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In the Footsteps of Bridget: A Titanic Connection

In 2013 our annual trek to the Ireland brought us to a pleasant small cottage in the little village of Lahardane, County Mayo. The choice had been more about it being a centrally located base from which to explore all around the county than anything else, as this was the most modern cottage we’ve stayed at over there. We usually like to seek out old cottages, and if they happen to have a thatched roof, all the better, but this time location won out over aesthetics and we rented a newly built cottage. I knew that Hubert's French and Irish troops had passed through Lahardane enroute to Castlebar in 1798, but was unaware of another historical connection.

(Note: On most of these photos, clicking on them will provide a larger view.)

After renting the cottage, we discovered that the parish of Addergoole, of which Lahardane was a part, had another significant historical connection to what is arguably the most famous maritime disaster in history: the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. There is now a Titanic Memorial Park with several large sculptures (above) in the village. Fourteen people from Addergoole parish left this beautiful rural Irish location on the banks of Lough Conn in the shadow of Mount Nephin to seek new lives in America on the ill-fated ship. No doubt they were feeling great excitement about their chances at success in America, and also at the prospect of sailing on the maiden voyage of the most modern ocean liner in the world.

On the 11th of April they boarded the Titanic, after taking the train from Castlebar to Cobh (pronounced "Cove" but then called Queenstown), County Cork. By the morning of the 15th, eleven of fourteen would be dead. Only Annie Kate Kelly, 20, Delia Lynch-McDermott, 31, and Annie McGowan, 17, the youngest member of the group, survived. Among the dead was Annie’s aunt, Katherine McGowan (right). Tragically, and obviously with only the most benign intent, she was responsible for Annie and several of the others being on board. She had returned home to the Laherdane area from the United States to fetch her niece, and then organized others from the area to come along. (Pictured: The last photo of the Titanic as it sailed out of Cobh harbor.)

Two members of the group proved to be heroes on the 14th extending into the wee hours of the 15th, the night the Titanic struck an iceberg. The steerage area had no direct access to the upper decks, where the lifeboats were stored. If not for John Bourke, 42, and Patrick Canavan, 21, none of the steerage passengers may have lived. Bourke and Cavan found a ladder up to the lifeboat deck from steerage and led a large group to it. They may have saved many lives, but both of them would perish.

Delia Lynch-McDermott had bought a fine new hat in Crossmolina before leaving. That hat nearly cost her life. Just as she was about to enter the lifeboat, she remembered the hat and raced to her cabin to get it, with her friends screaming at her to stop. When she returned, the last boat was being lowered. With her new hat firmly on her head, she shimmed down the rope and dropped the last 15 feet to it.

There are numerous heartbreaking stories regarding the group. John Bourke was traveling with his pregnant wife, Catherine Bourke, 32, (pictured) and his sister, Mary Bourke, 40. Catherine and Mary both boarded Lifeboat 16 and could have survived, but when John was refused boarding because they were only boarding women and children, they chose to get off and thus died with him. When Catherine left the boat, her place was given to Annie Kate Kelly. As the boat lowered, Annie recalled seeing John, Catherine, Mary and James Flynn, 28, another of the Addergoole 14, clasping hands. Years later, deeply affected by her narrow escape from death, she would become Sister Patrick Joseph and teach in Chicago-area parochial schools.

As her life boat lowered without them, Annie recalled seeing others from the Addergoole 14 clasping hands on the ship's deck.

Bridget Donohue, 21, worked at McHale’s Corner Store in Lahardane. She had been on her way to her cousin Bridget Burke, in Chicago to start a new life. Her mother had died giving birth to a boy, John, when Bridget was four, and she had spent much of her youth caring for him and three half-sisters from her father's second marriage. Now, finally, she was going to have a chance to make a life for herself in America, but it was not to be. To add to her family's heart break, Bridget was mistakenly listed as “Burt” on one of the passenger lists and thus the family was unsure of her fate for some time. Before leaving, she promised to send a ring back to 3-year-old Maura McHale, daughter of the store owners. She sized her tiny finger with a piece of string, but that piece of string went to the bottom of the Atlantic with Bridget.

