Eugene Daly was dreaming, in a deep sleep. In the dream, he was playing his uileann pipes to a rapturous audience of dancers in the ship's sumptuous main ballroom. He played like a man possessed, jigs and reels, in perfect pitch. The audience were thrilled. All of a sudden he panicked and woke. He had woken up to the sound of water lapping under his bunk. Unused to electric light, in the windowless 3rd class cabin, deep in the ships hold, well below the water line, he struck a match. What he saw sobered him up. Unthinkable as it was, Titanic was sinking.... he grabbed his coat, leaving his uileann pipes behind him and made for the stairs.
In April 1912, Eugene Patrick Daly, 29, a weaver from Athlone, County Westmeath, Ireland, was travelling to New York City, just one of 113 Irish passengers who unfortunately chose the Titanic to emigrate to the USA. He boarded the Titanic on the 11th of April, 1912, at Queenstown (ticket number 382651). The ticket cost him £7, 15s, or almost 6 months pay for a working man.
It has been confirmed in eye witness accounts of the Titanic’s call to Cobh, that Daly played "Erin's Lament", "A Nation Once Again", "Boolavogue" and other well known nationalist tunes on his uilleann (elbow) pipes (a traditional Irish instrument) for his fellow steerage passengers, as America, one of the two tenders to the Titanic steamed away from Queenstown harbour, bound for the gleaming liner that lay at anchor far out in Cork harbour, near Roches Point. It was both a heartening and a poignant moment listening to those traditional airs as the passengers left Ireland, most of them for the last time.
Amazingly Daly survived the Titanic’s tragic sinking by clinging to an upturned collapsible lifeboat (Collapsible 2). He credited his survival to his heavy overcoat. Though frost-bitten and near death, he was rescued, but he lost his precious pipes. He would later file a claim against the White Star Line’ for $50 for their loss. Similar pipes, possibly Daly's, were recently salvaged from the Titanic wreck and are now in the Titanic Museum collection.
Eugene Daly got married in America to Lil Caulfield from Co. Mayo, and whether he was homesick or inspired by the Irish Free State, he returned to Ireland in 1921. He suffered terribly from paranoia on the return ship journey and never again set foot aboard a ship once they arrived home. With his new wife he moved to Galway where he found work in the Galway Woolen Mills. He lived at 7 St. Johns Terrace in Galway and was a popular musician in the city, playing pipes and flute in ceili bands around the city.
In 1961, after his wife died, he emigrated one last time to the USA, to Missouri, but this time by plane. He lived out his last days there with his only child, his daughter Marion Joyce.
Eugene testified at the Titanic Hearings in New York and his description of the sinking, the inadequate lifeboats and especially his eye witness testimony of a ship’s officer shooting third class passengers who were trying to board a lifeboat has been relied on heavily by historians of the Titanic and is the stuff of film legend now. His credible eye witness testimony of the chaotic scenes and passenger discrimination onboard Titanic was instrumental in the passing of new Lifeboat laws for passenger ships. He helped save many lives in subsequent ship wrecks because of the new Lifeboat laws.
His account of the tragedy was used as research in many movies and stories about the great liner. He was unique amongst survivors in his willingness to recount the story whenever asked, as most other survivors, no doubt suffering from post-traumatic shock, or grief, rarely or never uttered a word on their brush with death when Titanic sank.
Eugene Daly died on 30 October 1965 aged 82. He is buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx
I tell the stories of the Irish Titanic passengers from Galway on my Walking Tours of Galway. For more information check out http://www.GalwayWalks.com
Thanks for reading ... come join me on a walk sometime in Galway.