I find it interesting to compare Irish and American reports about the Titanic as the centennial of its short-lived history is noted.  Everything I had heard or read about the Titanic was from the point of view of American writers, and almost every story mentioned the unsinkable Molly Brown.

Having spent a week in Cobh, Ireland, we have been given a different perspective.  Cobh was the last stop of the Titanic before it headed out into the open sea to its tragic fate in the Atlantic.  The Titanic didn’t enter the bay because its arrogant owners didn’t want to take the time for it to dock, so it remained outside and the “tenders” ferried the mail and 110 passengers out to it anchored outside the bay.   Cobh was known as Queenstown when the Titanic left, and the last sight they saw as they left their home was the beautiful Cathedral of St. Colman where they had attended Mass and received Holy Communion only hours before.  (The steeple wasn’t on the church yet, however).    They were seeking a better life in the United States and would cross in Steerage.  We in America have only bad descriptions of steerage, but for the day, the steerage section on the Titanic was quite a step up from that in other ships.  It wasn’t the Ritz, but many of the people were amazed at how nice it was.  Many of their ancestors had been sent away from Ireland on prison ships to other parts of the world, only to die en route because of disease and shipwreck, not to mention the wretched conditions aboard.

Many of those on the Titanic were escaping poverty and so the ship seemed a hopeful way out, and they knew it wouldn’t take weeks like in other ships, so anything would be tolerable.  They were going third class, but that didn’t  matter—it was their ticket to prosperity, or so they thought.

The people of Cobh pulled out all the stops to prepare for the centennial.  We were there the week before it all began, so we got to experience the hustle and bustle of people preparing for something important.  The sidewalks were cleaned of the gum.  In Ireland, gum is everywhere on the cobblestone and brick sidewalks, and they have gum-removal trucks to deal with the problem.  It took days to clean it all up.

They built a grandstand which would protect the” important” people who would arrive for the commemoration.  Statues were painted; stores all had Titanic displays in their windows and the Titanic memorabilia was for sale everywhere.  We saw a mural take shape on a concrete wall and met the artist and his volunteers who worked to create a memorial which would be visible from Cobh Bay.   A large ship, the Balmoral arrived in time to imitate the path of the Titanic.  People with deep pockets had bought up all the tickets as soon as the voyage was announced.  I am not sure I would want to tempt fate like that!  There was not a room to be had at any price in Cobh if one hadn’t booked months in advance.

The commemoration which took place in Cobh was more of a memorial to those who died and a recognition of the thousands of lives which were affected by the loss of family members in such a terrible accident.  It was a ceremony befitting people who haven’t forgotten their own.  The grandstand, park and streets were filled with people.  It is good to see that 100 years have not erased the memory of loved ones.

The Titanic stands for many things.  Pride gone awry—remember she was “unsinkable”; Hope for desperate people—those many poor people were seeking a better life—not out of greed, but in many cases out of desperation; progress—she was made to the most update specifications of the day.  I had read before that the reason there weren’t enough lifeboats was because the powers-that-be were unconcerned about the lower classes.  While that may have a kernel of truth to it, the real reason is that the government regulations and the industry regulations didn’t require more than enough for about a third of the passengers—primarily due to the hubris that the boat was unsinkable.

The Titanic was built for the wealthy.  It carried the well-heeled Americans and Europeans who had the means to amuse themselves by cruising on the latest and greatest ship.  But for me, the real story is of Irish emigration.  The Irish have had a very oppressed life for centuries, under the heavy thumb of the Brits.  They have suffered slavery, deprivation and famine.  The Titanic represented a way out of the misery.  Theirs is the human-interest story that needs to be told in America.

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