ANN MASSEY tells us how the witness to the ghostly RMS Lusitania funeral procession mentioned in our Five Haunted Places to visit in Cobh, Ireland, has stepped forward to tell his story after more than 40 years.
When we research and write about hauntings, by their very nature they are often historic and very much relying on third party accounts. Imagine my amazement and delight to be contacted by one such historic witness decades after his experience!
So what haunting are we referring to?
Cobh, formerly Queenstown, in County Cork has a maritime history that dates back centuries and that connection continues today. The world’s largest cruise ships still cast an enormous shadow over The Commodore Hotel as thousands of passengers disembark each year to explore the quaint and historic town.
It is also, sadly, synonymous with two of the most famous and largest ocean liner catastrophes in history, Harder to believe, is that just three years separated the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912 and RMS Lusitania in 1915. The difference however, was war.
What happened to the RMS Lusitania?
The Cunard ship RMS Lusitania was bankrolled for the most part by the Navy due to projected speeds and capacity and construction took place in the John Brown & Company shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland. The military cash input for building meant the ocean liner could be conscripted in the event of war.
Lusitania brought thousands of passengers between the New World and Europe for many years until the start of the First World War, at which point the military called in their marker. Using passengers as a human shield for gun running, the ship continued to be used as a leisure vessel in the hope the Germans would not attack as an agreement had been struck not to attack commercial ocean going vessels.
The excited travellers had no idea that weapons were stowed just a few decks below where they stood. German Intelligence however, knew exactly what was happening and issued a stark warning before the ship set sail from New York to Liverpool on 1st May 1915. A warning that was ignored.
RMS Lusitania reached the Cork coastline on 7 May and was intercepted by a German U Boat. Orders to fire were given and the ship received a direct hit and sank, as much due to the explosion of cargo ammunition as it was for the torpedo strike. Some of the dead were brought to Kinsale, however, most of the 1201 lost souls were washed up or brought ashore in Cobh.
The Commodore Hotel was under German ownership at the time and the terrified Humbert family hid in the cellar as an angry mob formed outside. To placate the crowd, the hotel cellar was used as a makeshift mortuary before the bodies of 200 or so victims brought to Cobh could be interred.
A mass funeral procession carrying the dead made its way to the Old Church Cemetery and were seemingly laid to rest in a primarily mass grave.
A witness to a ghostly funeral procession
Many years later, a National Graves Inspector discovered first hand that those who took part in that funeral procession were not as at peace as first thought. The inspector, David, takes up his witness account:
“I was born in Dublin in 1943 and went to work as an Irish Civil Servant in 1961 and I was assigned to a State Agency. During this period, inter alia, I had responsibility for the maintenance of Commonwealth War Graves in the Irish Republic.
“From time to time, perhaps twice a year, this entailed visiting cemeteries to see personally the condition of the CMG headstones and to ensure they were being properly maintained. In fact, I am the Graves’ Inspector mentioned on the Spooky Isles site.
“My experience took place about 1980. I parked the car on the main road past St. Colman’s Cathedral at a point where it crests and begins its descent towards the other side of Great Island, close to a lane leading off the left of the road.
“This lane gives access to the cemetery gate. It was on this lane I had my ‘experience’. I had climbed the low wall beside the left gate pier. My intention was to take a series of photos to make up a panoramic view for the official file.
“It was then that I heard the low murmur of voices and the slow footsteps approaching down the lane leading up to the cemetery. I was concentrating on getting the photos and was looking into the cemetery itself, so my back was to the lane. However, out of respect for what I perceived was an approaching funeral, I hastily finished and came down from the wall.
“It was then that I turned and looked up the lane to see – nothing! Shockingly, the murmur of voices and the footsteps continued. At this stage I was distinctly uncomfortable and began to back down the lane to where I could see a bungalow.
My thought was that if absolutely necessary I could try to seek refuge there from… from what? Suddenly there was no more murmuring or footsteps. I paused and then made a very hasty retreat to my car and on down the hill and off Great Island.
“All the while it was full daylight.
“It was a surprise to me that I was not the only person to have had this experience. From what I can gather, there seems to be no discrepancy between the reports I have encountered and my own!”
Our many thanks to David for coming forward and validating our story of the ghostly funeral procession of the victims of RMS Lusitania.
If you have had spooky experiences in Cobh, please reach out and let us know!