Eugene Daly: Westmeath Piper Barely Survives Titanic's Sinking

It had been about a half hour since 29-year-old Eugene Daly had been startled awake from his bunk on the Titanic by the strange screeching noise. As he came up the stairway and emerged on the 3rd class well-deck near the bow, what he saw filled his heart with dread. He hadn't heard an order to abandon ship, but as he looked toward the smoke stacks, he saw the crew was uncovering lifeboats on the promenade deck. The last place any person wants to go on a possibly sinking ship is below decks, but Eugene’s thoughts now went to his cousin Margaret Daly and her friend Bertha Mulvihill below, both possibly unaware of the mortal danger they were in.

Eugene (left) hurried down deck by deck to reach their room near the middle of the ship on F deck. Stewards were still telling 3rd class passengers they were safe when Eugene reached the girls' room and assured them that they were not. At first, they called him an idiot for being so excited about nothing, but he finally convinced them and quickly he led them up, toward salvation; the lifeboats that had now begun loading. Perhaps he gave a thought to returning to his cabin for his beloved uilleann pipes, but he wisely did not. This second trip back would be much slower, as now hundreds of 3rd class passengers tried to get to the lifeboats through the confusing maze of hallways and staircases. At one point, the three of them got on their knees and prayed for God to save them.

Finally, they came up the last stairway and were able to breath the cold, fresh air of the aft area of the promenade deck. As they looked around, they saw desperate people were going in every direction. Nearly all the lifeboats had already launched, full of mostly 1st and 2nd class passengers. The last four regular lifeboats were being loaded, one on the starboard side, #15, and three on the port side, #2, #4 and #10. The closest was #15 and they could see empty seats. The three young Irish people sprinted toward it. Salvation was at hand … or was it?

Eugene Patrick Daly was born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on January 23, 1883. Eugene’s father, Patrick, was an officer in the RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary). Patrick and his wife, Catherine had 8 children. Twins Joseph and Mary were born April 2, 1880; Susannah Mary on June 1, 1881; Michael on October 28, 1885; Thomas on October 6, 1887; Margaret on December 24 1889; and James on May 21, 1891. The twins did not survive long after birth; Joseph died April 3 1880 and his sister Mary the following day.

His father died when Eugene was 10. One source says that it was from heart failure, but another says he died from head injuries sustained during an Orange Order riot. Which ever it was, it meant Eugene, as the oldest surviving son, had to go to work at a wool factory in Athlone at just 12 years old, making 2 shillings a week. It must have been a hard life for a boy that young, but in his leisure time, after learning to play the uilleann pipes, he became a prominent member of the Clan Uisneach War Pipers’ Band, the Irish National Foresters Band, the Athlone Pipers Band and also belonged to the local Gaelic League. He grew to be 5' 9" with brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.

(Right: Eugene with his pipes.)

By 1912, his youngest siblings, Margaret and James, reached their 20th year, and for the first time Eugene was free to make plans for his own life. Like so many Irishmen before him, he looked to the west, to 'Amerikay,' “the land of the free.” And suddenly there was the chance to have a great adventure to tell tales about in the future. The Titanic, the largest ocean liner ever built, one of the wonders of the modern world, would be stopping in Queenstown (Cobh), County Cork, to take on passengers on her maiden voyage to New York in April. Eugene also planned to enter a piping competition at a Gaelic Festival in Queens, N.Y., shortly after the Titanic was scheduled to arrive in New York.

And so, for £7, 15s, Eugene booked his spot on the great ship for what would be far more of an adventure than he ever could have imagined. Eugene had two traveling companions from the Athlone area. He was joined by his cousin, Margaret Daly, 30, who was returning to New York, where her policeman brother lived with his wife, and Bertha Mulvihill, 25, who had also been living in the U.S. before returning to Ireland in September 1911. Her return trip to Ireland was, rather eerily, aboard the Lusitania, which would be sunk by the Germans off Old Head of Kinsale with 1,198 deaths just three years after the Titanic went down. She was returning to the U.S. to marry her sweetheart, Henry Moon, in Providence, Rhode Island. Eugene called the ladies his “charges,” so in the chivalrous mode of the time, he considered himself their protector.

