Mr. Michael G. Byrne

Michael Byrne, 44, was a naturalized United States citizen from Paulstown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.  He moved to the United States and lived on 444 Fiftieth Street, New York City.  He was a retired merchant and ex-deputy sheriff of New York County. He married a German girl who left Germany at the outbreak of the First World War.  Byrne was traveling on the Lusitania in May of 1915 to visit friends in his native Ireland.  He stated that before leaving New York, he heard of the German threats to sink the ship but did not receive a warning personally as other passengers did.  On the Lusitania, his cabin was B-64. He says in part, "So at 12:15 P.M. the Lusitania moved out into the stream and after the tugs had straightened her out, we moved down the river under our own power. Then after our pilot left us in the usual way, we steamed ahead for perhaps a half hour when I noticed we were slowing up. I focused my marine glasses over the bows of the ship and saw a warship off our starboard bow and what looked to be a passenger steamer lay off our port bow. On coming closer, I saw it was the Cunard steamer Caronia, now a converted auxiliary cruiser. Then I saw a boat leave the Caronia in charge of an officer who had three gold bands around the cuff of his sleeve. When he came along side I could not see whether any officer on our ship handed him anything or not. However in a few minutes we were underway again." On the second day out he went all over the ship to see if there were any guns mounted and found none. On 7 May he had his lunch and took a stroll on the boat deck stopping near the bridge to smoke a cigar.  He thought what he saw was a porpoise and then realized it was a submarine, complete with a periscope sticking out of the water.  He and several others around him who also saw the submarine fire the torpedo. The air filled with excitement. Byrne quickly rushed back to his room to retrieve and lifebelt and a few personal belongings.  He rushed back on deck, pushing past other passengers.  In the meantime, the torpedo struck the ship.  Byrne thought that the torpedo hit aft around the third funnel or engine room.  He heard "a thunderous roar, as if the skies opened" and concluded that the boilers must have burst. Part of the people seemed reasonably calm, others panicked, crying "We are doomed!"  He ran into First Officer Arthur Rowland Jones and asked him how badly the ship was damaged.  Jones answered that he thought they could beach the ship. Byrne then asked how they could do that when the engines were dead.  Several minutes later, the boat deck sank beneath the waves.  Byrne saw no chance in a lifeboat, which were being filled rapidly, and jumped overboard.  He remembered seeing Joseph Garry, the second surgeon, climbing the stairs to the bridge. Byrne prided himself in being a good swimmer.  He swam for two hours among the living, the dead, and wreckage.  He claimed to have seen the U-20 surface with a man peeking out to see the aftermath of the sinking. He made for a boat 200 yards away, but it was over full and could not take him.  He continued swimming, his ears full of the cries of the of the dying.  He found another lifeboat and hung to the side by the lifeline until a steward pulled him in. Flying Fish picked up Byrne and took him and other survivors to Queenstown.  He felt weak, exhausted, and had lost all of his trunks, but was thankful to have kept his life.  Afterwards, he went to stay with relatives in Paulstown.  A relative in England cabled his wife to tell her that he was safe. Per an article in the New York Times, Tuesday 25 May 1915, page 4, Byrne wrote a 54-page letter to his wife about the event. When Byrne wrote Cunard about compensation of lost belongings, Cunard wrote back telling him to file with the Admiralty.  Byrne replied that he had bought the ticket from Cunard and not the Admiralty.  In June of 1915, Byrne wrote the new Secretary of State Robert Lansing, expessing that he he hoped the United States would see that Germany compensate all American passengers for their lost property from traveling on a merchant ship. Contributors: Senan Molony Michael Poirier Judith Tavares References: Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1981. Molony, Senan.  Lusitania:  An Irish Tragedy.  Mercier Press, 2004. New Ross Standard, 14 May 1915, pg. 5. New York Times, Tuesday, 25 May 1915, page 4.

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