When we decided to stay in Lahardane, we were unaware of its Titanic connection. However, after visiting the memorial park and seeing it every each day on our way through town, that connection was firmly implanted in our minds.

FOLLOWING THE 14 TO COBH

Fast forward now to June 2015 and we were on our annual trip again, this time staying in Ardfinnan in southern Tipperary. Cobh wasn’t far away, so one day we traveled there to go to “The Titanic Experience,” which is run out of the building that was formerly the ticket office of the White Star Line (pictured here, circa 1912). The attraction is run to simulate the experience of the people who bought a ticket and boarded the Titanic there in Cobh, the ship’s last port of call. So we were at the exact same place as the 14 who had left Addergoole. Passengers waiting to board the Titanic are seen at the White Star Lines building on the quay in Cobh, below. Some or all of the Addergoole 14 are likely somewhere in that photo.

Below we see this same spot today.

Near the beginning of the tour you are led out to see “Heartbreak Pier” (on the left above), where the passengers boarded small boats for the ride to the Titanic, which was anchored in the harbor behind Spike Island. This was the last place the Addergoole 14 would have stood on Irish soil.

Inside the building is a replica of the steerage class cabins (left) which were really quite comfortable looking, especially considering the conditions offered elsewhere to many of the Irish passengers. It was said that the steerage class cabins on the Titanic were as good as 2nd class cabins on most other ships of the time.

They also had menus on the wall showing the food that was available to steerage passengers and, once again, it was likely better, or at least more abundant, fare than most of the Addergoole 14 got at home. As the voyage began, one can only imagine that they must have been thinking that their adventure was starting wonderfully. They had warm, comfortable beds, plenty of nutritious food, and probably for the first time in a very long time, they had no work to do. And surely the trip would go off without a hitch, since the ship they were on was "unsinkable." No doubt they were feeling quite jovial and optimistic that all this was the sign of a bright future in America.

Each night the Addergoole 14 and the other steerage passengers could gather in their "general room" (right) to talk, play cards and share music and singing. On Sunday night, the 14th, the Addergoole 14 may have been especially festive, as they gathered to celebrate Nora Fleming's 22nd birthday. Sadly, she would live less than two days as a 22-year-old. The music and laughter would have come to abrupt end at 11:40 p.m., as the iceberg ripped several holes on Titanic’s starboard side.

One of the interesting aspects of the tour is that your ticket is a replica of the actual ticket given to one of the passengers who bought tickets on the Titanic there in Cobh. Each one (male given to male customers and female to females) has an actual passenger's name on it, which you can check on the end of the tour on a computer database to discover their fate.

I had the ticket of Bernard McCoy, 24, of Carrickithara, County Longford (below, right). Against all odds, as a male passenger from 3rd class, he survived (only 13% of male steerage passengers lived, as compared with 97% of women in 1st class). How he survived is another extraordinary Titanic story. Like most of the other male passengers, he was not allowed onto a lifeboat. So he jumped over the side of the ship and then was pulled into a lifeboat by his two sisters, Agnes and Alice, and they apparently fought tooth and nail with a sailor on the boat to do it.

This is from a story in the New York Herald from Agnes:

Several persons pushed me back and I saw a seaman strike Bernard's hands with an oar. Then he tried to beat him (Bernard) off by striking him on the head and shoulders. It was more than I could stand, and calling for Alice, I made for the seaman. With more strength than I thought I ever possessed, I threw the man to the bottom of the boat and held him there fast. Yes, maybe I did hit him once or twice, but I think I was justified under the circumstances. In the meantime, Alice helped the poor boy over the side and lifted him to safety.

Bernard certainly had a pair of brave and resilient sisters, and now he owed them his life. Bernard would later serve in the U.S. Army during World War I and suffer health problems from a mustard gas attack.

 It was one of those moments that
sends a little shiver up your spine

Bernard's story was fascinating, but the woman's ticket that Lindy received (below) left us shaking our heads a bit. She had been given the ticket of Bridget Donohue of Addergoole. We had seen her name on the memorial in Lahardane two years ago, and been in the store where she worked. We'd trod in her footsteps around that village, and then again here in the ticket office, and out to the pier where she embarked for her ill-fated voyage in Cobh. And here was a replica of her ticket, randomly chosen for Lindy in the place where Bridget had departed Ireland. It was one of those moments that sends a little shiver up your spine and certainly made us feel a personal connection to this innocent young woman whose death left a promise to a three-year-old unfulfilled, and the rest of Bridget's star-crossed companions from the tiny parish where we had been temporary residents just two years earlier.