Eugene Daly was one of the most well remembered 3rd class passengers by others who were on that ill-fated vessel because of his pipe playing. On April 11, as he, Margaret and Bertha were departing the docks at Cobh on the tender “America,” bound for the majestic liner that lay at anchor far out in Cork harbor near Roches Point, Eugene got out his pipes. As the tender carried those Irishmen and women away from the native land, none could be sure they would ever see Ireland again, and most would never see any land again at all, Eugene played a number of nationalist tunes that people later remembered.

(Left: This photo of the tender America about to depart from Cobh to sail out to the Titanic shows Eugene Daly at the lower left, with the top of his pipes seen near his right ear.)

Eugene was said to have played "A Nation Once Again,” "Boolavogue,” and a few others, but the tune most seemed to remember him playing was "Erin's Lament” as they approached the Titanic. There must have been many a damp eye and aching heart on the America and on the Titanic and perhaps even back in Cobh as the sound of that air wafted across the water of Cobh harbor to relatives left behind. (Below, Erin's Lament also known as "a Spailpin a Run.)

The many Irish and others in steerage would recall Eugene for more than just his playing that day, however. During the four days before their fateful meeting with the iceberg, Eugene occasionally played in the 3rd class promenade area on the forward well deck. Then each night in the 3rd class General Room, Eugene and other musicians on board would have a good old-fashioned Irish “hooley.” That included the final night, April 14th.

(Right: The 3rd Class General Room.)

Many survivors recalled that final “hooley” and remembered that the same piper they had heard playing in Cobh Harbor, and on the ship since then, was once again entertaining them. James Cameron would have his young lovers, Jack and Rose (who were fictitious) attend that final night “hooley” in his 1997 movie. When it was over, Eugene bid good night to Margaret and Bertha, and they all headed to their beds believing they would have a restful sleep and awaken in the morning to another pleasant day on this marvelous ship. In just a few more days, they were to set foot on American soil.

Around 11:40 p.m., Eugene Daly bounced in his bunk in his room, which was C-23 on F deck on the forward starboard side of the Titanic, nearly being thrown out of it. He heard a screeching sound as an iceberg was ripping a long gash in that side of the hull, though he had no idea what he was hearing. Eugene got up and put on his pants and shoes, but he was not overly concerned.

(Left: A replica of a 3rd class cabin.)

Going out into the hallway, Eugene met a steward who assured him there was nothing to worry about, that the giant ship was in no danger. He returned to his room for a time, but the sounds of activity from the floors above soon heightened his anxiety. He threw on his heavy overcoat and decided to go up to the deck.

The ladies' cabin was much further aft from the impact of the iceberg than Eugene’s. Bertha did remember feeling a “heavy jar,” but she and Margaret stayed in their cabin after also being told, “All was well” by stewards. When the ashen-faced Eugene arrived to tell them the lifeboats were being readied for launch, however, all that changed.

When they got to the promenade deck and sprinted for Lifeboat #15, they were sure the nightmare of screaming, crying people they had endured below decks was over. All three got into the boat, but then a member of the crew threw Eugene out. The pleading of Margaret and Bertha that there were no other woman or children there to board fell on deaf ears, and Eugene was ejected from the boat. With the two friends crying and holding on to each other, Eugene left the boat.

(Right: The promenade deck, showing some of the lifeboats.)

Seeing some crew members further forward working to launch the collapsible boats, he quickly moved that way. Had he stayed there he might have gotten into #15. Over 20 male passengers and a good number of male crewmen were eventually allowed to board it before it was launched. It carried the largest number of male survivors of any of the lifeboats.

As #15 launched, Bertha said she, “offered up a little prayer and (said to) the Blessed Mother that if I survived, I would name my firstborn child Mary, which I did.” Margaret later said, “I never would have been saved but for Eugene. He fought very hard for our lives.” His “ladies” were safe, but now Eugene was in a desperate fight for his own life.

(Left: Bertha Mulvihill)

One of the collapsible boats Eugene saw being worked on to launch on the roof of the officers' quarters, at the forward part of the port side of the promenade deck, was the canvas-sided Collapsible Boat B. Among those working frantically to attempt to launch it were Second Officer Charles Lightoller and Sixth Officer James Moody.

Water was beginning wash up over Eugene’s feet as he raced down the front part of the promenade deck. The ship’s bow was rapidly going deeper into the Atlantic as he clamored up onto the officers’ quarters to try to help the two officers and several other people to launch the boat. They would not succeed in launching it. As the bow sunk deeper Collapsible B was washed into the ocean upside down.

