President likens sinking of 'Titanic' to economic crash


ONE HUNDRED years to the day when 123 people boarded the Titanic at Cobh, the ship’s last port of call, President Michael D Higgins led a dignified national tribute of commemoration on the quayside.

An estimated 4,000 people listened to the President, accompanied by his wife, Sabina. Mr Higgins was introduced by the mayor of Cobh, Cllr Jim Quinlan.

In his speech, Mr Higgins spoke of the importance of not disrespecting the “memory of the some 1,500 people who died by enveloping the story in a warm glow of nostalgia”. The “Titanic is a powerful metaphor”, he stated, drawing contemporary parallels with the international economy.

He spoke about experiencing “the sense of crisis that occurs when something deemed unsinkable – in our case a speculative economy – is confounded not only by circumstance and error but by the hubris that accompanied belief in what proved to be an irrational version of the economic.”

After the disaster, in which 79 lives lost alone from those who boarded at Cobh, a horrible lesson had been learned, he said.

“In the humbling aftermath of the crisis there is not only an opportunity to learn but a requirement to reflect – to address the errors and the erroneous assumptions that led to failure, to mobilise support around an alternative vision for our Republic and to put ourselves on course for a future that is sustainable and embraces us all as equal citizens.”

The President’s speech was followed by an ecumenical service, jointly led by Rev Fr Michael Leamy of Cobh parish, and Rev Brian O’Reilly, rector of the Clonmel union of parishes. Rev O’Reilly referred to a key scene from James Cameron’s film Titanic, where actors Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslett stand together at the prow of the ship with “outstretched arms”. Rev O’Reilly told the crowds, “Jesus is king of the world. He has his arms outstretched to us.”

The bells of St Colman’s Cathedral played a carillon, before four new Titanic commemorative stamps from An Post were unveiled.

Among the many dignitaries attending the ceremony were Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney; Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock; UK Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Hugo Swire MP; mayors of Cork county and city, Cllrs Tim Lombard and Terry Shannon; and athlete Sonia O’Sullivan.

Virtually every business in Cobh is marking the centenary with themed window displays. Eileen Pearson’s card and gift shop is displaying some of the dozens of impressive home-made models of the Titanic that children under 12 around Ireland have created.

Ms Pearson, who has run the business for 40 years, served customer Roger Hartnell from Southampton some years ago. Hartnell told Pearson that he had an uncle, Fred Hartnell, also from Southampton, who was a steward on the Titanic. When the ship docked at Cobh in 1912, Fred sent a letter on White Star Line paper to his sweetheart, Maggie. Fred survived and so did the letter. His nephew sent a copy to Pearson, which she showed to The Irish Times.

He wrote: “You will see that I am on the largest ship in the world, but more the more for that, I don’t think that I shall like her . . . ”

And as at every centenary event, there are the accompanying souvenirs. On sale in Cobh this week are Titanic breadboards, tea-towels, mugs, purses, thimbles, cocktail sets complete with ice-strainers, and a baby’s bib with an image of a lifeboat, a smiling toddler and the embroidered message “Captain’s Little Helper”.


“THERE’S A fair bit of hurt in it all the time. Today, it’s almost like we’re going to a funeral,” Michael Kilgannon, from Ballymacward in Co Galway, observed sombrely.

His uncle, Thomas, died in the Titanic disaster, and his body was never recovered.

Mr Kilgannon was part of an informal delegation to Cobh of some 28 people, mostly from the Caltra region of Co Galway. They travelled to Cobh and went out on a boat in the harbour to lay wreaths and red roses in a private commemoration of their relatives.

Thomas Kilgannon, Martin Gallagher, Thomas Smyth, Margaret Mannion and Ellen Mockler, all from Caltra, were on the Titanic. They paid £7, 14 shillings and 7 pence each for their third-class tickets. None of the men survived. “My uncle gave his green Aran jumper to Ellen Mockler to keep her warm in the lifeboat,” Mr Kilgannon recounted. “His mother had knit it for him. Within a month of it leaving his mother’s hands, Ellen returned the jumper. It was in the family until the 1950s, when it became moth-eaten and, sadly, was disposed of.”

Survivor Margaret Mannion’s nephew, Johnny Mannion (88), was in Cobh for the first time to see the former White Star Line offices from where his aunt had boarded the tender.

“She never told us anything about the Titanic,” he said. “She came back to Ireland after seven years in America, but she never wanted to talk about it. She survived, but she lost her fiance, Martin Gallagher, that night.”

Kathleen Keane Curtin from Sixmilebridge in Co Clare held an anchor made of red roses. Her great-uncle Daniel Keane was lost. “I am very emotional today,” she said. “My father always spoke about his uncle who died. He had a horrendous death, and his body was never recovered. I wanted to do this for him today, so he would be remembered by one of his family.”