On our flight home I had a window seat on the left (i.e., southern) side of the plane. As we passed south of Newfoundland I looked out at the Atlantic, knowing that not far from there, at the bottom of the sea, lay all that remained of the Titanic and of Bridget Donohue. We were now very near where her hopeful journey to a new life had come to end, but her ticket, or at least this replica of it, now stuck inside Lindy's pocketbook, would make it all the way across this time.

AMERICAN WAKES AND IRISH WAKES

When it had finally been determined for certain who had and had not survived, wakes began in the Lahardane area. No bodies of the Addergoole 14 had been recovered; thus, the victims' wakes were all done without them.

(Left: Addergoole Cemetery, Lahardane, where some of the bodies of the Addergoole 14 would have been buried if they had been recovered, with the ruins of Addergoole Abbey to the left and Mount Nephin in the distance. Below: "Untergang der Titanic,"  by Willy Stöwer, 1912)

When "American Wakes," the traditional farewell parties for those departing for America, had been held for some of the Addergoole 14 before they left, no one could have foreseen that real wakes for nearly all of them would so shortly follow.

This is from the "Western People" on May 4, 1912:

One of the saddest sights ever witnessed in the West of Ireland was the “waking“ of the five young girls and a young man from a village near Lahardane, who went down with the ill-fated Titanic…when the first news of the appalling catastrophe reached their friends the whole community was plunged into unutterable grief. They cherished for a time a remote hope that they were saved. But when the dreaded news arrived a feeling of excruciating anguish took its place. For two nights and two days “wakes” were held. The photo of each victim was placed on the bed on which they had slept before leaving home and kindred. The beds were covered with snow-white quilts, and numbers of candles were lighted around. The wailing and moaning of the people was most distressing.

THE ADDERGOOLE FOURTEEN

(Below: Lifeboats of the RMS Titanic, the only floating
part of the "unsinkable" ocean liner to reach the U.S.)

John Bourke age 42, lost at sea.

Catherine Bourke nee McHugh , age 32, lost at sea.

Mary Bourke age 40, lost at sea.

Honora "Nora" Fleming age 22, lost at sea.

Mary Mangan age 32, lost at sea.

James Flynn age 28, lost at sea.

Annie Kate Kelly age 20, survived.

Bridget Donohue age 21, lost at sea.

Bridget Delia Mahon age 20, lost at sea.

Delia Lynch-McDermott age 31, survived.

Pat Canavan age 21, lost at sea.

Annie McGowan age 17, survived.

Katherine McGowan age 42, lost at sea

Mary Canavan age 22, lost at sea.

(Pictured: The iceberg suspected of having sunk the RMS Titanic. It was photographed by a steward on the liner Prinz Adalbert on the morning of April 15, 1912, close to where the “Titanic” went down. Though there were other icebergs in the area, the steward, who wasn't aware of the sinking at the time, saw a smear of red paint along the base of this one.)

Related Links

Waking the Titanic

Titanic - The Addergoole 14

The Titanic Experience – Cobh

Addergoole Titanic Society

Demographics of the Titanic Passengers

Location of Wreck of the Titanic (and distances to other ships in the area that night)

Interior of the Titanic

Newspaper Headlines of the Sinking (some not close to accurate, example to the right)

Assessing Titanic's Irish Connections

Erin's Lament - Galway's Gain

Crooning the Irish Experience:
Q&A With ‘Titanic’ Songwriter Padraig Lalor

  • Jim Curley

    There's a wonderful book by Pauline Barrett, a relative of one of the victims, called the Addergoole Titanic story. It's a great source of more detail about the story.

  • Jean Sullivan Cardinal

    Wonderful, thank you for posting!

  • Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr.

    Grand article, the Titanic story goes on with the inclusion of so many stories about the people who were there. These stories help fill the perceived loss inflicted on our, and future generations. It simply gives heart and passion to history.  Slainte!