The Bellavista Hotel situated in the picturesque tourist town of Cobh is not only in a town full of history and culture but the hotel itself has several stories to tell from times gone by, all which add character to such a cosy building. The bellavista Hotel sits in a very prominent location in the town overlooking Cobh Cathedral as well as commanding uninterrupted panoramic views of Cork Harbour which contains Spike Island, another island in the harbour, with over 5,000 years of history to explore. The building that is home to the Bellavista hotel has had many uses down through the years starting off life as a private manor house and home to Dr. James Verling.
James Verling was born in Cobh on 27th February 1787 and was the second son of John Verling and Eleanor Roche. He began his medical career in Dublin, and on the 12th December 1809 he graduated as a doctor of medicine at Edinburgh University at the age of 23. He got a commission in the army on 25th January 1810 and was stationed at Ballincollig. He later was appointed to the Royal Artillery and was sent to Portugal for the Peninsular War. He was next promoted to surgeon and was ordered to St Helena. On the 8th August 1815 he sailed on the “Northumberland” as it carried Napoleon into exile. On St. Helena he was appointed Surgeon to Napoleon. He left St. Helena on 25th April 1820 and served in Malta, the Ionian Islands and then in Nova Scotia. Promoted up the ranks he became Inspector General in 1854. On retirement he returned to Cobh and resided in the Bellavista where he died on 1st January 1858 and was buried in the Old Church Cemetery in Cobh which also is the final resting place of the Great Jack Doyle as well as the mass graves of the victims of the Lusitania disaster. This cometary is well worth a visit for anyone interested in discovering the past.
The Bellavista Hotel has kept a period room in the hotel in memory of previous residents such as Dr. James Verling. This room contains an antique French Oak 4 poster bed as well as antique furniture and paintings, including a portrait of Napoleon. This room is loved by guests of the hotel as they wake up each morning to sit out on their own private balcony overlooking the harbour and cathedral.
After Dr. Verling passed, the Carberry Family, renowned for their relief work during the great Irish Famine, bought the house and lived here until 1910. From here they offered relief to hundreds of people in the surrounding region when it was most needed. In 1910 Bellavista House became the property of the Diocese of Cloyne and was officially opened by Bishop Robert Brown as the Sacred Heart Noviciate. Bishop Robert Brown was uncle to Fr. Francis Brown who is famously known as being the photographer whose images are used widely today when documenting the ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.
Fr. Francis Browne was born in 1880 in Buxton House, in Cork. He was the youngest of eight children of James and Brigid Browne. His mother sadly passed away 8 days after giving birth and after the death of his father in a swimming accident 9 years later, Browne was raised and supported by his uncle, Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, who bought him his first camera shortly before the younger man embarked on a tour of Europe in 1897.
In April 1912 he received yet another present from his uncle, a ticket for the maiden voyage of R.M.S. Titanic from Southampton in England to Queenstown (Cobh) in Ireland. He travelled to Southampton boarding the Titanic on the afternoon of 10 April 1912. He was booked in cabin no. A37 on the Promenade Deck. Browne took dozens of photographs of life aboard Titanic on that day and the next morning; he shot pictures of the gymnasium, the Marconi room, the first-class dining saloon, his own cabin, and of passengers enjoying walks on the Promenade and Boat decks. He captured the last known images of many crew and passengers, including Captain Edward J. Smith, gymnasium manager T.W. McCawley, engineer William Parr, Major Archibald Butt, and numerous third-class passengers whose names are unknown.
During his voyage on the Titanic, Browne was befriended by an American millionaire couple who were seated at his table in the liner's first-class dining saloon. They offered to pay his way to New York and back in return for Browne spending the voyage to New York in their company. Browne telegraphed his superior requesting permission, but the reply was an unambiguous "GET OFF THAT SHIP".
Browne left the Titanic when she docked in Queenstown and visited his uncle Bishop Robert Brown. He stayed in Bellavista House where the nuns looked after him. It was here in the living room that Fr. Brown first exhibited his photographs of the Titanic to his uncle and the nuns who lived in the house. Today the living room still exists in the hotel and it is home to our traditional Irish bar and has a rich maritime theme. When the news of the ship's sinking reached him, he realised that his photos would be of great interest, and he negotiated their sale to various newspapers and news cartels. They appeared in publications around the world. Browne retained the negatives. His most famous album has been described as the Titanic Album of Father Browne.
Cobh has a very strong maritime history and for anyone interested in learning more and exploring Irelands Maritime Gateway this can be done by visiting “A Queenstown Story” in Cobh Heritage centre and by walking in the footsteps of the 123 passengers who boarded the Titanic from Queenstown by visiting Cobh’s Titanic Experience in the original White Star Line building the passengers would have left from.
Around 1931 the Sisters of Mercy moved out of the Bellavista and the house became a private dwelling and divided into an upper and lower house. This remained the case for many years but today the building is reunited as one and refurbished to give you all the comforts of modern life while surrounded by the character of such an interesting and historic building in the beautiful tourist town of Cobh. This is just a short look into the many amazing stories the town has to tell. To explore and discover the rest make sure to come visit an Irish town overflowing with history.