The nation honoured Titanic’s victims during a solemn ceremony exactly a century to the day after they sailed from Irish waters to their deaths in the North Atlantic.
President Michael D Higgins led the national tribute just yards from the pier in Cobh, Co Cork, then known as Queenstown, where more than 100 Irish passengers boarded tenders which ferried them to the ill-fated liner anchored in Cork Harbour.
He said legends have grown around the tragedy, that there has been a certain romanticisation of the disaster, and that victims’ stories could be enveloped “in a warm glow of nostalgia”.
“We best honour their memory by telling the story of the Titanic as truthfully as we can, respecting its historical complexity, acknowledging that it captures the full spectrum of human experience and human fallibility and making a reflection of what it tells us — of the power of the sea; of the price of hubris; of the human cost of the class system; and of the universal right to safety,” the President said.
He drew parallels between the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ liner and the unequal class-divided access to safety on board, with the collapse of Ireland’s speculative economy.
“In the humbling aftermath of that crisis there is not only an opportunity to learn but a requirement to reflect — to address the errors and the erroneous assumptions that led to failure, to mobilise support around an alternative vision for our Republic and to put ourselves on course for a future that is sustainable and embraces us all as equal citizens,” he said.
“We remember with respect all those who died on the Titanic and the thousands more whose lives were devastated by the loss of their loved ones in the Atlantic.
“We reflect on what it teaches us about the inherent fragility of human life in the face of nature, the folly of over-weaning material ambition and the need to be ever mindful that, irrespective of their social distinctions as passengers, the only classification on the Titanic that ultimately mattered was whether one was a victim or survivor.
“In the end, it is always about our shared vulnerability and our shared humanity, and whether during our lives we add or subtract to the quality of our community and society.”
Cllr Jim Quinlan (Lab), the mayor of Cobh, described the ceremony as a fitting tribute to the victims, rejecting criticism about the tone of some commemorative events.
Speaking after the visit of the Titanic memorial liner Balmoral to Cobh on Monday, Church of Ireland Bishop Paul Colton said it appeared as if some events were more a celebration than a commemoration.
“I think those comments were made a little bit early,” Mr Quinlan said.
“We were very conscious over the last few years making sure that we struck that balance.”
He added: “There were people in tears with emotion coming off that ship because their ancestors left Cobh.”