At 2.10pm yesterday, the cruise ship Queen Victoria sounded her horn to mark the exact moment 100 years ago that her Cunard-line forebear was struck by a U-boat torpedo 18km off the Old Head of Kinsale.
A minute’s silence followed as those gathered in Cobh — called Queenstown in 1915 — looked out into the harbour trying to imagine what it must have been like for the panic-stricken passengers and crew. 1,198 people drowned after the liner sank.
Queen Victoria sounded her horn again 18 minutes later — marking the exact time it took the 31,550- tonne liner to sink. On both occasions across the bay at Haulbowline Island, the LÉ Eithne responded with similar salutes.
Tears welled as Amanda Neri sang ‘Abide With Me’ and a minute’s silence was held to honour the dead.
Another poignant scene was witnessed several hours later as, under the cover of darkness, a flotilla of boats displaying flickering search lights re-enacted the return into Cobh of those who had gone out to help save the survivors and recover the dead.
At 9.30pm, the bells of the nearby St Colman’s Cathedral rang out as a procession of locals holding lights walked from Kennedy pier to towards the town’s Lusitania monument, which was then illuminated as a mark of respect.
Just 761 passengers survived the sinking by German submarine U20 and the bodies of 170 recovered by the little boats were buried in the town’s Old Church Graveyard.
It was there yesterday’s first official ceremony was held as Cunard chairman David Dingle and his Port of Cork counterpart John Mullins laid wreaths at the Lusitania plots.
There were three mass graves dug at the cemetery and new glass headstones, commissioned by Cunard and the Port of Cork, were unveiled yesterday to honour the victims.