Most of the crowd of crew and passengers at this forward area of the ship were also about to be swept into the sea, and few of them would survive the frigid waters. Still, the efforts of the officers, Eugene and the others to launch that boat would not be in vain. Eugene managed to grab an oar from the lifeboat as he was washed into the sea. Like many of the other men from that area, he swam for the upside down Collapsible B, which was remaining buoyant thanks to an air pocket.

As he approached it, Eugene heard a loud crashing noise. It was the forward smoke funnel breaking away from the hull and smashing down into the ocean. It barely missed him as it crushed an untold number of swimmers beneath it. The huge wave it generated washed the overturned Collapsible B further away from Eugene and others who were doomed if they did not reach it very quickly.

(Right: Collapsible B near one of the boats from the Carpathia.)

Eugene did reach it, perhaps aided by the thick overcoat, which had an Astrakhan fur collar, he had put on when leaving his cabin. In water of 28 degrees, as it was estimated to be that night, few people could survive for even a half hour. Over time more than 30 men reached the boat, including Lightoller, who took command. The only way to survive for long was for all of them to stay out of the water.

They were sinking lower in the water and had to start refusing to allow any more on board or they would all be in the water and soon dead. Eugene never forgot one of the men they had to turn away telling them. “God bless you, goodbye.” He and other survivors also never forgot the horrible cries of those survivors in the water whose numbers slowly decreased as they died of hypothermia one by one.

Bertha Mulvihill was haunted by a group of the most famous victims of that tragic night. As she was boarding lifeboat #15, she saw Mrs. Margaret Rice, whom she knew from Athlone, and her five sons, Albert (10), George (8), Eric (6), Arthur (5) and Eugene (2) on the deck. Margaret had refused to enter the boat if her husband was not allowed on board as well. And so, the entire Rice family perished, which seems so totally and brutally unnecessary in retrospect when so many boats were launched half empty and then several later boats had as many as 20 or more male passengers on them.

(Left: Margaret Rice and her sons.)

As the night wore on Collapsible B sank a little deeper into the water as the air pocket slowly dissipated. With more of their bodies in contact with the water now, several men slid into the water and died as the desolate survivors waited for the RMS Carpathia to finally arrive. At one point, sure that they would all die, Lightoller led the men on the upside-down boat in the Lord's Prayer, but then they were picked up by lifeboats 4 and 12. Eugene was very nearly one of the men from Collapsible B who didn’t make it. When they were finally brought onboard that rescue ship, he was unconscious.

There was a doctor, Frank Blackmarr, who was a passenger on board the Carpathia. He had Eugene carried to his cabin, where he was revived with stimulants and hot drinks. Eugene had beaten some very stiff odds against survival. Of the 46 3rd class male passengers who boarded in Cobh, only 5 survived.  Eugene later dictated his experience of that fateful night to the doctor before they reached New York. The physician noted that at one point Eugene recalled all the crying women and children he saw in the water and sobbed, “My God, if I could only forget,” as his face fell back into his pillow. His would become some of the most controversial witness statements of any survivor.

Eugene stated he saw an officer shoot two male passengers trying to enter a lifeboat, probably Collapsible C, and then the aftermath of what he believed was the officer’s suicide. There were other passengers who had similar stories, but there were very few who were on the ship until after the last lifeboat launched who survived.

His retelling of having attempted to board Lifeboat #15 was held against him by some, considering it cowardice, and thus dismissing the other details of his experiences. When he recalled having attempted to get into #15 he honestly admitted, “Life was sweet to me, and I wanted to save myself.” It might seem that his willingness to admit to this would more likely indicate his entire account of the night was the truth. In the years since it has been speculated that it was 1st Officer William Murdoch that Eugene was describing, though it could have been one of several other officers. Eugene’s testimony would be important regarding the portrayal of Murdoch in many Titanic films, including James Cameron’s epic film.

(Right: 1st Officer William Murdoch.)

Eugene was lucky to be alive, but he reached New York with no clothes, no pipes, and had lost the £98 that was his entire life savings. One of the first things he did was put in a claim for $50 for his lost pipes. Eugene later described that final night “hooley,” playing those pipes, in a letter to his old band mates in the Athlone Pipers Band. "We had a jolly time in the steerage that evening,” he recalled. “I played the pipes, all the men and women danced.” He also still entered that piping contest in New York with borrowed pipes, but did not win.

