The Lusitania and Megan’s Story


Lusitania: World War I (1914-1918) was a crazy four year long, trench conflict, in which neither side appeared to be able to break the stalemate. In the end, greater numbers won the war for the Allies, after the USA joined in 1917. There were a number of reasons for US joining the war. One of the chief reasons was the German torpedoing of the US passenger liner RMS Lusitania, on Fri. 7/May/1915, just 11 miles (18 Kilometres) off Ireland’s Old Head of Kinsale, with 1,198 passengers on board. This was all part of the submarine warfare. One of the 124 Americans, who drowned was Mr. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt (1877-1915), a millionaire sportsman, who gave his own life-belt to Alice Middleton, a young woman, before floating out to sea. His body, they say, was never found. Read on!  T.O’L.


Megan’s Story: Megan Folan, a good 3rd. Yr. History student in Coláiste Éinde, tells the following story:


     “My Grand-dad (Roger Phillimore) recently moved to a new house near Kinvara, down by the shore line. He wanted to do some research on the area, as they didn’t feel settled in their new house. He spoke with the neighbouring farmer, a man who had lived in this area, for many years. One day, this neighbouring farmer told my Grand-dad a story of a man’s body that had been washed up on the shore, near his home, many year’s before. It had been discovered and investigated by seven farmers living in the area.


     The pockets in the clothing of the body contained identification of a man named Alfred Vanderbilt. The locals assumed that, with a name like Vanderbilt, the body must be German. A money belt around the man contained some gold sovereigns. They decided not to tell the local priest. Had they done so they would, more than likely, have had to hand over the money. Instead they decided to split the money between them and to bury the body in a ‘Cillín’ (a burial ground used for children and outsiders).

      After hearing this extraordinary tale from the neighbouring farmer, my Grand-dad enquired of other local, knowledgeable, men from around Kinvara, if they had heard of the story. Two other reliable elderly men corroborated the story, which had been passed down through a couple of generations. My Grand-father then researched Alfred Vanderbilt and found out a lot about him. He was an extremely wealthy Dutch-American, who owned huge properties on 5th. Avenue in New York. Alfred was a passenger on the Lusitania, who was believed to have drowned, after the ship was torpedoed. According to existing sources, including Wikepedia, the body was never found.   


     My Grand-dad decided to make contact with the family. He wrote a long letter to Alfred Vanderbilt III, explaining everything. Within a week, Alfred wrote back, declaring his amazement at the story. He had grown up with the account of his ancestor, a great hero on the Lusitania, who had given up his life-jacket to a young woman and had helped put children on the lifeboats, before his own body was taken by the sea.


     The present day Alfred was well educated and had studied at Yale. He visited Ireland in 2015, on the centenary of the sinking of the ship, to talk about his family experience. However, he could never finish the story, as the body had never been found. Now, he may have found the last piece of the puzzle. He and my Grand-dad spent many hours talking on the phone, about it all. My Grand-dad recently went on Kinvara FM Radio, to talk about it, in an hour long podcast. I thought his story was fascinating. Even Wikepedia don’t have all the information, as they say the body was never found.”


[Presently, this story lies in the area between Legend and History, while awaiting further evidence. Interestingly, as Megan discovered, we must constantly re-assess historical narratives, in the light of new evidence.]

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