Lusitania wreck gifted to Old Head Signal Tower in hope to create 'living museum' to the tragedy

Timmy McSweeney, Cobh Branch, lays a wreath at the104th Lusitania Commemoration, at Old Church Graveyard, Cobh, Co Cork. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

The American owner of the wreck of the Lusitania has gifted it to a local group in Cork and hopes his bequest will help them create a “living museum” to the tragedy.

Greg Bemis, who has owned the wreck since the mid-1960s, signed the donation agreement with the Lusitania Museum and Old Head Signal Tower not-for-profit company, on the Old Head of Kinsale this morning.

The company led by local volunteers has already restored the Old Head signal tower and developed the Lusitania memorial garden alongside it.

But they have ambitious plans to develop a full-scale Lusitania museum on the site.

The Cunard liner was torpedoed by a German u-boat some 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 7, 1915, with the loss of 1,201 lives.

The wreck is regarded as a war grave and protected by an Underwater Heritage Order under National Monuments Acts.

Under the legal terms of the gift deal signed today, the 104th anniversary of the sinking, Mr Bemis’s bequest will take effect when he dies, or when he writes a letter to execute the bequest, or when the museum itself is built.

Mr Bemis said as he approaches his 91st birthday, he feels the time is right to make this decision which he said he hopes will honour three basic objects:

  • - the memorialisation of the sinking event itself and the huge loss of life;
  • - the recovery of artefacts to make the planned museum a “living museum” that people can appreciate and enjoy and relate to;
  • - And to support technical divers to continue diving on what many call the Mount Everest of diving.

“Sure, the Titanic is a very famous ship but at 13,000 feet you don’t dive on the Titanic,” he said.

"The Lusitania, at 300 feet, is the perfect depth for technical divers.”

He also said he hopes his decision will help to continue the work to resolve the question of what caused the mysterious second explosion.

“My own opinion is that it was caused by the cargo of high explosives, among other things, which should never have been on an ocean liner, a passenger liner,” he said.

I believe in the integrity of history and in order for us to have integrity we have to find out what was the cause was.

He said he doesn’t believe the other suggestions have been substantiated or validated.

The local group which will take ownership of the wreck in due course led the restoration of the Old Head signal tower and visitor centre, which opened to visitors in 2015 to mark the centenary of the sinking, and the adjoining Lusitania memorial garden, which opened in 2017.

Both are significant visitor attractions on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Group chairman, JJ Hayes, thanked Mr Bemis for his generous gesture and said they are now focused on developing the Lusitania museum.

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