On 7th May 1915 RMS Lusitania, inbound from New York, was nearing the end of its voyage. Aboard were 1,959 passengers and crew. Although Germany had declared the waters within the ‘War Zone’ it was understood that civilian shipping was not to be attacked.
Nonetheless, off the Old Head of Kinsale, one – perhaps two – torpedoes struck. Over 1,100 people, including over 100 children, went down with the ship. Most of the 764 survivors were landed and processed through Cobh (then Queenstown) where Cunard’s White Star Line offices were.
The incident was a contributing factor in the United States entering the war.
Doyle was born in Cobh in 1913, two years before the Lusitania went down. He joined the British Army and was soon excelling in boxing. He turned pro and won his first ten fights inside two rounds. He fought for the British heavyweight title but lost, allegedly having done his warming up in a nearby bar.
He discovered he had a further talent and his rich singing voice brought him stardom on stage and screen. He toured America, singing, boxing and living the high life. He returned to Ireland but descended into a circle of alcoholism and poverty, his friends by now deserting him. He died in London, penniless, in 1978.
If you trudge uphill past Cobh Cathedral you’ll find, a mile or so out, on the left, a quiet cemetery. It’s well-maintained for the most part, but the older section has been left to grow somewhat wild. There are few visitors – the occasional small group of tourists or maybe a school party.
Now, follow the path over to the left, the west. There you’ll find several grassy mounds beneath which lie the remains of 193 of the Lusitania victims. Downhill, and in a neat but ordinary plot lies Jack Doyle, the charismatic Cobh lad eventually brought down by alcohol.