Homily of Bishop John Fleming to mark the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic delivered in Saint Patrick’s Church, Lahardane, Co Mayo
“Fourteen members of this parish community joined the ship in Cobh, Co Cork, as it set out on its maiden voyage and its final journey … we recall their memories and we commend them, once more, to God and to His mercy. The monument to the Titanic here in Lahardane, which will be unveiled today by An Taoiseach, may do much the same for the future; by recognising the painful memories associated with a truth” – Bishop Fleming
For over three quarters of a century, the Titanic lay in the darkness of an unknown and unmarked grave some two and a half miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. During the past twenty five years it has gradually returned to the consciousness of the world, as its resting place was discovered, its tragedy portrayed in film and its centenary marked during these days. Today, one hundred years after the unsinkable sank, the world remembers one of the greatest maritime tragedies of the modern era.
Every detail of this ship has been recalled in recent months, as preparations to mark the centenary of its final journey were made. So much so that many a candidate could take it as a specialised subject on Mastermind. It is sufficient, therefore, on this day to recall only our particular link with this famous ship; the fact that fourteen members of this parish community joined the ship in Cobh, Co Cork as it set out on its maiden voyage and its final journey. Eleven died in the cold waters of the Atlantic and three made it to the United States. All have now gone to God and on this solemn and poignant occasion we recall their memories and we commend them, once more, to God and to His mercy.
Stunning monuments have been erected to the Titanic. Pride of place among these must go to the one here in Lahardane and the one in Belfast, where the ship was built. These will act as a reminder of a time and a truth, when time has distanced this tragedy from the minds of future generations and the truth may have faded. Monuments tend to have a life which is not unlike that of the Titanic. They seem to sleep for ever and then, suddenly, once in a while, come to life, only to fall back to sleep again. The Garden of Remembrance in Dublin was built in 1966 to recall the memory of all those who gave their lives, over the centuries, in the cause of Irish freedom. For almost half a century it slept, with the occasional waking moment. Suddenly, on a morning in May 2011, it came to life and with a profound bow, given by the right person, in the right place and at the right time, it erased much of the accumulated anger of eight hundred years of history and brought healing. I would like to think, therefore, that the monument to the Titanic here in Lahardane, which will be unveiled today by An Taoiseach, may do much the same for the future; by recognising the painful memories associated with a truth, and by that acknowledgement, signal the dawn of a new era.
And the truth which the Titanic represents from our point of view must centre on a human experience which is as old as time and as widespread as our planet itself, that of migration and, for us, emigration. Many, many years ago I read a book called Green and Silver. It described the journey made by an English couple through some of our Irish waterways. In this book, its author, L.T.C. Rolt recalls sitting on a hilltop in Connemara. Thinking, as he gazed, of the bonds which exist between a man and his native place he wrote “Yet so strong are the ties which bind a man to his own place that if one of these western men were suddenly transported to Eden, I believe that he would weep for Connemara and would ask to see again the peaks of the Bens”. Migration and emigration break these bonds and no matter how well the migrant or the emigrant does in the new soil in which they are transplanted, this fracture always leaves its mark. Neil Diamond put his finger on it “LA ‘s fine but it aint home. New York ‘s home but it aint mine no more”.
Yes, the fracture may heal with time, care and opportunity in a brave new world. The weakness, however, never fully leaves and a life is marked forever. Longing for home is a deeply felt yearning of the human heart. It expresses itself in unpredictable and often in unusual ways. The obvious ones are green beer in the Big Apple on St Patrick’s Day, goose pimples on the arms of frozen US majorettes in O’Connell Street, in Dublin, and funny hats on the heads of those who dare to wear them. The less obvious are the isolation felt by aged single men and women still living in dismal flats in London, the new Irish in this country who find it difficult to adjust to Irish life and the educated young who dreamed of a secure future in a land graced by a tiger who would never die.
‘Emigrants leaving by choice, not necessity’ was a headline in The Irish Times on Saint Patrick’s Day this year. Quoting the findings of an Ipsos MRBI survey, the political analyst noted that, at present, almost 60% of emigrants left out of choice while 40% said they were forced to emigrate. Another important finding, however, was that 72% of those who left the country said that they intend to return to Ireland permanently at some stage. “LA’s fine but it aint home; New York‘s home but it aint mine no more.”
Silence was the experience of this community in the aftermath of the Titanic; the silence of the three survivors who never wished to talk of that dreadful night again; the silence of the families of the dead of this parish for whom the memory of that night was too painful to recall until relatively recent times and the silence which engulfed the bodies of those never recovered or buried at sea. Silence has been a common thread running through the Irish experience of emigration. I have met many descendants of Irish emigrants who know little if anything of their roots and their Irish past. Why? Because their parents or grandparents found it too painful to talk of those whom they had left behind and whom they never saw again. Equally, in Irish families, I have met some people who only discovered in later life that they had an older aunt or uncle, grandaunt or granduncle. Why? For the same reason; the memory of the one who went was so dear to them that they simply could not talk about them.
Life’s hard knocks are very often carried in silence and silence still surrounds the experience of many people in our country who, today, are marked by their own personal tragedies which are lived out in private grief. The fracture of migration and emigration is but one of the many fractures experienced in our world. The other fractures, which seem to occur almost everyday, include the tragic, violent deaths of our young in midnight outbursts of uncontrolled anger, which erupt in a flash and end in a flash, with a life taken and families and communities thrown into unspeakable grief; the devastation suffered by the families of some one whose private pain is so great that they take their life into their own hands; the breakdown in the relationship of trust between peoples and the institutions of both Church and State, the illness and death of a partner in marriage or a family member; the list is endless. Once more, the fracture occurs, the sadness engulfs and the silent grief penetrates.
These stained glass windows in this Church, this beautiful park here in Lahardane and this commemoration itself are a monument, therefore, not only to those who died on board the Titanic but to all of those who carry the burdens of life in silent grief and with enormous courage. And like the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, my hope is that these windows and this monument, situated in the shadow of Nephin, surrounded by the silence of the countryside and marked by great natural beauty, will awake from sleep occasionally to allow a broken visitor to recall a memory, ease a personal grief and begin a healing process.
- Bishop John Fleming is Bishop of Killala
- Media contact: Catholic Communications Office, Maynooth, Martin Long 00 353 (0) 861727678