LYING in the waters of West Cork just 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale is the wreck of one of the most iconic ships in history.
In terms of ships from the golden age of ocean liners only the fabled Titanic is better known than the Lusitania.
Sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat on May 7th 1915, with the loss of 1,198 lives, how the Lusitania sank so quickly and with such great loss of life has always been the subject of much speculation.
A new documentary on the subject, The Dark Secrets of the Lusitania, made by Cork film production company M3 TV recently aired on the National Geographic Channel, hoping once and for all to answer the mysteries surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania.
The film will also be given a special screening in Cork on September 14th next where the owner of the wreck, American Gregg Bemis (82) will join an invited audience including members of the Coast Guard, Naval Service, Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan and others.
West Cork Times’ David Forsythe spoke to the film’s producer Aidan Mulcahy from M3 TV ahead of the screening.
LIKE so many of his contemporaries, filmmaker Aidan Mulcahy was forced to leave Ireland in the early 80s in search of work.
Trained as an engineer at CIT the Fermoy native went first to Germany and then to Australia.
It was during his time in Germany that he first began to work in the film and television industry.
“I started just doing odd jobs, set building, all sorts of things and it just developed from there,” he said.
“I ended up working as a technician on one of the big TV shows there at the time called Derrick, it was a kind of cop show”.
Bitten by the bug, Aidan continued to develop his career, first in Germany and then later in Australia where he worked for well-known production company Paper Bark Films.
“I moved up the tree, as a production assistant I worked on a lot of TV commercials for the like of Australia Post, Kodak, Mcleans, it was very good experience”.
By now it was 2002 and Aidan had built up a serious portfolio and huge amount of experience in the industry but he wanted to return home and ad the Celtic Tiger roared it seemed there would be opportunities in Ireland at last.
“It was like that, it was difficult here,” said Aidan, “I was an outsider and I couldn’t jump the wall. There were a lot of years of hard slog until I’d paid the ‘gate price’ and finally got my chance”.
Running his own production company M3TV from CIT’s Rubicon building Aidan did finally get his break in Ireland and took it with both hands.
From Here to Maternity was his first documentary series for Irish television charting the trials and tribulations of expectant parents and the staff at Cork University Maternity Hospital.
A big success for RTÉ and currently showing its second series the production firmly put M3TV on the map.
“I have great respect for people that work in the health service,” said Aidan, “once you get past all of the politics and the crap, at a very human level what they do every day never fails to impress”.
Continuing the medical theme Aidan also made the very popular two-part film about Marymount Hospice charting the daily lives of the patients and staff and documenting the big move to the new building at Curraheen.
His biggest challenge was yet to come however in the shape of the National Geographic documentary The Dark Secrets of the Lusitania.
With a budget of over a million euro and huge logistical and technical problems to overcome the film would prove to be by far the most challenging project Aidan had ever undertaken.
Success though would not only firmly establish his company but also prove a boost for the wider industry in Ireland not to mention National Geographic’s 300 million global audience.
“It was incredibly stressful and very tough going,” said Aidan, “but I can also look back on it and say it was a fantastic experience”.
The wreck lies in 300 feet of water 16km off the coast south of Kinsale.
Struck by a torpedo fired by the German U-Boat U-20 on May 7th, 1915 the Cunard liner went down in just 18 minutes taking 1,198 of the 1,959 passengers with her.
The sinking has always proved highly contentious with the German’s arguing she was a legitimate target claming she was carrying munitions.
The British always claimed she was a civilian vessel and should therefore have been off limits to U-Boat attacks.
The film follows the efforts of an American dive crew to find out once and for all what happened to the Lusitania.
Was a mysterious second explosion heard after the torpedo struck caused by a munitions explosion?
Why did she sink so quickly and was she truly a civilian vessel as the British claimed?
The film documents the efforts of the expedition, anchored above the wreck site on the Irish Lights vessel Granuaile, to uncover the Lusitania’s secrets diving to the wreck and cutting through the hull to allow remote submersibles explore areas not seen since she sank.
The gripping documentary recounts the tense dives in high seas, lab research into explosive theories and the haunting recorded testimony of survivors.
“There were many times when we thought we would have to give up because of the weather, the rough seas or because someone or something didn’t turn up,” said Aidan.
“We had a great team though and that’s what t comes down to with something like that, in the end we made it”
Premiered in July the documentary topped the ratings for its timeslot in the UK enhancing Aidan and M3TV’s reputation as one of the leading filmmakers working in Ireland today.
As for his next project, Aidan says there are several ideas in the development stage but nothing he can reveal just yet.
“We have a few ideas at different stages of development,” he said, “nothing green lit yet but we’ll definitely have something in production soon”.