Cork Harbour

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Cork Harbour
Cork Harbor from Blackrock Castle.jpg
Upper Cork Harbour from Blackrock Castle
Location Cork
River sources River Lee
Ocean/sea sources Celtic Sea
Basin countries Ireland
Settlements Cork

Cork Harbour (Irish: Cuan Chorcaí)[1] is a natural harbour and river estuary at the mouth of the River Lee in County Cork, Ireland. It is one of several which lay claim to the title of "second largest natural harbour in the world by navigational area" (after Port Jackson, Sydney).[2] Other contenders include Halifax Harbour in Canada, and Poole Harbour in the United Kingdom.

The harbour has been a working port, and a strategic defensive hub, for centuries, and it has been one of Ireland’s major employment hubs since the early 1900s. Traditional, heavy, industries have waned in recent years, with the likes of the closure of Irish Steel in Haulbowline and shipbuilding at Verolme. It still has major and strategic significance in energy generation, shipping, refining and, most importantly, pharmaceuticals.[3]


Cork City is located slightly upstream on the River Lee on the northwest corner of Cork Harbour. Several of the city's suburbs, including Blackrock, Mahon, Douglas, Passage West and Rochestown lie on Lough Mahon or the Douglas Estuary, both of which are parts of Upper Cork Harbour.

The Lower Harbour has a number of towns around its shores. Passage West, Monkstown, Ringaskiddy and the smaller village of Raffeen are found on the western shore. On the southwestern shore is Crosshaven. Great Island, which forms the northern shore of the lower harbour, houses the town of Cobh. The eastern shore is less densely populated, but has two villages Whitegate and Aghada, both home to power plants.

The village of Ballinacurra is found on the northeastern spur of the harbour, known as the Ballynacorra River. Due to the recent expansion of the town of Midleton, Ballinacurra has effectively become a suburb of Midleton, so it could also be said that Midleton lies on Cork Harbour.


Cork Harbour hosts the headquarters of the Irish Naval Service. Prior to the transfer of the treaty ports in 1938, Cork Harbour was an important base for the British Royal Navy.

Plan of lower harbour showing location to main military installations: (A) Haulbowline Naval Base, (B) Fort Mitchel/Westmoreland, (C) Fort Meagher/Camden, (D) Fort Davis/Carlisle, (E) Fort Templebreedy

The first fortifications were built in Cork Harbour in the 17th century, although these were primarily to protect Cork City. In the 18th century, fortifications were built on and opposite Haulbowline Island to protect the anchorage in Cobh - including Cove Fort (1743). Fort Camden and Fort Carlisle were built at opposite sides of the harbour entrance during the period of the American War of Independence.

The fortifications of Camden Fort Meagher overlook the entrance to Cork Harbour.

However, the harbour's military significance increased during the Napoleonic Wars when the naval establishment in Kinsale was transferred to Cork Harbour. The harbour became an important anchorage, which could be used to guard the entrance to the English Channel and maintain the blockade of France. At this time, the naval dockyard on Haulbowline Island was constructed as well as a fort on Spike Island (later to become Fort Westmoreland) and a number of Martello Towers and other fortifications were added or improved around the harbour.

The fortifications were developed throughout the 19th century[4] and a further fort, Fort Templebreedy, was added to the south of Fort Camden at the beginning of the 20th century. At the time of Irish independence, Cork Harbour was included, along with Berehaven and Lough Swilly, in a list of British naval establishments that would remain under the control of the Royal Navy, although, the naval dockyard on Haulbowline Island was handed over to the Irish Free State in 1923.

Although, the Royal Navy appreciated the location of Cork Harbour, particularly for submarines, which had a significantly shorter range in the 1920s, maintenance of the fortification became a problem as soon as Ireland had become independent.

A six-inch coastal defence gun on Spike Island protecting the mouth of the harbour.

The political uncertainty over the future of the treaty ports meant that the British government was not inclined to invest in their upgrade. Also, at the time of their construction, nobody had considered the possibility of air attack and as they were unable to expand, there was no possibility of adding adequate air cover. Finally, if the Irish Free State was hostile during any conflict, the treaty ports would have to be supplied by sea rather than land, wasting resources.

In March 1938, the British government announced that the treaty ports would be handed over to Ireland unconditionally. On 11 July 1938, the defences at Cork Harbour were handed over to the Irish military authorities at a ceremony attended by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera.

Since being handed over to the Irish military most of the military installations have ceased to be used for military purposes. Fort Carlisle was renamed Fort Davis and is used by the Defence Forces for FIBUA training but is in a neglected state. Fort Camden became officially known as Fort Meagher and while not in military use, is now being renovated and cared for by local volunteers and enthusiasts and can be visited by the public on open days.The fort was officially renamed as of 11 July 2013 as Camden Fort Meagher,encompassing both the British and Irish history. Locally, the two forts are still known colloquially as "Camden" and "Carlisle", not by their official titles. Fort Westmoreland became Fort Mitchell Spike Island prison, and has ceased use for military or prison purposes. "Spike" was gifted to Cork County Council by the State and is being renovated as a tourist attraction by council workers and volunteers under the supervision of archaeologists. However, the fortifications on Haulbowline Island have been maintained and are now the headquarters of the Irish Naval Service.


