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Leaving ~ Living

Emigration stories

"The dream of coming back never goes away"

This exhibition tells a selection of stories which reflect the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary lives of just a few of the people who, for centuries, have been leaving Cobh to live in countries all around the world. Some of these people returned to the town but many never came back and made lives elsewhere.

Cobh was a major emigration port, particularly in the second half of the 1800's, and many of the people who feature in our exhibition probably left Ireland from Cobh on sailing ships, and later on ocean going liners.

These varied emigrant stories from the past demonstrate that little has changed in the 21st century as Ireland continues to send her citizens to all corners of the world.

Our exhibition includes, among others, Olympic Medallist Sonia O'Sullivan, Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, a Cobh man knighted by Queen Victoria for his services in revolutionising the Metropolitan Fire brigade in London in the 19th century and Sister Mary of the Annunciation who was awarded the French medal, La Croix de Chevalier de l'Oeuvre Humanitaire, for courage and dedication in her work.

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Sonia O'Sullivan

Sonia O'Sullivan was born on 28th November 1969 in Cobh, Co. Cork. She began her career in Ballymore Running Club in her home town. Sonia was one of the world's leading female 5000m runners for over a decade (1990 - early 2000s).

While studying for her degree in the USA at Villanova University, she became a 3000m champion with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In 1991 she made history by becoming the first Irish woman to create a world record by running the indoor 5000m in Boston in 15 mins 17 secs.

Sonia O'Sullivan

Sonia O'Sullivan

Throughout Sonia's career she has competed in a variety of track and field events winning numerous medals. These include Olympic silver (Sydney 2000) and several World/European Championship gold medals. She was a successful cross country runner and won two gold medals in Marrakesh in 1998. She was the Chef de Mission for the Irish Olympic team at the London Olympics 2012.

Sonia now divides her time between London and her home in Melbourne.

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Sir Eyre Massey Shaw

Shaw was born on the 17th January 1828 in Ballymore, Cove (Cobh). He was first educated at Dr. Coghlan's School in Cove and went on to study in Trinity College, Dublin. After graduating in 1854 he gained a commission in the North Cork Rifles, a militia regiment of the British Army, reaching the rank of captain. He resigned from the army in 1860 on being appointed Chief Constable of Belfast, in charge of both the police and the fire brigade.

Although still serving as Chief Constable of Belfast, in 1861 Shaw was engaged as head of the London Fire Engine Establishment, which became the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB). Shaw revolutionized how the fire brigade was run during his 30 years of service. He introduced modern firefighting methods and increased the number of firestations. He had 40 fire alarms erected throughout London and introduced the use of telegraph for communication between stations, previously only made by messenger. Shaw expanded the use of steam fire engines which could pump 300 gallons of water per minute and is also noted for his adoption of the famous brass helmets. During the time Shaw controlled the Brigade, the MFB dealt with 55,004 fires, an average of five a day.

In 1889 London County Council took over the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. As Shaw did not agree with their administration, he resigned in 1891. On his last day of service he was knighted by Queen Victoria. Shaw was an influential thinker on firefighting, producing many surveys, manuals and at least one book on the subject. His book "Fires in Theatres" was originally published in 1876 and is still being reprinted to this day.

Shaw died in England on 25th August 1908 and is buried, with his wife Anna, in Highgate Cemetery, London. His house in London has since become part of the London Fire Brigade Museum.

Sir Eyre Massey Shaw - photo
Sir Eyre Massey Shaw - cartoon

Shaw died in England on 25th August 1908 and is buried, with his wife Anna, in Highgate Cemetery, London. His house in London has since become part of the London Fire Brigade Museum.

Plaque on Shaw's Lodon house
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Sister Mary of the Annunciation

Kate Walsh was born in Cobh, then known as Queenstown, in 1891, one of a family of 12. In 1913, at the age of 22, she joined the Bon Secours Order and took the name Sister Mary of the Annunciation. After two years at the Mother House in Paris she began working as a nurse in France.

Sister Mary remained in France for over 60 years, during which time she played an important role as a nurse during the two World Wars. Her good works, courage and dedication were recognised by the French Comité de Recompenses in 1970, when she was awarded the French medal, La Croix de Chevalier de l'Oeuvre Humanitaire.

On her retirement in 1976, after an absence of 63 years, Sister Mary returned to the Bon Secours Convent in Cobh where she lived for nine years until her death in 1985.

Sister Mary of the Annunciation

Sister Mary and medal

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