Waterford events mark centenary of maritime disaster

Relatives of those who died when two merchant ships were torpedoed in 1917 speak of pride at ceremony

Relatives of two men who died when two merchant ships were torpedoed by a German submarine in December 1917 have spoken of their pride at seeing their family members remembered at a ceremony in Waterford.

Brothers Mark and David Lumley travelled from the UK specially to attend the commemoration in Waterford for the 83 crew, including their great grandfather and their granduncle, who perished when the SS Formby and the SS Coningbeg were torpedoed by German submarine U-62 while en route from Liverpool.

Mark Lumley explained: "Our great grandfather, Joseph Lumley, was the captain of the SS Coningbeg, which was torpedoed on December 17th 1917 while his son, William - our granduncle - was an engineer on the SS Formby which was torpedoed two days earlier on December 15th.

“The sinkings had a huge impact and caused huge strife in our family who lived in Waterford at the time but it was not something we ever spoke about as a family- our own father never spoke about even though we came to Waterford with him five years ago and saw the memorial.


"But our father, Kevin Patrick Lumley, who was born in 1931, died last year and we brought his ashes over with us and put some of them in the Suir during the ceremony. So it was like closing a circle for us and we've met all these relations we hadn't met before so it was very touching for all of us."

Mark, who was accompanied by his wife, Miranda and son, Joseph, and David, who was accompanied by his wife, Antoinetta and daughters, Laura and Lalage, donated a family heirloom - a sugar bowl from the SS Coningbeg - to the Waterford Museum for its exhibition on the sinkings.

According to Cllr Jason Murphy of the Water Sinking Disaster Commemoration Committee, the sinking of the SS Formby with the loss of all 39 crew and the sinking of the SS Coningbeg with the loss of all 44 crew had a huge impact on Waterford at the time.

“Some 67 of the 83 who died were from Waterford which at the time had a population of around 28,000 so it had a huge impact - there wasn’t a person in Waterford who didn’t know someone who lost someone close, so the tragedy resonated right across the entire city,” he said.

The sinkings were remembered over the weekend when hundreds attended a series of commemorative lectures and a special ecumenical memorial service was held at Christ Church Cathedral before a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial on the quays.

Mayor of Waterford, Cllr Pat Nugent and the British ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett both laid wreaths, while the RNLI laid a wreath in the Suir. Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 117 did a fly-by.

The Irish Naval Service was represented at the ceremony by the LE Orla under the command of Lieut Cdr Ronan McLaughlin. A representative party from the ship attended both the ecumenical service and the wreath-laying ceremony.

"The sinkings were a huge part of the folk memory of Waterford up until perhaps 30 years ago," said Cllr Murphy, "but we had a really great turnout for all the events over the weekend so hopefully we have kept the story of the Formby and the Coningbeg alive for another generation in Waterford."

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times