On a cold May day in a steady drizzle, a small group gathered in the cemetery outside the St. Multose Church in Kinsale, Ireland. Sheltered by black umbrellas, they stood at the grave of someone who for more than 100 years was identified only as “An Unknown Victim (Woman).” A small group, including the descendants of victims and survivors of the same tragedy that took the young woman’s life, paid homage to her. That morning, a gravestone changed that designation over a century after her body was identified, a gravestone bearing the name Margaret MacKenzie Shineman.
I wonder about the details of the life of this woman who immigrated to the United States from Scotland, moved to Wyoming, and there met James Shineman, the man who would become her husband. She must have looked forward to seeing her mother again after a long time, to surprising her with her visit. Margaret and her new husband originally booked passage for the trip on a boat that was conscripted by the British government for service in World War I. When she was rebooked, the ship line upgraded her to second class, more comfortable lodging. Unfortunately, that boat, the Lusitania, was doomed by the firing of a German U-boat torpedo just a few kilometers off the shore of Kinsale. Margaret’s body was found at Kinsale, her husband James’ body washed up in nearby County Clare. Readers of Eric Larson’s excellent book on the sinking of the Lusitania, Dead Wake, might remember her story.
The sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 2015, merited only a line or two of mention in my high school history book. Learning the stories of those like Margaret gives life to that horrific tragedy that took almost 1200 lives, 90 of them children, in the waters of the Atlantic. What moved me greatly is how at least some in this small town in western Ireland still commemorate the event more than a century after it happened. They remember, even as the rest of the world has moved on.
Most poignant is how this memory has endured by honoring the remains of one woman, whose hopes and dreams and promise of a life ended in one shattering moment on a clear day in May.