The Lusitania Tragedy 1915 – Marking the Centenary

Wednesday, 11 November, at 8.00 pm in Lough Ree Yacht Club

– Talk by Eamonn Leonard

The Lusitania

The Lusitania, seen at New York on its maiden voyage in 1907 (New York Public Library).

Summary – It is a story of grandeur, efficiency, and intrigue which later turned into a sad and unprecedented disaster, with speculation about cover-ups and questions as to whether it was ‘a warship or a civilian passenger ship’. RMS Lusitania and her sister ship RMS Mauritania were built to restore former British superiority over German ships in the Atlantic passenger trade. The Cunard Line which owned these ships described them as the ‘ Monarchs of the Sea ‘ and boasted that they were ‘ the largest, fastest and most magnificent steamships in the world’. Both came into service in 1907 to provide a weekly service between Liverpool and New York. On September 7th of that year more than 200,000 people lined the banks of the Mersey to see the Lusitania off on her maiden voyage to New York.

Almost eight years later, on May 7th 1915, the Lusitania, or ‘Lucy’ as she was referred to by the shipyard workers who worked on her construction on the Clyde, was hit by a German torpedo about 11 miles due south of the Old Head of Kinsale as she sailed to Liverpool on her 202nd sailing between the two ports, Liverpool and New York.  She sank rapidly with the loss of about 1,200 lives. This talk is focused on the human accounts of passengers and crew who were on board the Lusitania on the afternoon of May 7th 1915 when disaster struck.

The talk finishes with an account of a low key commemoration hosted by local people at the Old Head of Kinsale on the evening before the official commemorations held on the actual centenary date, May 7th. 2015. It was a short informal roadside gathering of local people overlooking the final resting place of the Lusitania and many of her crew and passengers who did not survive her sinking.  The purpose of meeting at that particular place was to remember the generation of local people from the Old Head of Kinsale and along the Cork coastline who played their part in in the search and rescue effort mounted when “farmers and fishermen on nearby shores were soon alerted to the Lusitania’s plight when they heard a series of explosions rumbling in from the sea”.  The talk will include illustrations on the significance of inquests held in Kinsale on five Lusitania victims whose bodies were brought ashore there. It  will also include 15 original photographs taken by the speaker during the commemorations in Kinsale, which illustrate the dignified welcome that local people had for a small number of people, each of whom were present because of being related to somebody who was on board the Lusitania when it went down  not far from Kinsale.

Speaker – Eamon Leonard is a native of Kiltoom, who has a long-standing interest in social history, which has developed into a particular interest in the local history of South Roscommon. He has an MA in Local History from University College Cork, for which he completed a thesis entitled: A Study of the Changing Landscape and Social Evolution of a townland in South Roscommon from 1650 to 1950. He is a member of Drum Heritage Group, Saint John’s Parish Heritage Group, Co. Roscommon Historical and Archaeological Society, and The Old Athlone Society. In May of this year, as a representative of The Old Athlone Society he was been elected to the executive committee of the Federation of Local Historical Societies.

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