Solemnity and celebration as ship arrives

Witness accounts told how Catherine Jane Wallis got to the railings of the Titanic before she turned back in a scramble to grab her forgotten passport.

Mrs Wallis, a mother to four children in Southampton, had lost her husband in a drowning incident in late 1911. She was 35 and employed on the iconic vessel as a part of the food service crew.

She died along with 1,516 other passengers on the night of Apr 15, 1912.

Last night two of her great-grandsons, Tim and Jeff Wallis, left Cobh on the Balmoral liner chartered for a memorial journey to recreate the final days of the world’s most famous and fateful ship.

Tim, who will celebrate his birthday on the anniversary of the sinking, carried an aged-stained photograph of his great grandmother in the top hat he was wearing to help recreate the era.

The Balmoral is bound for the same spot in the north Atlantic where Mrs Wallis died 100 years ago and aims to get there in time to meet a sister vessel leaving from New York for a service at the site.

The Balmoral arrived late into Cobh and docked close to the old White Star offices where 123 people were once rowed out to hook up with the Titanic.

Like a century ago, when locals greeted the Titanic, a large crowd lined the pier to wave out at those arriving from Southampton.

The welcome was so great it prompted the Wallis brothers to return to their cabin to change into the top hats and tails they brought to help relive the time of the Titanic.

The Balmoral arrived amidst a strange mix of solemnity and celebration reflecting the multitude of motivations which brought its passengers together.

The Wallis brothers are originally from film director’s James Cameron’s home town of Chippewa, Ontario. It was the success of his movie, Titanic, that appeared to inspire as many visitors to Cobh as the ship it sought to recreate.

However, the Wallis’ have been on a voyage of family.

Before leaving England for Cobh and across the Atlantic they visited their ancestor’s old home at 23 St Mary’s Place in Southampton for the first time.

At a cost of more than €3,300 per ticket, most of the 1,500 people on board the Balmoral do not have direct ties to people who sailed on the Titanic.

Peter Ketcham was building a home on an isolated island in the south Pacific until three weeks ago. He returned to hear about the memorial cruise that had been organised by the Fred Olsen company — an offshoot of the White Star Line that built the Titanic.

Mr Ketcham has curated a Titanic museum in his basement in New Hampshire and bought his ticket last month. At about the same time he heard about one of four diving expeditions to the site of the Titanic that will take place this year. He signed up for that as well.

Representatives of more than 28 countries are on board the Balmoral.

But the first passenger to step onto the pier in Cobh was journalist and Titanic expert Senan Molony.

He was invited as one of the speakers who are giving talks about the Titanic and its story to passengers of the Balmoral. “It was actually very emotional as an Irish man to see the people on the headlands waving and think what it must have been like for the Titanic.”

Norwegian passenger Anne Isobel Udbye said that despite the mirthful scenes in Cobh there was a poignancy among those on board because, either through their strong interest in the subject or personal connections, realise the significance of the event that is being remembered.

“It is getting sadder because it is getting nearer [the anniversary] and we all know the history of it and what happened.”

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