From the blog

Ryan v The White Star Line Song Synopsis

Ryan v White Star Line is a modern classical piece of music that portrays the story of Thomas Ryan (a 75 year old farmer from Askeaton, Co. Limerick) pursuit of justice for his son Patrick who drowned on the Titanic. It is a piece of Irish social history. It follows the 3rd enquiry in 1913 in London’s Royal Courts into the disaster and how Thomas inadvertently becomes the focus of a class action suit and wins his case against the White Star Line. This composition begins in 1913 and continues in 2013, both the music and the concept reflect contemporary issues.

Ryan v White Star Line is written and composed by Simon Quigley and sung by Martin McCann (tenor) and Clare Kavanagh (soprano) accompanied by a string quartet. It is a musical voyage that uses a geographical location and a specific year motif to plot the course of the piece. This is a nod to Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” which uses a similar device to explain it’s movement and tempo changes to develop it’s own themes.

The piece’s other characters include 2nd Mate Charles Lightoller, an intriguing figure that has enthralling back-story, and references the musicians who played while the ship sank.


The motivation for the composition came from a visit to County Limerick for Askeaton Contemporary Arts 2012. Askeaton Civic Trust had a separate exhibition of Titanic correspondence, including a picture of a letter from the Dock Wharf Riverside & General Workers Union sent by executive Ben Tillet to the Board of Trade on 19 April 1912. The letter complained bitterly how those in steerage were left to drown, while those in 1st class escaped. The Board of Trade was responsible for the terms and conditions under which people travelled at the time.

The piece recognises the sheer guts of Thomas Ryan to travel to London to the Royal Courts to pursue this case and win over the biggest corporate organisation in the world at the time. The case changes the law and allows many others then to follow suit to claim compensation.

The lawsuit came about because of a loophole in the law that meant because Patrick did not purchase his ticket personally, so he was not technically under the terms and conditions of the White Star Line. At the time these were set out by the Board of Trade and meant those in steerage were not covered if the ship sank.

There are of course parallels to Ireland’s current predicament and the piece comes 100 years of a cycle to modern day Askeaton where Ryan’s great great grand children live. It reflects how we still have emigration, the poor taking the brunt of consequences for the mistakes of the elite and lack of social justice still for working people 100 years on.

Ryan V White Star Line Lyrics

THE Third Inquiry into the Titanic tragedy took place in The Strand London on the 6th month, from the 20th to the 26th 1913 51°31’ N 0°.06’ W. Thomas Ryan of Toomdeely Askeaton, sought justice for his son Patrick, who perished with over 1500 souls that night and so begins Ryan versus the White Star Line.

Grey gothic walls, allow me to recall, a fight for innocence, the cost of negligence. And so I stand alone, wondering, the cats and dogs in stone, still hide my boy’s fate.

A humble man stands against the White Star line to find Justice for his son, lost in time, in ignorance, underneath the tomb, beneath the waves.

This case of great importance makes a timely bow. Exemption, impunity the actions of the few. Mr. Campbell standing tall up against this corporate wall.

Rich and poor collide in Queenstown harbour, Leviathan ship unfurls, the promise of a new world. With Ismay’s unremitting drive, the fall that comes before the pride.

Yet Patrick’s innocent gift was to prove the key. He had no knowledge of this great deceit. He travelled unaware, his ticket’s ghostly power, would come and subjugate.

Antillian, the Athenai, sent their messages of deadly portent. And as midnight falls, Lightoller, he calls for calm. They failed to navigate, the potentate, steerage to drown. While Wallace, Roger, George and Theodore played.

1913 41° 46’ N., 50° 14’ W. 1500 souls drown.

So steel and man must yield to nature’s brutal love. The power of these few men to sentence and condemn. As Morse went back and forth, and with no change of course of tide and time, blackened ice came calling in the night.

2013 52° 36′ N 58° 15’ W

The court they did decree, to compensate this litigant, significance to inform to change law for Thomas Ryan. This meaning and intent, created precedent and courts still cite this case, of which we honour here. Yet we still travel one-way and imitate our past, unbowed yet always proud.