26/04/2012 Minister Deenihan Welcomes Donation of Artefacts from Wreck of Lusitania
Mr Jimmy Deenihan TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, today (26th April 2012) welcomed the announcement by Mr Gregg Bemis, owner of the wreck of the RMS Lusitania that he intended to donate a number of important artefacts from the vessel to the State. What the Minister termed as a “very generous offer” followed Mr Bemis’s meetings earlier this week with the Minister and with officials of the National Monuments Service and National Museum of Ireland. The Lusitania was sunk off the coast of Kinsale in May 1915 with the loss of 1200 lives.
The artefacts recovered, including portholes and steering equipment from the ship’s bridge, were brought to the surface in August 2011 by a team of Irish marine archaeologists and divers employed by Mr Bemis. The dive took place under a licence granted by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Mr Bemis has owned the wreck of the Lusitania since 1968.
Minister Deenihan said that the timing of Mr Bemis offer was “particularly appropriate” since it coincided with the start of a national programme to commemorate major historic events that had shaped the course of Irish history between 1912 and 1921. “The sinking of the Lusitania was a key moment in that period”, the Minister said. “It happened at a critical juncture in the First World War and was the catalyst for America’s entry into the conflict. Thousands of Irish did lose their lives in that conflict but the numbers could have been much greater but for America’s involvement bringing the war to an earlier conclusion”.
The Lusitania is protected by an Underwater Heritage Order made by the State in 1995 under the National Monuments Acts. All exploration or removal of artefacts from the wreck must be licensed by the Minister. Mr Bemis’ current licence allows him to explore the vessel to research the possible cause of a second explosion at the time of its sinking which may have accounted for the ship going down so quickly. He is also licensed to recover specific artefacts that might add to the available knowledge of the wreck as well as the lives of the passengers and crew. Any personal effects would belong to the descendants of the original owners.
The Minister said that he was also pleased that the discussions between Mr Bemis and the State authorities had agreed that “future research and investigations on the Lusitania would be undertaken on a collaborative basis and in a spirit of partnership”. The Minister said that a common archive of past activities on the wreck, with supporting video, photographic and geophysical imagery, would help to create “a more targeted approach to future investigations, especially in relation to historic questions about the cause of the catastrophic second explosion that led to such a huge loss of life”.
Minister Deenihan chairs the all-party Oireachtas group dealing with important upcoming centenary commemorations. “Mr Bemis has indicated his support for initiatives to mark the sinking of the Lusitania and his donation of these key artefacts creates an added tangible and valuable connection with this key historical event”. The Minister also said that he believed Mr Bemis’ “generous gesture would help to raise awareness of the value of underwater cultural heritage in telling the story of our past”.