I thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for inviting us to discuss the Lusitania museum and the Old Head.
The first sculpture at the Old Head of Kinsale to commemorate the victims of the sinking of the Lusitania was officially opened on 7 May 1995, the 80th anniversary of the sinking, which occurred at 2.10 p.m. on the beautiful, calm evening of 7 May 1915 at a point almost due south of the Old Head Peninsula. The local voluntary community group, known as Courceys Rural Development, CRD, was responsible for this initiative. Each year since, an annual memorial event has been held at this first monument, at the nearest point of land to the wreck, with all the emotional resonance this engenders, until more recent developments nearby.
In 2010, CRD decided to explore the development possibilities of the nearby site of the ruinous Napoleonic signal tower. After some initial research it was established that the title deeds to the site were held by the OPW. No other State agency had an interest. CRD approached the OPW and this resulted a number of years later in the granting of a 50-year lease on the 0.784 ha site surrounding the signal tower. In 2012, CRD, with grant assistance from the Heritage Council and the West Cork Development Partnership, which at that time was the LEADER programme in the area, commissioned a baseline feasibility study on the signal tower and site. This led to the creation of a master plan for the site as a whole, consisting of three proposed elements: first, the restoration of the ruined signal tower as a panoramic viewing point and heritage and visitors' centre; second, the creation of a Lusitania memorial garden to commemorate sensitively the tragedy of the sinking of the Lusitania with such enormous loss of innocent lives; and, third, the construction of an accredited basement Lusitania museum with associated services to tell the story of the Lusitania in all its magnificence and tragedy, with an especial emphasis on the personal stories of crew and passengers.
CRD immediately set about the first target, the restoration of the signal tower. We continued a series of local fundraising efforts to support the large local financial contribution which we knew would be required. We commissioned conservation architect John Greene to design the restored signal tower and to engage the other professional services needed. We applied successfully to Cork County Council for planning permission. We made a major capital grant application to the West Cork Development Partnership. That application, as it happened, fell through, but within a few months Fáilte Ireland stepped into the breach with the essential grant assistance, which then allowed us to proceed to the capital tender stage. MMD Construction (Cork) Limited won the contract and began work on the restoration of the tower in the autumn of 2014. Members can see in our submission an image of how the tower looked in its original condition and, beneath that, an image of the restored signal tower. We had a magnificent official opening ceremony, performed by the then Minister for Defence and current Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, on 7 May 2015 - we homed in on the date of 7 May in all our activities - in conjunction with the Lusitania centenary commemoration, with more than 20 Lusitania relatives present. We opened for business the following day and have managed to remain open from March to October each year since. From 2016 onwards we have employed people on a seasonal basis. This year we have five employees. We operate on a break-even, not-for-profit basis.
Other significant developments took place while all this work was in progress. We applied to Fáilte Ireland for inclusion in the Wild Atlantic Way and were granted "signature discovery point" status. On legal advice we created a company limited by guarantee with no share capital in order to carry out our business in an efficient and transparent manner. The company is Lusitania Museum/Old Head Signal Tower Heritage CLG, under which title we are here today.
Very early in our development planning we decided to approach Mr. Gregg Bemis, who owned the wreck of the Lusitania, to ask him very politely if he would consider donating Lusitania artefacts recently recovered during licensed diving operations carried out by diver Eoin McGarry. That initial contact has led to a most fruitful relationship with a man whom we now consider a friend, culminating in the formal legal gifting of the wreck of the Lusitania to our company on 7 May this year. Mr. Bemis travelled from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives, for the occasion. The four items pictured in our submission are Lusitania artefacts recovered in the past five or six years.
Once the signal tower had been restored, Lusitania Museum/Old Head Signal Tower Heritage CLG, LMOH, immediately set to work on the second target, the design and creation of a sensitive Lusitania memorial garden in the sunken semicircular area to the south seaward side of the restored tower. After a tender process, we commissioned the firm of landscape architects, Cunnane Stratton Reynolds, to design the garden. We again applied successfully for planning permission and went to e-tender to determine a contractor. The contract was won by Cameron Kiernan Landscaping Limited. We decided to establish a separate process to design and commission a memorial sculpture which would be the centrepiece of the garden. We engaged the services of the National Sculpture Factory in Cork to select the sculptors. North Cork artists Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring were commissioned to implement their design, a 20 m curved bronze "wave" to contain the 1,962 names of all persons aboard the Lusitania on 7 May 1915 as well as appropriate history panels such as the 1915 Manhattan skyline. The Lusitania had sailed from Pier 54 on 1 May 1915. Capital grant support was again provided by Fáilte Ireland and this time also by Cork County Council. The Lusitania Memorial Garden was officially opened by the then Minister for Defence on 7 May 2017, two years after we opened the signal tower, which members can see in our submission. There was a further remarkable inclusion in the Lusitania Memorial Garden in 2018. We became aware that a davit, which is a crane, from one of the Lusitania lifeboats had, by a series of coincidences, been standing in the Marine Park in Annalong, near Newry, for over 40 years. After some deft political negotiations, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, including members of every political party in the North of Ireland, unanimously agreed to gift the davit to the Lusitania Memorial Garden. Members can see the davit in our submission. There was a formal hand-over ceremony in the Newry council offices in June and a formal unveiling ceremony at the Old Head performed by Mr. Bemis at the end of August last year, with each of the political parties from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council represented.
