This day 100 years ago, eighteen kilometres from the Irish coast, a German submarine sunk the luxury cruise liner the Lusitania. 1,198 drowned, 761 survived.
In the weeks leading up to her departure from New York, the German embassy in Washington posted a warning to prospective passengers in fifty newspapers. Many passengers were worried but travelled regardless, comforted by the knowledge that wealthy members of society were on board.
On May 1st the ship left New York. Arriving off the coast of Ireland on May 7th, look outs were in position on board, as it was known that submarines were in the area. At 14.10 a torpedo struck. There were forty eight lifeboats on board, only six were successfully launched. Eighteen minutes after being hit the Lusitania sank (it took the Titanic three hours).
The word went out around Queenstown (now known as Cobh) and rescue vessels of all sizes made their way to the scene. It took three hours for the first rescuers to arrive, by then most of those in the water had lost their battle.
Today in Cobh thousands have gathered to remember the day a small Cork town became a final resting place for so many. Wreaths have been placed on the memorial, and on the mass grave where 169 were buried. Tonight a flotilla of boats will sail into Cobh harbour, each carrying white lights to re enact the arrival of the many boats who had left the shore on their rescue mission over six hours earlier, some carrying those who had survived, others those who had not.
Tonight I too would like to remember a maritime tragedy often forgotten.