BY LEO McMAHON
THE coastal village of Courtmacsherry has strong ties to the ill-fated Lusitania. And now the community are planning to mark it in a permanent way when they unveil their new replica of the ocean liner at the entrance to the village next weekend.
Cunard liner Lusitania was on route from New York to Liverpool, when she was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 and sank in 18 minutes, 12 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale and the Seven Heads at 2.10 on the sunny afternoon of Friday, May 7th, 1915.
At the time, the United Kingdom had implemented a naval blockade of Germany. The latter declared the seas around the UK a war zone and its embassy in the United States placed newspaper advertisements warning people of the dangers of sailing prior to the Atlantic crossing.
The Germans justified treating Lusitania as a naval vessel because she was believed to be carrying hundreds of tons of war munitions, therefore making her a legitimate military target. After the first torpedo struck, there was a second, unexplained, internal explosion, but it was probably that of high explosives in her cargo which rapidly sent the liner to the seabed and 1,198 passengers and crew (plus three unnamed German stowaways) to their deaths, despite the gallant efforts of the crew of Courtmacsherry RNLI lifeboat Kezia Gwilt and others. Over 760 were rescued.
To mark the centenary in 2015, Courtmacsherry St Patrick’s Day Committee came up with the idea of a float for the parade and a 19 foot long plywood model of the Lusitania was constructed by local builder and carpenter Richard O’Sullivan.
It was originally built for one day but the committee was requested to put the model on display at the picnic area afterwards at the entrance to the village where it became a much admired and photographed heritage tourism attraction that remained there for almost three years until weather eventually took its toll and it was removed.
Due to the visitor success and continued interest in the subject, Courtmacsherry Development Association was approached by a voluntary group in 2018 willing to undertake the construction and reinstatement on the same site of a new and superior model of Lusitania.
The go-ahead was given and the group set to work, meeting regularly since January. Extensive research was undertaken, sponsorship/funding sourced for a project costing around €7,500 and agreement reached on materials.
The Lusitania Model Project committee includes Diarmuid Begley, co-ordinator; Richard O’Sullivan, Conor Dullea, Micheal Hurley, Diarmuid O’Mahony, Stephen Finn, Jim Crowley, Michael O’Brien, Vincent O’Donovan, Sean O’Farrell, Martin Galvin and Leo McMahon. Some of those listed comprise the construction/paint team plus Pat O’Brien and Stuart Russell. High quality marine plywood was transported by Lucey Transport and storage provided by local farmer Harold Kingston.
The main frame of the model is made of longlasting sustainable accoya wood sourced in Ireland and super elite 12mm plywood for the hull/superstructure produced by Robbins Timber Marine Products, Bristol. Top class marine standard paint was kindly sponsored by International Paints, Wexford headed by Peter Burke.
The site was marked out and work commenced in late April starting with the plinth. It will feature an information plaque and also acknowledge the sponsors who include Cork County Council. Courtmacsherry Development Association, Courtmacsherry Community Shop and International Paints. The picnic area and paths will also be refurbished.
It wasn’t possible to hold the event on the anniversary date of May 7th but with interest near and far, many people are expected to attend the event on August 5th including those from Cobh, Kinsale and the Old Head which have strong historic associations with Lusitania.
The illuminated model will significantly add to the heritage of Barryroe which includes the oldest RNLI Lifeboat Station in the country, the Patrick Keohane Antarctic explorer sculpture, the anchor of the Cardiff Hall in Butlerstown, the Seven Heads Walk and Lusitania Trail. What’s more, with Courtmacsherry becoming part of the Wild Atlantic Way, it will also generate additional visitor numbers and further boost the local economy.
At the other end of Barryroe parish in Butlerstown, there is currently an exhibition about the Lusitania and 1912 Scott Expedition Antarctic explorer Patrick Keohane, whose father Timothy was coxswain of the Courtmacsherry lifeboat that was rowed out to the scene of the tragedy from its station at Barry’s Point.
The venue is appropriate given the fact that the community centre was formerly the national school where, as reported, pupils and teachers heard the explosions and would have had vision of the ship’s funnels prior to sinking. The exhibition is open from 10am to 4pm Wednesday to Sunday.
*The Lusitania will be officially ‘launched’ at 7.30pm on bank holiday Monday, August 5th by local historian and bard, Michael O’Brien.