An excellent time was had by all at St. Mary’s Hall for the evening of ‘Performance and Presentations’, one of our Commemoration events at Holyhead.
We were pleased to welcome Richard Cruise and David Cotter from Dun Laoghaire to the evening. They were kind enough to bring a number of commemoration mugs as gifts.
They are pictured with our special guests Albert Owen MP and Rhun ap Iorwerth AM together with Holyhead Mayor, Keith Thomas.
The Primary Schools of Holyhead today took part in a 5-a-side Football Competition at the Holyhead Leisure Centre. The worthy winners were Ysgol Gymraeg Morswyn who beat a strong team from Ysgol Rhoscolyn.
Holyhead Mayor, Keith Thomas, presented the cup to the proud team captain.
The competition was organised with the grateful assistance of Holyhead Hotspurs as a tribute to the football teams that most Holyhead ships had at the time of the Great War. We are hoping that the cup will now be played for on an annual basis.
Yesterday, on 10 October 2018, people of Holyhead came together at the Town Cenotaph to remember those lost on RMS Leinster 100 years ago. In particular they came to pay homage to the 27 from the town who set sail from Ireland for home that morning but an hour or so later perished in the cold dark waters of the Irish Sea.
Relations placed wreaths and flowers to remember loved ones. The Royal Welsh Regiment came to remember the many from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who died. The Welsh Government laid a wreath from the people of Wales to all those lost. H M Lord Lieutenant of Gwynedd and Anglesey laid a wreath on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and the British Nation.
Pupils from the six Primary Schools of Holy Island placed remembrance crosses, each one bearing the name of one of the 27 from the town who perished.
Engineer’s Steward Edward Salisbury Moors was born at Birkenhead, close to the Lairds Brothers shipyard where RMS Leinster was built. He married Mary Richards at Holyhead in 1895 and together had 11 children.
He was aged 48 when he was lost on the Leinster. At the time he was living with his family at 9 Edmund Street, Holyhead. He had previously worked as a Stoker on other City of Dublin Steam Packet Ships, including one of RMS Leinster‘s sister ships, RMS Connaught.
His body was not recovered for burial. He is commemorated on the Holyhead War Memorial and the Tower Hill Memorial, London. He is remembered on a family grave.
Lamp Trimmer Robert Anthony was born at Holyhead in 1863 and was a former pupil of Park School. He first went to sea at the age of 12 working as a Cabin Boy alongside his father. In 1883 he married Mary (Maria Josephine) Rigali at Dublin.
The main photograph is at the time of their wedding with Mary’s father standing behind. Mary was born in Dublin, the daughter of Giuseppe Carlo Ludovico Rigali an Italian confectioner from Milan. Robert and Mary went on to have six surviving children.
When RMS Leinster was torpedoed Robert Anthony, as an experienced sailor, went to help lower one of the Lifeboats. Unfortunately he did not survive the sinking. His body was later recovered and buried at Maeshyfryd Cemetery, Holyhead.
Many will know of Holyhead’s Gill Brownson. She has been writing short stories about some of Holyhead’s Maritime Heritage and performing them at the local Primary Schools under the ‘Those in Peril’ Theatre Education Programme. We asked her why she thought commemorating the loss of RMS Leinster was important and why she chose to tell the story of RMS Leinster‘s Chief Stewardess, Mary Coffey.
This is her reply.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “you couldn’t write it?” Well, you couldn’t. The real drama, of this real story in this real few minutes of history with very real heroes, and yet, it has been my job to do that very thing, to write it, and perform it, in order to give Holyhead school children the opportunity to understand the significance of this tragedy, that happened just a few miles from their shores, the sinking of the RMS Leinster towards the end of the Great War in 1918.
I’m a Holyhead girl, and like all Holyhead children, I grew up with the understanding that there was something special about my town, that the pride we felt came not from wealth, but from the sea, and the way it bound our community together, from the brave kids jumping off the Mackenzie to the night shift coming off the ferries – we all knew somebody who was a part of the sea.
There is a movement in Community Performance, and in more mainstream Theatre, named ‘Verbatim Theatre,’ which is the dramatist’s response to “you couldn’t write it.” The playwright takes documentary evidence and verbal accounts, forming characters from truth in order to relay important moments in history or politics. I’ve been producing Theatre for nearly 20 years, in all sorts of settings, from Monterey Aquarium in Los Angeles to Richmond Theatre in London, often using Verbatim techniques to tell the stories of others – not my own – but this piece feels personal, because, at some level, as part of the Holyhead Community, it is my story, our story and one I feel passionate about telling.
The response from Holyhead’s children, when they hear that, firstly, it’s a true story is one of amazement, but then when they hear that the ‘characters’ in the play went to Ysgol Y Parc, or that Captain Birch lived on Gorse Avenue, their response is what Theatre is for – questions, and lots of them. ‘But what about her Mam and Dad, they’d be sad? Did Louisa Parry have sister and bothers? Did Hannah Owen have children? Indeed, after seeing the play, the children are taking part in an act of remembrance that feels vibrant and sensitive, and, at the same time, their literacy and oracy is spiralling as we place their stimulus to learn squarely at their front door.
The play wouldn’t have been possible without the account of the brave and courageous Chief Stewardess, Mary Coffey, a daughter of our friends in Ireland, and one of the few female survivors that morning. Though a male passenger told her to go straight to the lifeboats, she decided instead to go below and gather as many life jackets as she could. It is a mystery just how many lives she saved, though they will have been numerous. When I was writing the play (with the help of the brilliantly researched ‘Torpedoed’ by Philip Lecane,) my respect for this wonderful woman and so many like her, grew, and has stayed with me since.
She later became a governess and led a reasonably ordinary life, whatever that means, when surely, there’s nothing ordinary about a woman who took a decision to save as many lives as she could before opting to lower herself off the side of a capsizing ship amidst chaos and terror into the freezing cold waters of the Irish Sea and hope to survive. Incredible.
I’m so privileged to have written this story, and performed the role of Mary Coffey for so many children across our little island. I want to thank all the trustees of the Holyhead Maritime Museum, who made the initial application for funding to the Welsh Museums Federation, in order to make this Theatre in Schools project happen, and to the
RMS Leinster Centenary Commemoration Group, who have made it possible for me to share the story with the wider Holyhead Community as the centenary approaches.
Lest we forget.
Gillian Brownson is a professional Creative Writer and Performer working in community and mainstream drama across the North West. Find out more about her work here: http://www.astonishingadventures.co.uk.
She will be performing her story of Mary Coffey at St. Mary’s Hall, Holyhead on Friday, 12th October at 7pm.