John Kiger, from Atlanta, was among about 30 descendants of Lusitania survivors who travelled from the US to the Old of Kinsale in Co Cork to attend the unveiling of the sculpture in a new Lusitania Memorial Garden yesterday — the 102nd anniversary of the tragedy.
Mr Kiger’s great-grandfather, businessman Albert Jackson Byington, was among the 760-plus survivors plucked from the Atlantic by local boats and brought to shore at Cobh.
Mr Kiger said his story was passed down through his mother’s family: “But growing up in America, we always felt like the sinking of the Lusitania existed in a bit of obscurity, especially when compared to the sinking of another large passenger liner just two years earlier.
“Over the years, we found ourselves having to explain why it sank, where it sank and what the implications of this event were to the rest of the world.”
But he said that all changed on his first visit to Kinsale in 2009 while working on a film project.
“I finally found myself in an area that knew all about her and that was a great comfort to me,” he said.
“The sculpture dedicated today finally brings the names of all those on board into the public eye in a lasting way. On behalf of the relatives of the passengers and crew, I thank everyone involved for creating this fitting and long-lasting tribute.”
Of the 1,962 people on board the ship, which was on route from New York to Liverpool on May 7, 1915, 1,191 died when it was torpedoed and sank in just 18 minutes some 18km off the Old Head of Kinsale.
Minister Simon Coveney, who unveiled The Wave memorial sculpture which forms the centrepiece of the new commemorative garden, praised the local community voluntary committee, Lusitania Museum/Old Head Signal Tower Heritage Ltd, for undertaking the project on a key point on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Artists Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring’s 20-metre sculpture curves around a section of the perimeter of the garden. The front surface, inclined at 45 degrees, depicts a series of low relief images and a list of all on board the liner when it was torpedoed. Each name is accompanied by the symbol of a lifebuoy or a cross on a wave indicating their fate.
The story of the tragedy is revealed through 10 panels. The underside of the piece is viewed from the lower level of the sunken garden and represents the wreck of the Lusitania and has basic information and key points relating to the ship’s last voyage.
The sculpture was cast in the bell foundry of Cornille-Havard in Normandy France - the historic foundry which also cast the new bells for Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris in 2012.
Chair of the local group, JJ Hurley, praised the support of Cork County Council, Failte Ireland and the OPW. The committee, which restored the headland’s Signal Tower in 2015, now plans to build a Lusitania museum.
As part of the events Annette Buckley sang a moving lament at the ceremony.