Relatives of some of the 1,191 people who perished when the liner was torpedoed 18km off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1915 will attend a ceremony on the headland on Sunday — the 102nd anniversary of the tragedy — to mark the unveiling of The Wave commemorative sculpture which forms the centrepiece of the garden.
Padraig Begley, a member of the committee which oversaw the development, described it as a “very special project on a special site”.
“The garden is quite magnificent and the fact that the sculpture bears the names of all on board, survivors, and those who were lost, will attract lots of new visitors to the area. It will be a big addition to the Wild Atlantic Way,” he said.
There were 1,962 passengers and crew on the Lusitania, nicknamed the Greyhound of the Seas, when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, en route from New York to Liverpool. It sank within 18 minutes in 91m of water, with the loss of 1,191 lives. Ships and boats in the area plucked 771 survivors from the Atlantic.
A memorial was unveiled on the Old Head of Kinsale in 1995.
To mark the centenary of the tragedy, a local voluntary committee, Lusitania Museum/Old Head Signal Tower Heritage Ltd, oversaw the restoration of the headland’s Napoleonic-era signal tower, one of 81 such signal towers around the coast, which opened in 2015 with a Lusitania museum.
The unveiling of the garden and The Wave at 2pm on Sunday will mark phase two of their work.
Mr Begley said the committee chose The Wave, by Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring, following a competition run by the National Sculpture Factory. “We felt that this was the piece of work for this site. They have done a great job,” he said.
The Wave, in a series of panels, tells the story of Lusitania, from its departure from New York to its tragic end off Cork. It lists the names of all those on board, with a symbol alongside each name depicting whether they died or survived the disaster.
It shows the liner in the U-boat’s sights, the torpedo moving through the water, and the figure of Death climbing over the ship and pushing it underwater. Rescue boats are depicted alongside the image of a drowning mother and child — the artwork is from an iconic poster designed by Fred Spear in June 1915 with the word “enlist” written on the bottom.
The Wave is set in the circular memorial garden which follows the semi-circle shape of the wall surrounding a 15m-high ship’s mast which was used in the signal tower’s old flag and ball signalling system.
Mr Begley praised the financial support provided by Fáilte Ireland and Cork County Council, as well as by local businesses and the community, and thanked the OPW for its co-operation.
The signal tower’s Lusitania museum opens for the season on Sunday. The area is a Wild Atlantic Way signature discovery point.