Flor MacCarthy reports on the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. The 7th of May 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the sinking, and communities along the coast of Cork are already commemorating the tragedy which their ancestors witnessed first-hand.
Click here to read about some of the events on the centenary programme of events.
The RMS Lusitania
Known as the "Greyhound of the Seas," the RMS Lusitania was the fastest liner afloat, and still sailed he Atlantic during World War One, despite the risk of submarine attack. As a passenger vessel, she was deemed immune to the U-boats patrolling the seas off Ireland.
But catastrophe struck, at ten past two in the afternoon of May the 7th 1915: a single torpedo, fired by a German U-boat, struck the liner, 11 miles due south of the Old Head of Kinsale. A second explosion, within the hull, caused it to sink in just 18 minutes, despite calm seas and good visibility.
A British Army recruitment poster, using an illustration of the Lusitania tragedy to encourage enlistment
One of the most important shipwrecks in the world, and by far the most famous in Irish waters, its sinking is credited with bringing the USA into the First World War.
Among the well known passengers were Vanderbilts, and the 39-year-old Sir Hugh Lane, with his collection of priceless paintings, thought to have included Renoirs and Monets. Still, questions and conspiracy theories abound, over whether or not the Lusitania was carrying munitions.
Hugh Lane, art collector and dealer, died aboard the Lusitania
Less well-known are the individual stories which help our understanding of this major tragedy.
There’s a story told in Cobh of some children who were brought ashore alive but traumatised. One, a 12 year old boy was covered head to toe in thick black soot. It’s said that when the ship sank beneath the surface the suction pulled him down into one of the four huge funnels. When the boilers then blew, he was shot back up like a cannonball ... and lived to tell the tale.
A glance down through the passenger and crew lists reveals many individual tragedies……and poses countless questions: Like what became of baby Nigel Frederick Booth, an 8-month-old first class passenger, rescued without his parents, who were lost, And what of the 3 German stowaways - listed as just that, stowaways: names not recorded, bodies never found.
Most of the Irish passengers were listed as British, or Irish-American. Katherine and Margaret Ward, sisters in their 20s, perished, as did 59 of the 81 crew listed as Irish, many of them, for some inexplicable reason, from Mayo. Charles Knight, at 65 the oldest crewman, was a night watchman aboard the Lusitania. He was saved, but died later, it’s recalled, from trauma.
But stories of incredible valour and luck are also to be told: Charles Scannel was 25 and a fireman aboard the vessel. His job was to stoke the huge furnaces which powered the engines. A Corkman, the ship sank within view of Charles’ home in Robert’s Cove near Kinsale. He survived.
More than 100 victims of the tragedy are buried in a small cemetery just outside Cobh, Many are in unmarked graves. To this day never named, or claimed. But they will be remembered on May the 7th.
As the centenary looms, 4 coastal communities in Co Cork have come together to host a series of events entitled Lusitania 100 Cork. They want to remember those who died, but also the gallant efforts of their ancestors who responded with great courage and compassion to rescue survivors and recover the dead. These communities, in Cobh, Courtmacsherry, Old Head and Kinsale witnessed first-hand the trauma and heartbreak of the disaster.