Cork Harbour is one of the most important industrial areas in Ireland. While many traditional industries such as shipbuilding at Verolme Dockyards, steel-making on Haulbowline Island and fertiliser manufacturing at IFI (Irish Fertiliser Industries) have ceased in recent years, they have been replaced with newer industries and Cork Harbour is now significant at a worldwide level within the pharmaceutical industry. Major international firms such as Pfizer, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and Janssen Pharmaceutica (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) are significant employers in the region. There has however been some concern since the economic crisis of the last few years as several of the major pharmaceutical companies in Cork have shed jobs, most notably Pfizer which announced the loss of 177 jobs in June 2012.[5] There are in excess of 100 other pharmaceutical firms operating in the Cork Harbour area. The main centres of the pharmaceutical industry are Little Island and Ringaskiddy.

Marine activity[edit]


Further information: Port of Cork
The Swansea – Cork ferry docks at Ringaskiddy.

Vessels up to 90,000 tonnes deadweight (DWT) are capable of coming through the harbour entrance . As the shipping channels get shallower the farther inland one travels, access becomes constricted, and only vessels up to 60,000 DWT can sail above Cobh.

The Port of Cork provides pilotage and towage facilities for vessels entering Cork Harbour. All vessels accessing the quays in Cork City must be piloted and all vessels exceeding 130 metres in length must be piloted once they pass within 2.5 nautical miles (4.6 km) of the harbour entrance.

The Port of Cork has berthing facilities at Cork City, Tivoli, Cobh and Ringaskiddy. The facilities in Cork City are primarily used for grain and oil transport. Tivoli provides container handling, facilities for oil, livestock and ore and a roll on-roll off (Ro-Ro) ramp. Prior to the opening of Ringaskiddy Ferry Port, car ferries sailed from here; now, the Ro-Ro ramp is used by companies importing cars into Ireland. In addition to the ferry terminal, Ringaskiddy has a deep water port. .

The Port of Cork company is a commercial semi-state company responsible for the commercial running of the harbour as well as responsibility for navigation and berthage in the port. In 2011 the port had a turnover of €21.4 million and made pre-tax profits of €1.2 million.[6] This was down from a turnover of €26.4 million and profits of €5.4 million in 2006. Container traffic increased by 6% in 2011 when 156,667teus were handled at the Tivoli container facility, however this was down from a peak of 185,000 TEUs in 2006.[7] The 2006 figure saw the port at full capacity and the Port drew up plans for a new container facility capable of handling up to 400,000 teus per annum at Ringaskiddy recently. This was the subject of major objections and after an Oral Planning Hearing was held in 2008 the Irish planning board Bord Pleanala rejected the plan due to inadequate rail and road links at the location.[8]

There has been a steady increase in cruise ship visits to Cork Harbour over the past few years with 53 such ships visiting the port in 2011.[6] The vast majority of these cruise ships berth at Cobh's Deepwater Quay.

There are also a number of private berths around the harbour. These are usually associated with a particular industry. Such berths can be found in Whitegate, Passage West, Rushbrooke, Ringaskiddy and Haulbowline.


The Royal Cork Yacht Club – the world's oldest – is based in Crosshaven. There is another marina at East Ferry on Great Island. Small facilities at Monkstown and Blackrock are used for boating, canoeing, windsurfing and jet-skiing. A number of rowing clubs have facilities on the part of the River Lee between Cork City and Blackrock.

The waterfront at Cobh


Cork Harbour contains a number of islands. Islands which are or have been inhabited include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Placenames Database of Ireland
  2. ^ "Surveys - Cork Harbour and Coast". INtegrated Mapping FOr the Sustainable Development of Ireland's MArine Resource (INFOMAR). Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  3. ^ "Cork harbour is a bustling axis where hope and history ebb and swell". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Stevenson, I., Fort (Fortress Study Group), 1999 (27), pp113-143
  5. ^ Rogersand, Stephen. (6 June 2012) Pfizer staff summoned for job loss discussions. Irish Examiner. Retrieved on 23 July 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Port of Cork - 2011 Annual Results (Press Release)". Port of Cork. 13 August 2012. 
  7. ^ "Reports and financial statements for year ended 31 December 2006" (PDF). Port of Cork Company. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 November 2007. 
  8. ^ RTÉ News: Port of Cork €225m development rejected

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°51′N 8°16′W / 51.850°N 8.267°W / 51.850; -8.267