Lass in class: Change of "Titanic” proportions

March 11, 2014

When I was a young child, my father made the mistake of allowing me the privilege of watching the cinematography goldmine that was “Titanic,” soon after I was entranced by a digitally remastered “Jaws” on VHS.

Once the childhood tears subsided and I was properly scarred and terrified of big boats until my early adolescence, one thing did remain: I respected the power of the ocean. My most recent adventure in exploring the perpetually rainy Ireland brought me to the city of Cobh.

Cobh lies about 15 minutes outside of Cork City, if you were to allow yourself to be a tourist and hop in a coach called the Paddy Wagon. Presently, Cobh holds the entirety of the Irish Naval fleet, or six naval ships. However, in the early 1900s, Cobh earned the privilege of being the last stop for passengers to board the most wonderful ship ever built: the Titanic.

Cobh Ireland

I assume that most readers will already be aware of the story of the Titanic, but I will do a small recap for those who have never heard of it. The Titanic was a giant passenger ship. It was to sail from Europe to New York City with not only a French bistro and an indoor heated pool, but also the hopes and futures of more than 3,000 passengers. Sadly, on April 14, 1912, she struck an iceberg and sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, bringing 1,517 souls down with the ship.

In Cobh, at the last place of Titanic boarding, there lies a museum in the exact location of the White Star Line office, where so many of those passengers excitedly bought their tickets to the new world. The building remains unchanged and thus quietly poignant.

I got to stand on a balcony and overlook the dock that ferried more than 1,000 people to the Titanic, which was too large to anchor in port. I was even assigned the identity of a passenger, Bridget McNeil, a third-class passenger on her way to New York to meet her brother, who had migrated there years before. At the end of the tour I found out she did not make it to him.

Titanic passenger ticket

Today, our glacier ice is melting at rates that are changing the face of our world as we know it. The Arctic sea cap has reached one of its lowest-ever levels, and its thickness has been reduced to almost half of what it was.

The iceberg that ravaged the Titanic came from this sea cap. Scientists estimate it was more than 30 feet in length and almost 20 feet in circumference. This power of the Earth, this mammoth sign of polar success, brought down the greatest ship built by humanity. Which, in my opinion, demands our respect and humility.

It seems unjust that we’re destroying something grand without a second thought. For even though an Arctic iceberg caused one of the most iconic tragedies of the last 200 years, it also signaled the strength of the Arctic that we are now losing. As a student focused on protecting the environment, I hope that one day we can find a way to reverse this.

Balcony view from Titanic museum in Cobh Ireland

Peyton Sweeney is an English and environmental studies major from Bayside, Wis., who is studying abroad for the spring semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She will document her experience on a student blog, Lass in Class.