Cobh remembers 'Lusitania' tragedy

THE LUSITANIA liner took just under 20 minutes to sink off the coast of Cork 95 years ago this month but the memory of the loss…

THE LUSITANIAliner took just under 20 minutes to sink off the coast of Cork 95 years ago this month but the memory of the loss of more than 1,100 people continues to live on in Cobh where wreaths were placed on graves at a cemetery in the town yesterday afternoon.

The sinking of the Lusitaniaon the May 7th, 1915, after it was torpedoed by a German U boat had a particular impact on Cobh as survivors were brought to the local Cunard Line offices and all rescue operations were launched out of the maritime town.

The Old Church graveyard also contains the remains of 193 who died in the tragedy. Of those, 45 were unidentified and their coffins merely marked with a number.

As part of the commemoration old photographs of the open graves were put on display, with Hendrick Verwey, chairman of Cobh Tourism, saying such visual depictions really brought the tragedy of the Lusitaniahome in spite of the passing of some 95 years.

"It wakes you up when you see photos of open mass graves with coffins and coffins marked with just numbers. Historian Jack Gilmartin has been telling people stories that have passed down about the Lusitania such as the one about a three or four-year-old boy who was bawling crying in Cobh looking for his mother after the tragedy. We have been organising commemorations for the last few years because Cobh is so tied up with shipping and the two disasters of the Titanicand the Lusitania."

The ceremony got under way at the Lusitaniagraves at 2pm yesterday. Following prayers, musical honours by St Colman's Pipe Band and the laying of wreaths, the proceedings moved to the town centre.

A colourful parade led by the Cobh branch of the Organisation of National Ex Servicemen and Women and representatives of the Royal Naval Association left the town hall and made the journey to the LusitaniaPeace Memorial in Casement Square. Floral displays were also laid at the memorial.

The commemoration also included a lecture by divers Tim Carey and Eoin McGarry who shared their stories of their underwater adventures whilst diving the wreck of the Lusitania.

A sample of 10 Remington .303 cartridges retrieved by Tim, Eoin and two other divers were handed in to the Receiver of Wrecks in October 2008. They were subsequently given to the ship’s owner, New Mexico businessman Gregg Bemis. The .303 was the official military rifle cartridge of England and the British Empire from its adoption in 1888 until the 1950s.

Speculation has always existed that the Lusitaniawas carrying munitions to Britain.

However, the British government denied munitions were aboard the liner.

Diver Tim Carey showed video footage of the underwater exploration of the wreck at a lecture in the Commodore Hotel in Cobh.

Of the 1,257 passengers and 702 crew aboard the Lusitania, more than 1,100 died. Among the dead were art collector Sir Hugh Lane and millionaire Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt.

Audrey Lawson-Johnston is the last living survivor of the sinking. She was just three months old when the liner was torpedoed.