Our day of touring Kinsale and environs, the last day of May 2014, continues with our morning visit to the “Old Head of Kinsale.” Head is short for headland, a narrow strip of land projecting into the sea.
On May 7th, 1915 the Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed 16 km (10 miles) off the Old Head of Kinsale, 40 km (25 miles) west of Queenstown. Of the 1,959 people on board, 1,198 died. Those who survived were brought to Queenstown and Kinsale by rescue vessels and cared for in local hotels and hospitals. Many of those who died were buried at Old Church cemetery, 3 km (2 miles) north of Queenstown. The first class Queen’s Hotel cared for some of the survivors. The elegant Edwardian atmosphere of the hotel was shattered by the horrific news of the loss of the ship. This is the setting for the story of Queenstown’s role in the Lusitania disaster. –text from Cobh Heritage Center poster, see image below.
The Old Head is notable, in the contest of the Lusitania attack, for being the land closest to the incident. Cobh, then named “Queenstown”, was the focus of rescue operations. See text below, from a display of the Cobh Heritage Museum.
The Kinsale tower is just over nine meters high, with walls up to 80 cm thick. Records show a signal crew was in place in 1804 and the tower finished the following year, though severely affected by dampness. When Napoleon was defeated by Wellingtons forces at Waterloo, 1815. With the diminished threat these expensive installations were neglected. The 1899 Ordnance Survey map lists the site as being in ruins. During our 2014 visit the local community was renovating the tower and the work appears complete sometime before 2021.
I did not see and/or recall much emphasis in the museum for pillorying Germany, after all a German U-boat was responsible. Curious, I did a Wikipedia search and found this text. The topic of Ireland, Germany and World War I is complicated.
On the afternoon of 7 May, a German U-boat torpedoed Lusitania 11 miles (18 km) off the southern coast of Ireland inside the declared war zone. A second internal explosion sank her in 18 minutes, killing 1,198 passengers and crew. The German government justified treating Lusitania as a naval vessel because she was carrying 173 tons of war munitions and ammunition, making her a legitimate military target, and they argued that British merchant ships had violated the cruiser rules from the very beginning of the war. The internationally recognized cruiser rules were obsolete by 1915; it had become more dangerous for submarines to surface and give warning with the introduction of Q-ships in 1915 by the Royal Navy, which were armed with concealed deck guns. The Germans argued that Lusitania was regularly transporting “war munitions”; she operated under the control of the Admiralty; she could be converted into an armed auxiliary cruiser to join the war; her identity had been disguised; and she flew no flags. They claimed that she was a non-neutral vessel in a declared war zone, with orders to evade capture and ram challenging submarines.
However, the ship was not armed for battle and was carrying thousands of civilian passengers, and the British government accused the Germans of breaching the cruiser rules. The sinking caused a storm of protest in the United States because 128 American citizens were among the dead. The sinking shifted public opinion in the United States against Germany and was one of the factors in the declaration of war nearly two years later. After the First World War, successive British governments maintained that there were no munitions on board Lusitania, and the Germans were not justified in treating the ship as a naval vessel. In 1982, the head of the Foreign Office’s American department finally admitted that, although no weapons were shipped, there is a large amount of ammunition in the wreck, some of which is highly dangerous and poses a safety risk to salvage teams.
The original memorial to the Lusitania was unveiled on the 80th anniversary of the May 7th, 1915 sinking (May 7, 1995), Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork Ireland. The imemorial nscription reads “In memory of the 1198 civilian lives lost on the Lusitania 7th May 1915 off the Old Head of Kinsale.”
The inscription of the commemoration plaque accompanying the memorial reads, “This memorial was unveiled by Hugh Coveney D Minister of Defense and The Marine on 7 May 1995.” Around the edge of the medallion reads, “Brian Little Sculptor” “This (cannot read) donated by Lan and Mary Buckley”