Titanic memorial cruise reaches Cobh in Irish Republic

Sally Odell's relatives took what is thought to be the last photograph of the ill-fated Titanic

A memorial cruise retracing the route of the Titanic to mark 100 years since the ship sank has arrived at Cobh on the south coast of the Irish Republic.

Thousands of cheering locals welcomed the arrival of MS Balmoral, which is carrying relatives of some who died.

The ship is travelling from Southampton to the North Atlantic site of Titanic's wreck, but was delayed by strong winds.

The Titanic hit an iceberg on 14 April 1912 and sank, killing about 1,500.

After being slowed by bad weather, the Balmoral reached Cobh - on the coast of County Cork - to be greeted by bands playing and crowds waving flags.

The town of Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown, was the Titanic's last port of call before it crossed the Atlantic.

Passengers have a couple of hours to enjoy the celebrations before the Balmoral heads off at midnight to continue its journey.

'Part of our legacy'

The memorial cruise left England's south coast on Sunday to follow the Titanic's exact route - via Cherbourg, in north-west France and Cobh - to the spot where the liner went down.

A service is to be held on board at 02:20 GMT next Sunday - 15 April - to mark the moment of the sinking.

Analysis

The Titanic made a final stop in Queenstown on the south coast of Ireland before its ill-fated journey into the Atlantic.

Now called Cobh that history will be remembered when the Balmoral sails into the town's docks.

Those leaving Ireland a century ago had hoped for that fabled 'new life in America', but many never made it to the other side of the Atlantic.

While 123 passengers boarded the ship in Cobh, just of a third of them survived the sinking.

On board the Balmoral people have been learning that history in lectures given by experts.

And while strong winds have delayed this ship's arrival, there will be a civic welcome to mark her journey in Titanic's wake.

The Balmoral is carrying 1,309 passengers, who come from more than 20 countries - they include relatives of survivors, authors, historians and people fascinated by the Titanic story.

They will eat meals from the Titanic's original menu and attend lectures by historians and experts.

As the Balmoral neared Cobh, local resident and historian Michael Martin explained why the town was an important part of Titanic's legacy and "an extraordinary place".

"Of the 123 that embarked from Cobh, in what was Titanic's last port of call, only 44 survived... Cobh was the epicentre of Irish emigration."

And Dr Martin said the town looked almost exactly physically the same as it did when the Titanic sailed, adding that "the hospitality and the warmth" of residents was "as in evidence today as it was 100 years ago".

"It is a part of our legacy - a part of our international maritime heritage - and for those that did lose people that's a very important part of them", he said.

'Emotional moment'

One passenger, Susie Miller - whose great-grandfather Thomas Miller died when the Titanic sank - said she was "following in his wake".

She said although the cruise was meant to be "paying respects to those lost", it was also "celebrating Titanic because there was nothing wrong with Titanic as a ship".

Philip Littlejohn, grandson of survivor Alexander James Littlejohn and the only Titanic relative to have made the dive to the wreck site, said: "I'm sure my grandfather, a first-class steward on RMS Titanic, would be proud to know his story will be shared with the passengers on this historic cruise.

"It will be an emotional moment when we are over the wreck site, where I dived in 2001, and where my grandfather left Titanic rowing Lifeboat 13."

Three women dressed in vintage clothing Some people dressed in period costume for the trip

From the wreck site, the Balmoral will go on to Nova Scotia, where some of the bodies of those who died are buried, and then onto New York City, the destination the Titanic never reached.

The Balmoral was chartered for the 12-night journey by Miles Morgan Travel.

The Titanic hit an iceberg at 23:40 (ship's time) on 14 April 1912, some 460 miles (740km) from Newfoundland and took two-and-a-half hours to sink.

About 1,300 passengers and 900 crew members were on board the liner when it sank. About 713 people were rescued by RMS Carpathia.

In 1985, Dr Robert Ballard discovered the wreck 2.5 miles (4km) below the surface of the north Atlantic.

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