Friday 23 February 2018

The Lusitania: Survivors' tales

A view on the deck of the Cunard liner Lusitania in early 1915.
A view on the deck of the Cunard liner Lusitania in early 1915.

Margaret McClintock

Margaret McClintock (31) from Mountpottinger, Belfast had been living in New York City for three years and was returning to Ireland to visit her sister in Castlereagh Street.

She was eating lunch when she heard an enormous roar and was thrown from her seat.

Margaret, along with her friend Catherine Gilhooly, went straight to the lifeboats but were appalled to see several overturning as they were lowered, tipping their occupants into the sea.

Margaret later told how she got into a lifeboat which was lowered with more than 60 people aboard. Catherine Gilhooly recounted how the boat "got clear just in time, thanks to the plucky work of a pantryman, who pushed them off with an oar."

The lifeboat was picked up by a trawler then transferred to a government boat and landed in Queenstown at about 9.30pm.

Patrick Vincent McGinley

Patrick Vincent McGinley was originally from Strabane, Co Tyrone, but later moved to Belfast where he was a schoolteacher at St Gall's National School, Clonard.

He had emigrated to the US in 1910 and was on his first trip home, travelling with his sister Rose Ellen Murray. They were separated at the sinking but reunited in Queenstown.

McGinley told the Irish newspapers that he had seen the torpedo fired from the submarine.

"Shortly after two o'clock as I was still talking to my friend, I noticed a white object about 100 yards off on the land side. It was directly at right angles to the liner. I called my friend's attention to it, and he said, 'That appears to be a periscope.'

"I saw a white streak coming towards the vessel. 'My God, there's a torpedo' exclaimed my friend. I saw it come quickly through the water until it struck the ship, which shook like a reed in the wind and heaved to one side."

Dr Ralph Macredy

The 26-year-old from Bray, Co Wicklow, was a noted athlete, competing in the Stockholm Olympics in 1912 where he finished 80th in the cycling road race. He worked in a Michigan sanitorium before deciding to return to practice in Ireland.

He described the impact of the torpedo as "though the ship was suddenly checked by a gigantic and invisible hand". He recalled how "there was an explosion, and everything seemed to turn black. Huge spouts of water, apparently black, came up all around us, and then washed down over the decks."

He donned a lifejacket and scaled down a wire from the upturned stern into the water, ripping skin from his hands. It was "a very uncomfortable getaway", he said later.

It took an hour for the first rescue ships to arrive, and he was picked up by a trawler. In Queenstown he was given food and clothing and a pass to take him to Dublin. As Mecredy had lost all his money he had to ask Cunard for an extra shilling for the onward journey to Bray.

Irish Independent

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