The loss of 363 lives would make international news today across print, broadcast and online media.
Two hundred years ago, that lamentable tally of souls were lost in Tramore Bay when the 350-ton Seahorse sank during a storm.
On Saturday last, a very well organised event was held in Tramore to make the tragedy’s bicentenary, with the Irish and British defence forces, not for the first time in Waterford in recent years, jointly participating and presenting wreaths at the obelisk in ChristChurch.
A fitting ceremony also took place on the beach on Saturday afternoon, as wreaths were laid in the waters to remember those who perished 200 years ago.
Speaking at the ceremony, British Ambassador to Ireland Dominick Chilcott thanked the people of Tramore, many of whom were represented on Saturday by their descendants, for their assistance in rescuing as many people as could back in 1816.
City & County Mayor John Cummins noted how the spirit of rescuing lives and championing maritime safety remains vibrant in Tramore, as evidenced through the high participation levels in local services such as the RNLI, coastguard, Cliff Rescue, Sea Rescue and Order of Malta, all of whom were well represented at the commemoration.
It was great to see hundreds of people turning out for last Saturday’s events, illustrating the sense of history that the residents of Tramore have in their coastal town, which, over the years, has shown its spirit in the face of tragedy, be it at sea or on the sand hills.
As we sadly recall, following the Air Corps helicopter crash in 1999 or in the wake of the Bolger Brothers tragedy in 2013, Tramore and the coastal community is full of spirit and community solidarity, mindful, as Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan put it, of “the sea’s merciless power”.
While no generation shall ever be completely free of sea-based or coastal emergencies, thanks to the increasing frequency of weather warnings and enhanced public awareness, we’re better position to prevent tragedies in the 21st Century – but we can never afford complacency. The sea must always be respected.
Last Saturday’s events was also interesting when it came to noting the interaction and co-operation between Irish and British Defence Forces, something which could not have been foreseen in a public sense as recently as 20 years ago.
These enhanced ties, as we’ve seen at the War Memorials in both Dungarvan and Cathedral Square in recent years, are an offshoot of the Northern Ireland peace process and the improved diplomatic relations between both States. Coinciding as it also did some 100 years after the Easter Rising, this news relationship speaks volumes for the distance travelled between Ireland the UK since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
That some in official attendance on Saturday last also attended the recent Pickardstown Commemoration is again symbolic of how far we’ve come and how many of us have come to honour our past, however complex it may be.
Having lived in the UK during the Troubles, when life for the Irish in Britain’s major cities was not always easy, to see the relationship positively changing is something we can all take pride in.
While we’re keen to see the UK remain within the EU, one suspects our diplomatic friendship shall continue to grow in the years that lie ahead, quite timely in this era of centenary commemoration. Lest we forget? Of course. But we cannot be governed by our past either.