The davit is now standing in the memorial garden, with its arm pointing towards the wreck of the Lusitania as a permanent reminder of a wonderful example of North-South co-operation. We have recorded on a nearby plaque the unique history of the davit and the people involved in its return. My written submission includes pictures of the wave sculpture in the garden. A picture shows Eithne Ring, one of the artists.
The third and most ambitious target is to design and build an accredited basement Lusitania museum that will, through the public display of recovered artefacts, the use of modern multimedia methods, the design of the building and attracting by gift or loan Lusitania artefacts held at home or abroad, tell the story of the Lusitania, its crew and passengers by providing the visitor with a walk back in time to help him or her to gain an insight into the magnificence of the ship, with its state-of-the-art engineering. Critically, it should provide an insight into some of the reasons the ship became entangled in the tragedy of the Great War, resulting in its untimely demise. The plan would be to rival Titanic Belfast in terms of historical and heritage appeal at the beautiful, scenic, accessible and resonant location, at the highest point of the Old Head of Kinsale Peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Way, but, thankfully, not in terms of cost.
We began the third phase of the project by engaging John McLaughlin Architects Limited., at a cost of €12,300, to undertake an additional architectural outline study of options for delivering the basement museum and visitor centre. This was the third part of the original master plan. The firm’s report is a foundation document for the full design team tendering process which includes site analysis, a developed project brief, an order of magnitude cost estimate and an artist’s impression of the centre. While the Lusitania museum would be the central attraction, displaying as many artefacts as possible in a meaningful context, many other items of local interest, including an Old Head lighthouse history and artefacts, a coast guard history and artefacts, as well as local history and geology, should be accommodated. The result of the study is shown briefly in an artist’s impression, showing the Old Head lighthouse, a sketch of Old Head and the Lusitania Memorial Garden which comprises a circular area. The tower is in the middle, while the museum will be to the north in an L-shaped configuration.
The order of magnitude cost estimate for the building is approximately €3 million. This figure covers the actual building, not its fitting out, which presents a different problem. With the study to hand, we made two major grant funding applications. In 2018 we applied for design funding from the rural regeneration development fund under the auspices of Cork County Council. We have not attracted any assistance so far through this vehicle. Although the scheme makes provision for specific design funding, it seems that a policy decision was made at an early stage to fund only shovel-ready projects in the first and second allocations, which I believe have been made.
This year Fáilte Ireland launched its €150 million platforms for growth 2019 to 2022 investment fund for immersive heritage and cultural attractions. We have applied for funding under the programme and successfully passed stage 1 of an extremely competitive five stage process. Recently we received an update on the status of the evaluation of stage 2 applications. We are at stage 2. We were informed that 141 submissions had been received for projects nationwide, with an indicative value of €1.3 billion. This means that only the strongest projects will be invited to proceed to stage 3. In our case, there are additional constraints. The ground rules prioritise the northern half of the Wild Atlantic Way. As a voluntary community group, we will find it very difficult to compete against public bodies such as county and city councils which are making most of the applications when it comes to providing match funding in the order of 25% which we understand will be a prerequisite for success at stage 3 if we are invited to progress that far. We will not know until about the end of November whether we will have been successful on stage 2. We have approached SECAD, the current Leader programme that covers our part of the country, and Cork County Council to discuss possible phased funding options in advancing our plans.
In addition to all of these initiatives, we decided to engage the services of the firm Harris Coyle Breen, chartered quantity surveyors, to tender for an architect-led full design team. We need to select a full design team for the proposed Lusitania museum and visitor centre. That is costing us roughly €6,000 from our own resources. The tender returns are due on 25 September. They will be evaluated and the chosen design team will be selected in the following few weeks. When this process is complete, we will again contact SECAD and Cork County Council about phased funding. The only way we can do this business is on a phased basis.