Three Queens across the Mersey

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | May 26, 2015 0

3Queens1The place they call the Pool, the City of Liverpool, has a proud place in Maritime Heritage as the great port of the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution and last, but not least, the birthplace of the legendary Cunard Line which invented transatlantic travel. Over the weekend three Cunard ocean liners sailed together along the Mersey to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the shipping line’s formation in Liverpool. The “Three Queens” Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria choreographed their manoeuvres, including 180-degree turns, as they arrived side by side in the city. Thousands of people lined the shores to witness the spectacle on Bank Holiday Monday, with many arriving early to secure a prime spot.3quuens4

The so-called “river dance” was followed by a flypast from the Red Arrows. A firework display will end the display, which is the culmination of three days of maritime exhibitions and events. Cunard was founded in 1840, when Sir Samuel Cunard’s mail steamship RMS Britannia began its transatlantic service to Halifax and Boston from Liverpool.

The transatlantic shipping trade transported about 11 million emigrants from Europe between 1860 and 1900, about a third of them sailing out of Liverpool. Later this year, the original Cunard crossing will be recreated as the Queen Mary 2 sails from Liverpool on the same route the Britannia took, to Halifax, Boston and New York.

The meeting also marks the renaissance of Liverpool as a passenger port with over 50 cruise liners berthed last year. Angus Struthers, Cunard director, said: “Liverpool and Cunard have grown up together and that bond will never be broken.” The event has taken 18 months of planning and the cruise line tested the Three Queens’ manoeuvres in waters outside Lisbon last May.

On deck in the early morning mist was Debbie Foster, a health visitor from Crosby. Waving an Everton FC flag she described the sense of history on board. Her grandmother had sailed with Cunard to New York in 1927, working in the ship’s laundry. “I feel an enormous sense of pride, both in Liverpool’s seafaring history and the way the city has been reborn since the European Capital of Culture,” she said. She added: “It’s a magical day for Liverpool and everyone involved.”

Wendy Simon, a councillor at Liverpool City Council said that the emotion in the crowd gathered by the Three Graces was palpable: “It’s fantastic that the maritime history of the city is being passed down the generations.”

The three Queens lined up in front of Liverpool Pier head with the “Three Graces”, The Liver Building, The Cunard Building the former HQ of The Cunard Steamship Company and The Port of Liverpool Building. They form part of the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was inscribed in 2004. They are testimony to this great mercantile city, its merchants, exchanges, factories and the famous River Mersey which lies opposite the Irish Sea to Dublin. Indeed it is sometimes nicknamed “Dublin East” from the amount of Irish who came through Liverpool and settled there after the Irish Famine of 1847 – 1850.


The inhabitants of Liverpool are nicknamed “Scousers” after Scouse, a cheap meat stew often cooked by sailors and the word also refers to the somewhat impenetrable dialect. The Cunard Line is these days a subsidiary of Carnival Cruises whose shares are quoted on the London Stock Exchange but its ships are registered in Hamilton, Bermuda rather than the Line’s traditional home port of Liverpool. Indeed they are no longer built in Britain which now lacks the capacity and skills to build such ships in the once great ship building cities of Belfast and Glasgow.  Indeed I remember the sense of awe I felt in 1967 as I travelled from Dublin up the Clyde to Glasgow and saw the last Cunard Liner to be built in Britain on its berth at John Brown’s yard at Clydebank, on the same slip where other iconic Cunard liners such as Lusitania, Aquitania, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth had been constructed. Like the “Three Queens” in Liverpool the QE2 and all other Cunard Liners have always had black hulls.

While not as British as it once was and no longer based in Liverpool Cunard still maintains the tradition of cruising it established in its transatlantic heyday and with the visit of the “Three Queens” to its mother city has played gracious tribute to its home port in this, its 175th Anniversary. At its height the Cunard Line had 11,000 employees mostly from Liverpool and many of them also Irish. There was another Irish connection as the Cobh of Cork was normally the last European port of call before the transatlantic crossing the normal schedule being Southampton-Cherbourg-Cobh-New York. As for Liverpool it was not just a great port but also the terminus of the world’s first intercity railway from Manchester to Liverpool , a diverse city which is home to the oldest Black African community in Britain and the oldest Chinese community in Europe it was a city which led the world at times in the 19th Century being richer than London as “The second City of the Empire.”

3quuensflypastThe first lifeboat station, public baths and wash-houses, sanitary act, medical officer for health, district nurse, slum clearance, purpose-built ambulance, X-ray medical diagnosis, school of tropical medicine, motorised municipal fire-engine, free school milk and school meals, cancer research centre, and zoonosis research centre all originated in Liverpool. Liverpool inventor Frank Hornby was a visionary in toy development and manufacture and produced three of the most popular lines of toys in the 20th century: Meccano, Hornby Model Railways and Dinky Toys. Oh, I almost forgot to mention it gave the world the Mersey Beat which spawned a little group called The Beatles.

As for the buoyant ebullient City of Liverpool with its historic waterfront which has given so much to the world the mood can be summed up in the title of this summer’s waterside festivities “One Magnificent City.” Liverpool, the grand old lady of the Mersey certainly lives up to that title.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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