My Ireland Trip: May 7 at sunrise

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When I woke to the sun coming through my gorgeous B&B, I couldn’t stay in bed any longer. I dressed quickly, donned a Gibson Girl hairstyle for the occasion, and stepped into the morning sun. The dew still danced on the grass and the sunrise was golden over the silver water.

Crossing the small road, I walked onto a tall bridge that overlooked the water and there stood Queen Victoria, built by the same company that built the Lusitania, bathed in the light.

Since I was about thirteen years old, I have commemorated both the sinking of the Titanic and the sinking of the Lusitania. My mother even let me stay home from school once or twice on May 7, and it has always been my special day of writing. I spend time thinking about the passengers of the liner and what they may have experienced, writing about the sinking, studying about it, and every now and then, feeling it so deeply my heart shook. I never imagined that I would be in Ireland in 2015. I dreamed of it, sure, but the realist in me didn’t want the romantic in me to raise my hopes too much.

But there I was. Overlooking the same land where the survivors of the disaster touched solid ground again and where a few of the victims were buried in it. I listened to my Lusitania soundtrack–the same soundtrack I’ve listened to for thirteen years and sat on a bench, smelling the salty air and noticing the clear sky–the only clear sky of my nine days in Ireland. Through all my study and all my imagining, the disaster never seemed quite as tangible as it did then. Suddenly the characters in my stories, the real people, became real to me. I felt like Brock Lovett,  when he said, “I never got it. I never let it in.”

That morning, I let it in, and to this day I feel changed. Changed because the disaster has so much to offer, so much to teach, so much for us to remember. Twelve hundred people died; 761 survived and were never the same again. All because of a war. And while who is at fault is not exactly clear–except for the man who shot the torpedo–what is clear is the painful damage that war brings. What good has ever come out of a war? The Lusitania disaster was one of the first modern examples of innocent civilians being murdered for the profit of war. Pearl Harbor was next, then Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, countless others.

Sitting on the shore 100 years later, I was overwhelmed by the tragedy of human nature, and the knowledge that even through all that, human kind continues to trudge forward. And I prayed that one day we could learn from our mistakes.

Trip to Ireland: Cobh Heritage Center

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Cobh Harbor and Cunard’s Queen Victoria on May 7, 2015.

If you’re looking for a place to explore maritime history, go no further than Cobh (pronounced “cove”), Ireland. This place is right on the water and has seen ocean liners from the very beginning of immigration during the potato famine to sending prisoners in horrific circumstances to Australia to the Titanic‘s last stop before setting off on its ill-fated voyage to rescuing the Lusitania survivors to the morning of May 7, 2015, when Queen Victoria came into the harbor.

Cobh Heritage Centre

After a very traumatic experience of my three-year-old hiding from us in the museum gift shop for fifteen minutes leading to my frantic search all over the harbor (and as a testament to Irish hospitality, every one around us helped in the search), we finally found him silently crouching behind some sweatshirts. I experienced the Cobh Heritage Center alone. I wish now that I had insisted on everyone joining me because it was the best museum in Cobh. Looking from the outside, I did not expect it, but the small museum is filled with history, artifacts, and very informative  and exciting exhibits.

Cobh (III): Cobh Heritage Centre

My favorite part (besides the Lusitania artifacts) about the Cobh Heritage Center is that it takes place in the original station with signs pointing the way for first class, second class, and third class passengers. The small museum’s location is historical in itself. If you haven’t noticed by now, at every historical place I visit, I spend time taking it all in, imagining what it would have looked like, smelled like, and felt like throughout time.

At Cobh’s Heritage Center, I imagined what it would have been like for victims of the Lusitania disaster to stumble into this station, dazed with the day’s tragedy–many unable to comprehend that their lives would never be the same.

Visit the Heritage Center’s website for some great pictures of their exhibits. I will just highlight a few of my favorite pieces from the museum here:

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  • Artifacts from previous voyages on the Lusitania, including stationary, images, and passenger accounts.
  • The room portraying survivors of the Lusitania in the Queen’s Hotel comforting one another. So powerful–it was like stepping back in history.
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Message in a bottle sent from the Titanic.
  • The message in a bottle. When the Titanic began to sink, a passenger took it upon himself to write a message and send it in a bottle to his family. It eventually made it to shore and the Heritage Center has it on display.
  • A very well compiled video of actual footage of the Lusitania. I wish I knew where to locate this online. I am almost positive that I saw it on YouTube before we left, but I could be wrong. If anyone knows how to locate it, let me know.
  • The replica of a ship’s deck, making me feel like I was walking back in time.

I would go back to Cobh in a heartbeat, and there’s so much more to share about it. I visited one more museum on Wednesday, and then spent Thursday night experiencing the centenary events. I will share all of that soon. For now, let me know if you have any questions or would like more tourist information, like where to eat and stay. We stayed at the perfect bed and breakfast in Cobh with a delightful owner. It was right on the water and only a few minutes walk to city center.

Before the Lusitania Embarked

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Alfred Vanderbilt, the richest man on the ship, and Charles Frohman, producer of the famed Peter Pan, attended the theater the night before embarking on the “last voyage of the Lusitania“. The picture above shows what the theater looked like at the time. The theater was owned by Charles Frohman who built it in 1898. After his death on the Lusitania, ownership of the theater was handed to Al Hayman, but it was eventually torn down in 1958 to make room for offices, which is sad, really, since I’d love to have seen it.

The following quote describes the play they saw on April 30. Not the lightest play in the world but still interesting.

“The play takes place in 1745 in Belgium. The War of Austrian Succession is on. At the opening of the play a major battle between the English and the French is about to take place. The hero of the play is a French soldier named Renaud who gets a package of jewels from a dying friend in order to take care of his friend’s family.

The villain sees the exchange and later breaks into Renaud’s house, steals the jewels and kills his wife who is the mother of their young daughter Adrienne who was played by Maude Adams. The child has to testify and, since she had been sent to her room, the can only testify about what she heard. That appears to make Renaud guilty of killing his wife and it is years before the real villain confesses and Renuad is set free” (Maude).

The play was made into a movie the year before and can be found on IMDB, though there isn’t much information there.

There is also a rumor that Captain Turner visited his niece behind the stage to say hello before embarking on his journey the next morning, so it was a theater-filled eve for some.

I’d love to get my hands on a copy of that movie some day.