On 7 May we will mark the centenary of the sinking of RMS Lusitania when 1,191 men, women and children lost their lives. Our new exhibition Lusitania: life, loss, legacy remembers those people and highlights the strong ties between the ship, her crew, and Liverpool. Whilst working on the exhibition I have been fortunate to become acquainted with many Lusitania relatives, and Joyce Percival has kindly agreed to share her family story with us: "My great grandfather Michael Cooney was born in Liverpool to Irish immigrants Peter and Margaret Cooney from Limerick. Michael and his son, also called Michael, were both killed when the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 off the coast of Ireland.
My great grandfather was 46 years old and his son 20, both were fireman. Neither of their bodies were recovered, so both men’s names are embossed on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London. My great grandmother Elizabeth was left heartbroken with many children, she was eventually paid a yearly pension of £58.17 shillings and 2 pence which she received monthly. Three years later in 1918, never getting over her losses, Elizabeth died she was only 42 years old and left behind at least 8 children, the youngest only 3 years old being born just before the death of her husband.
My grandmother Mary aged 24 was the eldest living child, who by 1918 was married to a mariner with 3 children living in the courts of Hopwood Street. Now having lost her mother, father and brother, she took in her 6 siblings left at home to live with her. Can one imagine the conditions - my grandmother and at least 9 children some adults, all living in 3 rooms, one being a kitchen, using a communal toilet and water pump situated in the court yard which would be used by at least 6 other families, not forgetting no welfare system available to her. My grandmother went on to give birth to 4 more children, one being my father Charles Griffin, whilst living in the courts before being rehoused in 1929 in a 3 bedroomed tenement flat. A
long with both men’s names commemorated at Tower Hill London, both names appear on the Great War Memorial stone at St Anthony’s Church in Scotland Road and are also mentioned on the War Memorial site of Our Lady of Reconciliation." Joyce Percival You can tune in to BBC Radio Merseyside’s Daybreak this Sunday morning, 3 May, during which the service will be led by the Rector of Liverpool. The focus of the service will be Lusitania, and Joyce will be featured along with another Lusitania relative Joe Wynne.
Mary Griffin, the eldest child of Michael Cooney senior and sister of Michael Cooney junior. Image courtesy of Joyce Percival