The funeral cortege of the Lusitania victims in May 1915 (Photo: courtesy National Library of Ireland)

Lusitania Centenary: Historic disaster photos on show in Cobh, Ireland

Posted on on 30 April 2015
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More than 60 photographs capturing the aftermath of the Lusitania disaster are being displayed in the Irish port of Cobh, as it prepares for commemorations next week marking the centenary of the British liner's sinking by a German submarine.

Among the most powerful images are scenes from the funeral of 145 victims whose bodies were found after the Cunard flagship was torpedoed off the Cork coast by a German on May 7th 1915.

Thousands of people turned out to pay their respects as the cortege wound its way through Cobh (then called Queenstown) to the Old Church Cemetery on the town's outskirts where the dead were laid to rest in mass graves.

Just over 1,200 passengers and crew died; most of the bodies were never recovered from the sea. More than 750 people were rescued.

The exhibition is being held in the historic Cunard Centre, the ocean liner company's former ticket office which was used in 1915 as a makeshift mortuary. 

Many of the pictures show dazed survivors in Cobh. They're expected to provide an emotional focus for descendants visiting the town for the Centenary events from May 7-10th 2015.

Troops digging mass graves in Old Church Cemetery (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

Christy Keating, genealogist at Cobh,The Queenstown Story Heritage Centre, says he found the pictures when visiting the National Library of Ireland at the end of 2014 to look for images of the tragedy.

"I was brought into a room and shown this astounding collection of photographs on glass plates. I had seen some before, but knew immediately that there were photographs here that have only been seen by a handful of people in over 100 years," he said. 

The National Library in Dublin agreed to have the pictures, from the A.H. Poole Lusitania Collection, digitised for the exhibition. 

About half of them are of survivors on the streets of Cobh following the sinking, and most of these people are unnamed. 

Photographer Fionnghuala Smith, whose studio is based in the Cunard Centre, commented on the apparent giddiness of many of the survivors: "It's when you think about it that you realise that this can be a very natural reaction to being in a near death experience," she says. 

"There are very many relatives of survivors coming to Cobh on the 7th and 10th of May and I fully expect people to walk through our doors and point out their ancestors. It will be emotional to say the least!"

The photos also show the rescue boats which answered the calls to go to the Lusitania after the liner was torpedoed by German submarine U-20 with the loss of 1,201 people (including three stowaways).

The funeral procession makes its way through Cobh, then known as Queenstown, in 1915 (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

Cobh Credit Union is sponsoring the exhibition, as Chairman Colman Rasmussen, explained. "On seeing the photographs we immediately realised the story that they tell.

"The sinking of the Lusitania was a terrible tragedy with a local, national and an international dimension. It seemed appropriate that as the largest community based business organisation in Cobh that we would provide funding to allow them to be showcased right here in the town in which they were taken," Mr Rasmussen said. 

The Cobh Credit Union Lusitania Centenary Photographic Exhibition is open from 11am to 6 pm from Tuesday to Saturday and from 1pm to 6 pm on Sundays from now until the end of May 2015. Admission is free.

Cobh is one of four coastal communities in County Cork commemorating the Centenary. Full details of events in Cobh, Courtmacsherry, Kinsale and the Old Head of Kinsale (nearest landfall to the wreck of the Lusitania) can be found on the Lusitania100 Cork website. Or visit@LusitaniaCork on Twitter, or @Lusitania100Cork on Facebook.

Source: LusitaniaCork100

All images courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News