LUSITANIA – The stories of two Kildare men who survived the sinking of the ship

by niamh mccabe on June 26, 2006

Leinster Leader 29/05/1915
Saved from the Lusitania
Kildare Men’s experiences
        Your representative had a very interesting interview a few days since at Kildare with Mr. Martin Mannion who had the experience of going down with the ship when the Lusitania was torpedoed and after some few hours swimming was able to get on to a raft and he has now arrived safely home. Mr. Mannion will be remembered by many sporting friends in the County Kildare, as before he left for America he was attached to the stables of the popular Curragh owner, Mr. Michael Dawson.
Mr. Mannion said he left the Curragh and went to the States in 1911. “At that time” he said “I sailed, bye the bye, on the Laurence, the ship which brought Dr. Crippen from Canada at the time of his dramatic arrest”. I was in the smokeroom of the Lusitania speaking to Mr. Turpin, of Maryborough, when the disaster occurred. The cry immediately arose that the ship had been torpedoed, but I said I had no chance when asked to move for the boats as unfortunately I had been severely injured in an accident a little time previously in America and had been wearing an artificial leg for some two weeks. I told Mr. Turpin (Maryborough) also at the time that I would stand no chance. The scenes on the ship I will not attempt to describe but when the final turn and list of the Lusitania came I found myself in the water and even before I realised the plunge I was swimming. I have fortunately always been a good swimmer. I went down with the ship but, thank God, I am saved. After going down with the Lusitania I continued to struggle for 4 ½ hours. You can scarcely understand what it means-the swimming in the open sea for such a long time, but I do not remember. The experience is a sorrowful one in every way, and one which will be, no matter how long my life may be, with me. I thought when I was cast into the water on the sinking of the ship that I had no chance of life, but, thank God, it was otherwise. One thing was against me and that was the very severe accident I had met with which necessitated the amputation of a foot. With all that I came through there surely is a small little bit of a silver lining in the clouds as we are told it is in almost every case it seems, and in mine I saved life, I am glad to say. In one sad case I succeeded in pulling one man out of the water who was caught between two boats at the time. I got him in on to our boat and did all I could for him with the assistance of others, but he died eventually in my arms.
I am thanking God for my escape and do not think that I can ever be sufficiently grateful. When we struck the Irish land again you can imagine our joy. I need scarcely say that we Irish, with the other survivors bid the old land with an added blessing. “The top of the morning” in such a heartful manner that perhaps very few Irishmen ever did before.
Mr. Mannion although very severely shaken is recovering from the effects of his very awful experiences.
Mr. Tom Mc Cormack who was rescued from the Lusitania arrived safe at Robertstown, of which he is a native, on Saturday last looking none the worst of his terrible experience. Except that he is suffering from rope burns on the fingers caused in winding himself from the sea on board the trawler (Indian Empire) which rescued him. He was 2 years in America and was returning on a holiday to see his friends. It was believed he was the only County Kildare man on the Lusitania. He tells a very exciting tale of his experience. He was standing on the main deck when the vessel was struck by the first torpedo. Very soon after he noticed her listing to the star-board and before he could realise what had happened a second torpedo struck her, after which he noticed her going down, stern foremost. He then rushed to his bunk for a life belt and found it full of water. When he returned to the deck the passengers were rushing madly for the upper deck to the boats. The ship had by this time so far gone to stern and star-board that it seemed like climbing the roof of a house to get up the deck. Seeing no chance to save himself except to take the water he threw off his coat and boots and jumped into the sea from a height of 40 feet. He estimates that he was about three minutes under water. When he rose to the surface he swam about amongst hundreds of people mostly in life-belts, some dead and more dying, until he met a trunk which he mounted. He was not long on it when it cast him off and he continued swimming about for two hours when he picked up a life-belt which enabled him to take a rest until he was secured by the Indian Empire at about 6 p.m. having spent about 3 ½ hours in the water. His valuable gold-watch stopped at 2.25 p.m.-this was about the time he jumped into the water. He states that he was a few minutes in the water when the Lusitania took her final plunge with a terrific explosion of her boilers, blowing one of her funnels high in the air. He was then about 5 perches from her. When rescued he found that he was not much the worse of his terrible experience, except that his limbs were numbed. He was brought to the Cunard office at Queenstown and thence to a hotel where he was well treated. Mc Cormack states that the saddest thing of his experience was the parting with two little aged about 10 years, who clung to him and whom so far as he could see had no one in charge of them. He had to shake them off before taking the plunge. He states that before he left the vessel the propellers were high out of the water. Being a good swimmer he made no effort to reach any of the lifeboats, leaving his chance by that means to the women and children. While in the water shortly before he was rescued he noticed that the greater number of those who were floating about in life-belts were either dead or dying (especially women and children). A good number of those who were rescued alive died before landing and some died soon after. Poor Mc Cormack’s savings in America (£100) and all his effects went down with the Lusitania, the only articles he saved with his life were his shirt, trousers and socks. It is to be hoped that when the relief fund is being distributed he will not be forgotten. He is now depending on friends for his maintenance as owing to the rope burns on his fingers he will be unable to do anything for months. As a boy Mc Cormack was an expert swimmer. He had every confidence that he would be able to save his life if rescued within a reasonable time. This will bring home to all young persons the importance of learning to swim well.

An article from the Leinster Leader describing the experiences of Messrs. Martin Mannion and Tom Mc Cormack, who were on board the ill-fated ship.

[Compiled by Mario Corrigan; typed and edited by Niamh Mc Cabe]

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