance from attack by the French. Forts Camden, Carlisle and Westmoreland made it one of the safest harbours in the British Empire, and they stand as a fascinating memorial to the harbour’s rich past.
Once the forts were constructed, the harbour was never attacked. But it saw its fair share of incidents. Evidence from the sea bed just outside its mouth provides a fascinating glimpse into one of the most notorious chapters in Irish history.
Here, on the Smith’s Bank, lies the wreck of the Aud, popularly known as Roger Casement’s boat, which was captured by the Royal Navy as it awaited to unload a cargo of rifles and ammunition from Germany in 1916. The ship was scuttled by its German captain at the harbour mouth to prevent the arms falling into British hands. Ninety years later, divers to the site can touch history by picking up the bullets which were intended for use in the Easter Rising.
Cork Harbour’s shape means it’s one of the safest in the world. But anything can go wrong out there on the water; if it does, a small group of volunteers just inside the harbour mouth is on constant standby. This is the crew of the Crosshaven lifeboat, which stages a rescue reconstruction for the programme.
The lifeboat service in the harbour is essential – and it has become the single busiest station in all of Ireland. Little wonder, because sailing has become so popular on this waterway.
We follow the annual Cobh to Blackrock race on board a yacht skippered by four-time Olympian Mark Mansfield, before moving on to talk with folk musician Jimmy Crowley, on why this harbour is unique.
Watching over all this sailing, and keeping it safe from commercial shipping, is the Port Operations centre in Cobh. The harbour master, Pat Farnan, explains how it all works, and we climb on board a merchant vessel off Roches Point for the trip into Tivoli Docks, catching a unique view of harbour life along the way.