'It is a very poignant story and so tragic. Here they were boarding one of the finest vessels ever built and it came to such a sorry end'
Up up to 5,000 people congregated for the national commemoration service at the main promenade of the harbour town from where 123 passengers left in a small boat to board the ill-fated Titanic, exactly 100 years ago yesterday.
Just 44 of them survived.
President Higgins said that after 100 years, it was right to take time to remember the departure of the Titanic from Cobh.
"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," he said.
"Time may have dimmed the harrowing grief caused to the bereaved after some 1,500 people were lost to the icy waters 100 years ago. These victims still occupy a place in our hearts," he said.
For Mary Woods, whose uncle Jeremiah Burke (19) was one of those passengers who perished, it was a sad and nostalgic day.
"I think of my father all day today . . . and finding his brother was drowned in the Titanic and his cousin. You wonder what they were thinking when it all happened," said Ms Woods, who attended the tribute.
"It's a very sad day. You keep thinking back," said Ms Woods, who is the Mayor of Midleton.
Mr Burke, who grew up on a farm at Glanmire, Co Cork, was travelling as a third-class passenger with his cousin Nora Hegarty (18) from Killavallig, Whitechurch, Co Cork, who also perished.
Helen Murphy, grand-niece of 18-year-old Nora Hegarty, who left Cobh on the Titanic to emigrate to the United States with her first cousin, said: "It's a very poignant story and also so tragic. Here they were boarding one of the finest vessels ever built and it came to such a sorry end."
Neither of the pair, both third-class passengers, survived.
Yesterday's national tribute was followed by an ecumenical service and a recital by the St Coleman's Cathedral 49-bell carillon.
Later, the President inspected the naval fleet at Haulbowline in his first official engagement as Supreme Commander of the Irish Defence Forces.