Margaret Daly worked as a domestic servant in New York for many years. She married Irish-born widower Bartholomew C. Griffin in 1920. They had no children. She passed away in New York in April 1939 and was buried in Calvary Cemetery with her husband.

Bertha Mulvihill’s fiancé, Henry Moon, did not even know she was on the Titanic until he saw her name on a survivor list. He hastened to New York to meet her and brought her back to Providence. Bertha saw Henry first and later described their reunion. “Then I saw Henry from the back, and I sneaked up behind him and put my arms around him,” she said. They must have held on to each other for a long time. The couple was married in August and would go on to have five children. Bertha never returned to Ireland. Like many other Titanic survivors, she had no desire to ever board another ocean liner. Cancer would take her in October 1959.

Eugene got a job as a machinist, later working for the Otis Elevator company in New York. He married the sister of a co-worker at Otis, Lillian Caulfield, in 1917. In 1921 Eugene’s mother got seriously ill and he and Lillian decided to return to Ireland. Eugene thought he had put all the horrors of the Titanic behind him, but when the ship got out into the open ocean in all came flooding back and he began to have panic attacks. He could barely eat or sleep for the entire voyage, spending much of it walking the decks, perhaps wanting to always be close to the lifeboats.

(Left: Eugene with his mother after his return to Ireland.)

When they got to Ireland, they found his mother had recovered, but Eugene vowed that was his last voyage. Though Lillian wanted to return to the U.S., they moved to Galway, where Eugene got a job in a woolen mill. Four years later they had their only child, a daughter, Marion. Eugene never lost his love of music and continued to play his pipes around Galway. And Marion recalled that he still had the overcoat he’d worn the night of the disaster. She could recall having it thrown over her in bed on cold nights. The family called it “The Titanic.” She said the fur was tinged a bit green, from the sea water, they believed. The script writers for the famous Titanic film, “A Night to Remember” interviewed Eugene in the 50s.

(Right: Eugene, Lillian and daughter Marion.)

Lillian passed away in 1961, and by then Marion had married and moved to the U.S., settling in Missouri. It was no longer necessary to cross the Atlantic in a boat, so Eugene flew over to live out his final years in the comfort of his daughter’s amazing brood of 11 children. With his thick Irish brogue, he would regale them with stories of the most famous nautical disaster in history, and how grandpa managed to live to tell the tale.

A few years ago what appeared to be a set of uilleann pipes were recovered from the wreck of the Titanic and there was much speculation that they were Eugene’s pipes. Since then, however, it’s believed that it was two parts of a clarinet, not uilleann pipes. So his pipes remain somewhere there in the wreckage where Eugene laid them down after entertaining a room full of 3rd class passengers on that fateful night. He had provided most of them with their last happy moments on earth. Eugene Daly joined them in death on October 31, 1965.


Titanic encyclopedia

"The Irish Aboard Titanic" by Senan Molony

"Guide to the Crew of Titanic" by Günter Bäbler

Lifeboat facts

Erin’s Lament on Uilleann Pipes

Demographics of the Titanic Passengers

Titanic Timeline

Diagram of Titanic Decks


The Real Titanic McCoys: Triumph & Tragedy

Titanic Hero Hugh McElroy: 'Sand For Breakfast Tomorrow'

In the Footsteps of Bridget: A Titanic Connection

Tragedy Visits Mayo Village on the Titanic

Waking the Titanic Trailer (Video)

Assessing Titanic's Irish Connections: Part 1 -- 'From Titanic. Good Bye all.'

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

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Tags: Bertha Mulvihill, Eugene Daly, Margaret Daly, Sinkings, Titanic, Tragedies, music, uilleann pipes

Comment by Joe Gannon on May 4, 2019 at 3:20pm

A post card of the Titanic. 

Comment by Joe Gannon on May 4, 2019 at 3:23pm

Workers at the Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast standing by her three massive propellers. 

Comment by Joe Gannon on May 4, 2019 at 3:26pm

The report of the disaster in the New York Herald.

Comment by Joe Gannon on May 5, 2019 at 12:16pm

An article about Eugene Daly, Margaret Daily and Bertha Mulvihill from a 1998 issue of the Westmeath Independent. Click on it to see a larger version.

Comment by The Wild Geese on May 21, 2019 at 9:55am

A colorized version of the photo Ned Parfett, the young newspaper seller who appeared in one of the most famous pictures related to the Titanic. He lost his life just six and a half years later, aged 22, while serving with the British army in France during the First World War.


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