Mansworth's Bar is a fine 19th century pub that well reflects Cobh's maritime heritage. When this pub was founded in 1868, Cobh had 104 licensed premises - a vast number for a town of its size.
The reason for the vast number is due to the town's location on one of the best deep-water harbours in the British Isles, which led to it being home to the Royal Navy's northern fleet for over 100 years.
When the Royal Navy departed Ireland following the end of British rule here, the number of pubs in the town decreased dramatically and Cobh today has only 35 licensed premises, even though it now has a larger permanent population.
Like most of Cobh's pubs in the 19th century, Mansworth's originally had a 24-hour licence to cater for the vast number of sailors who descended on the town when the fleet was home. Shore leave was organised in shifts, depending on ships' watches, and a single battleship often had a crew of over 1,000 men. Indeed, the pub still benefits from Cobh's strategic military importance - many crews of US warships are given shore leave here on their way to and from the Mediterranean or the Baltic.
Before Irish independence, Cobh was a unionist town by the name of Queenstown, because of the economic importance of the British military presence; not only did it cater for the Royal Navy, there were three military garrisons in the town. It was also a place where former British army officers retired to take advantage of South Cork's temperate climate.
In bygone years, the town's pubs also benefited greatly from Cobh's importance as a trans-Atlantic passenger port - in the days of ‘the American wake', many an emigrant had their last drink in Ireland inside Mansworth's Bar.
As well as being Cobh's oldest pub, Mansworth's is the only pub in the town that was in operation in 1912, when some of the Titanic's passengers would have had their last pint here before boarding the ill-fated liner. As a result, Mansworth's is listed on the town's ‘Titanic Trail' for tourists.
Another maritime disaster linked to the pub is the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, when the bodies of the drowned were carried past Mansworth's door on their way to burial in the town's Old Graveyard.
Inside, the pub retains its original wood panelling and bar counter, with maritime memorabilia decorating the walls. This is a pub that never had a grocery attached or had a lounge added to it. Like most of Cobh's older pubs, the bar is small by modern standards and holds fewer than 50 people.
As well as benefiting from the Titanic tourist trade, the pub also benefits from its location close to St Colman's Cathedral, which was designed by Pugin and is considered as the finest neo-Gothic church building in Ireland today. Many a wedding and christening was toasted in Mansworth's Bar.
The pub had probably been selling Guinness since it was founded, with barrels of stout being supplied by rail on the Cork, Cobh and Youghal Railway line that opened in 1862; elsewhere on the southern coast, Guinness would have been supplied by sea.
The pub has been in the one family since 1895, when it was bought by a Miss Halforth, great grandaunt of John Mansworth, the current licensee. John is proud of his family's licensing heritage and it was he who suggested the writing of the book, this extract is from ‘The story of the Irish Pub', while he was president of the Vintners Federation of Ireland in 1999 and 2000.
Extracts from 'The Story of the Irish Pub' by Cian Molloy, supplied with permission of the Liffey Press. For more information on the book check the Liffey Press website.