A wave of pure emotion: Artistic Cork couple tell story of Lusitania memorial 

Unveiled earlier this month, The Wave is a sculpture that pays fitting tribute to the lives lost in the sinking of the Lusitania 102 years ago. CHRIS DUNNE spoke to the Cork husband and wife behind the sculpture
A wave of pure emotion: Artistic Cork couple tell story of Lusitania memorial 

PLACE OF REFLECTION: The Lusitania Memorial Garden at the Old Head of Kinsale which was officially opened earlier this month

EVEN more than a century later, the sinking of the Lusitania off Cork’s waters has the power to move people.

It’s hard to believe that 1,198 passengers and crew died within minutes that day in 1915 after the vessel was torpedoed by a German U-boat — but it is the individual stories that resonate the most.

One of the crew, Able Seaman Joseph Parry, helped to save around 100 people from the waters 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale.

The sailor, from Liverpool, survived the tragedy and for the rest of his life, he kept a leather baby shoe which he had been given to a grateful mother after he had hauled her and her baby into a rescue boat.

Sadly, both had subsequently died and on this little shoe, Parry had written the name Lusitania, the date of the sinking — May 7, 1915 — and the words ‘Lest We Forget’.

Poignantly, those words now take pride of place in the new Lusitania memorial in Kinsale unveiled last month by Minister Simon Coveney. They appear within a lifebuoy carved into a sculpture called The Wave.

This Wave sculpture was the work of Cork husband and wife artists, Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring.

The 20 metre long bronze sculpture lists all the names of those on board the Lusitania en route from New York to Liverpool 102 years ago and Liam explains how they obtained the commission.

“We made the shortlist of five artists,” he says. “We saw the garden and the brief was to include all the names of the passengers who sailed on the Lusitania when it sank.

“The contemporary artistic feature was a prestigious commission, enabling us to showcase all our talents.”

Liam is from Dromina, near Charleville, and Eithne is from Knockadoon, East Cork.

“It helped that we knew the Old Head of Kinsale well,” says Eithne. “The location resembles Knockadoon in many ways.”

She recalls where she and her husband were when they learned they had got the job. “At home in Charleville, drinking coffee!” says Eithne. “We were absolutely thrilled. We knew we could do it.”

The sculpture was two years in the making. It was cast in a foundry in Cornille-Harvard in Normandy, France, which also cast the new bells for the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2002.

“It was a labour of love and a unique experience,” says Liam. “We put our heart and soul into it. It was our baby.”

When was the idea of The Wave born? “The idea of the Wave came to us very quickly,” says Liam, as we walked around the commemorative garden where the symbolic sculpture takes pride of place.

The 20-metre sculpture curves around a section of the perimeter of the garden. Each name on it is accompanied by the symbol of a life buoy or a cross in a wave depicting their fate.a cross in a wave depicting their fate.

All the victims, from more than 30 nationalities, are recorded alphabetically.

The surface background is very rough in texture and depicts bits of wreckage, seaweed, crustaceans and fishing nets.

LABOUR OF LOVE: Eithne Ring and Liam Lavery describe ‘The Wave’ to feature writer Chris Dunne (right) at the Old Head of Kinsale Lusitania Memorial Garden
LABOUR OF LOVE: Eithne Ring and Liam Lavery describe ‘The Wave’ to feature writer Chris Dunne (right) at the Old Head of Kinsale Lusitania Memorial Garden

The ten continuing panels on the sculpture explain the tragic story in fine detail of the great liner on its fateful last journey.

“It is not a very dramatic wave,” explains Liam, speaking about the undulating curve of the sculpture. “Because the day the Lusitania sank, it was quite calm.

“We knew that we wanted to do a horizontal piece and we wanted all the names to go up and down as if they were carved along the fluidity of the water.

“We worked with the foundry in France using the traditional sand casting technique. The reason for using this foundry was its ability to cast large panels in one piece without any welding and retain the level of detail that was in the original design.

“Their enthusiasm for the project propelled us on and continued to motivate us. Immediately they said, yes, we want this job. We were back and forth to France all the time.

“On our last day at the foundry there, the locals came to see the piece and the chef from the local restaurant came with his wife to take photographs.”

Everyone was enthused by the project.

“We had huge support from the local Courceys and Kinsale communities as well as the Lusitania Museum/Old Head Signal Tower Heritage,” adds Liam.

Eithne is no stranger to foundries. “My late dad had a small foundry in Knockadoon where I grew up,” she says.

“His work was the very same as the work done in the Cornille-Harvard in France. He would love to have seen the sculpture coming together.”

Eithne’s mother has artistic talent too. She likes to paint,” says Eithne, who also enjoyed drawing as a child. “I was never without pen and paper,” she adds.

Liam got the artistic genes too.

“My mother loved to paint and she used to make jewellery,” he says.

The couple have been working in public art for more than 20 years.

“My very first commission was to create a mural for a tea-room in Jersey,” says Eithne.

A lot of in-depth research and ingenuity was involved in creating The Wave.

It shows the Lusitania depicted leaving Pier 54 in Manhattan’s West Side and making her way down the Hudson River past the New York skyline as it looked in 1915.

The iconic Statue of Liberty is also depicted in minute detail. The scissors cutting the ribbon symbolises lives being cut short.

The imagery resonates as the passenger list divides the crew list with an image of a luggage label.

The burial scenes are realistic showing the graves being dug and filled in. Two children at the graveside symbolise John Edward and Edith Williams, who lost their mother and four of their siblings.

“We worked on the names with Cork historian, Peter Kelly,” says Liam. “He confirmed them. To this day there is debate about the names. A hundred years ago, people may have been known by another name; their mother’s maiden name for instance.

“We googled each name to get the story behind it.”

The sculpture was made in two-metre sections.

“I constructed each piece resembling a boat on an easel,” says Liam, who studied engineering.

“We steamed the timber with a steam floor cleaner to make the wood pliable. We re-invented the wheel and had to use our imagination.”

Eithne thought outside the box too.

“I used pasta tools to flatten the images of the New York skyscrapers and I used matches to shape the windows. Some small dental tools came in useful too for the more intricate work. It was like playing with mala!””

Liam adds: “We loved the whole process of making it. One bite at a time, it revealed itself.

“Logistics, maths and physics; all came into play. It was a huge learning curve. We had to come up with solutions and do a fair bit of problem-solving.”

Was working together in close proximity the whole time challenging?

Eithne laughs. “It has its advantages,” she says. “Our work is a division of labour.

“We debate over detail and bounce ideas off each other.”

The poignancy of the tragedy is interspersed with symbols that all tell their own story. The baby’s bootie represents the infants both drowned and saved that day.

More than 102 years later, the saga of the fateful voyage of the biggest ship in the world is still remembered. Dozens of Irish, making their way home via Liverpool, were among the dead.

Only for the brave efforts of local fishermen form Cobh, Kinsale and Courtmacsherry who risked their own lives to save others, the death toll could have been much more.

“Thirty relatives were here earlier this month for the unveiling,” says Liam. “They felt the poignancy of the event.

“You can look out to sea from the garden here, and reflect and contemplate.”

The Wave stands proudly at the helm. The Lusitania, and all who sailed on her, will not be forgotten.

More in this section

Sponsored Content


Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more