Eileen Ó Dúill recalls how the sinking of the Titanic affected people and communities from all over Ireland
On 2 April 1912, RMS Titanic took just sixty-two seconds to travel down slipway number 2 into the water. She left the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast that day for sea trails and her maiden voyage. RMS Titanic became one of the most famous ships in history when she hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank with the loss of 1,522 lives twelve days later.
Since it was founded in 1862, the Harland and Wolff shipyard had produced some of the most famous ocean liners in the world including RMS Olympic, sister ship to Titanic, RMS Britannic and RMS Cedric. The ship most closely associated with the city of Belfast is, of course, RMS Titanic. From 31 March 2012, the Titanic Belfast centre provides a visitors’ experience which commemorates the tragic history of the ship and its passengers. The magnificent new building evokes the grandeur of the great ocean liners and it has become a Belfast landmark.
This centre is the tribute to the three thousand Belfast men who built Titanic, the largest man-made structure in the world, the people who sailed on her and, most especially, those 1,500 people who lost their lives on the night of 14 April 2012. Visitors will learn the stories of many of the passengers who sailed on the maiden voyage of Titanic and get a glimpse of third and first class staterooms.
Since it was founded in 1862, the Harland and Wolff shipyard had produced some of the most famous ocean liners in the world including RMS Olympic, sister ship to Titanic, RMS Britannic and RMS Cedric.
The exhibition provides a tour through nine interpretive and interactive galleries, bringing the visitor through the shipyard, the launch, the maiden voyage, the sinking and the 1985 discovery by oceanographer Robert Ballard of her final resting place. The atmosphere is created with sights, sounds and smells of the ship along with recordings of survivors’ memories. Belfast, Titanic’s ‘home town’, has a right to claim Titanic as its own and has done so in a striking and memorable way.
Cobh, Co. Cork, or Queenstown as it was known when RMS Titanic arrived on 11 April 1912, also remembers the Titanic connection. At Queenstown, 113 passengers boarded the ship. Cobh has commemorated its history as a major port of emigration for Irish people seeking a better life in America by converting the White Star Line Office into the Titanic Experience Cobh centre.
While on a smaller scale than Belfast, the Cobh exhibition brings visitors through the boarding process which would have been the experience of hundreds of thousands of emigrants bound for America. Audio-visual exhibits evoke memories of the Titanic and the passengers who boarded in Queenstown. The pier from which tender ships, Ireland and America, transported passengers to the great liners bound for America can also be seen during a visit to Cobh. For emigrants travelling to America, their last sight of land was Ireland and for this reason especially, the memory of passengers aboard Titanic is cherished in Cobh.
The Titanic under construction in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast
A third location in Ireland has a very close association with the Titanic. Of the 113 Irish passengers who boarded at Queenstown, fourteen were from Addergoole parish (Laherdane), Co. Mayo. Of these, eleven perished, comprising the largest proportionate loss of life among passengers from any single locality represented on board. The impact can be appreciated when compared to the total parish population of 3,496 in the 1911 Census of the parish of Addergoole. The eleven lost Addergoole passengers represent 0.3% of that population, and 2% of all the third class passengers who perished aboard Titanic.
Since 1937, in the early hours of the morning of 14 April, a bell in St. Patrick’s Church grounds, Laherdane, has been rung annually in memory of the fourteen Addergoole passengers. Starting at 2.20am, the time at which the ship sank beneath the waves of the North Atlantic, the bell tolls slowly for the eleven who were lost, followed by fast rings in gratitude for the three girls who were saved.
Addergoole parish commemorated the centenary with the Mayo Titanic Culture Week 8-15 April 2012. The programme included a re-enactment of the leaving of the fourteen passengers, a traditional ‘American Wake’, the annual ringing of the memorial bell and other activities. Two unique memorial stained glass windows, one depicting boat 16 in which Annie Kate Kelly survived, were donated by American descendants of the Addergoole survivors.
The Titanic Culture week in Laherdane, the smallest, but perhaps most poignant, tribute to the memory of those who sailed on the Titanic, offered the opportunity to connect on a personal level with the fourteen people who left Addergoole for a better life in America, of whom only three arrived. Ireland remembers Titanic in the city where she was built, the last port from which she departed, in every village from which a passenger left and in every family that lost a loved one that night.
Eileen Ó Dúill is a Member of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland, and she specialises in legal and probate research, post-1864.