The three bright flares looped in an arc over Cork Harbour, illuminating the glassy waters off Cobh as people of the town gathered to remember that day just over 100 years ago when their ancestors went to the aid of the victims of the sunken RMS Lusitania.
Some 1,198 of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard the Lusitania perished when she sank within 18 minutes of being struck by a torpedo from German submarine U20 off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 7th 1915. Many of the dead and injured were brought ashore at Cobh, then Queenstown.
On Sunday, Cobh began the commemoration of that tragedy with the first of several such centenary ceremonies taking place over the next four months at various locations in Co Cork associated with the Cunard liner including the Old Head of Kinsale, Courtmacherrry and Kinsale.
Sunday's event, organised by Cork County Council, began with a carillon on the 49 bells of St Colman's Cathedral which rang as the last gleam of the setting sun cast a sheen along the harbour and dusk curled in, dark and chilly, around the quayside.
MC for the evening, Cllr Claire Cullinane, recalled the impact of the Lusitania tragedy on Cobh and how the townsfolk "brought home bodies that night, both living and dead, and they housed them, they fed them, they clothed them and then some days later they buried the dead in our town".
Mayor of Co Cork Cllr Alan Coleman said it was important to commemorate what was “the greatest maritime tragedy off our coast” and its huge international ramifications in terms of bringing the US into the first World War but also to commemorate “the heroic response of our local communities”.
Minister for the Marine Simon Coveney said that Cobh can be proud of its role in such a major event in global maritime history in which people rallied to help the injured and bereaved and then helped with the burial of some 169 of the victims in Old Church Cemetery.
Chairman of Cobh Lusitania Centenary Committee Hendrick Verwey said Cobh was proud to begin the series of commemorations of the tragedy in Co Cork and the town was also looking forward to hosting a series of lectures as well as an exhibition of rare photographs of the RMS Lusitania.
The ceremony ended poignantly as children read out the names of those Lusitania victims – several of them children – buried in the town’s cemetery before a series of flares from Cobh, Fort Mitchell and Fort Camden lit up the navy dark sky in remembrance.