When Sheron Boyle was researching her family’s history she often wondered why her grandmother Margaret (nee Martin ), who had emigrated to America at 20 years of age, and who seemed to be happy and settled, living close to her relatives who had gone before her, suddenly returned to her farmstead near Rockfort in Irishtown, Co Mayo.
After a providential start, which I will tell in a moment, she had plunged straight into her new life joining her sister and her unmarried aunt (both named Celia Martin ), working as a maid in Hartford, Connecticut, for the politically active Hooker family. A photograph exists showing Margaret with her siblings who had also emigrated, looking happy in a very fine dress, her hair piled high on her fine young head, and smart. It was said she won first prize at a raffle, and that was a ticket back to Ireland. Margaret suddenly came home.
Years later a match was made with a good, but older man, Michael Boyle.They lived a hard life on his small farm at Emracly, near Milltown, Co Galway, raising seven children the youngest being twins. Michael, however, was in poor health for most of his children’s lives. He died of crippling arthritis, leaving a young family behind him.
Sheron Boyle, whose own father emigrated from that Emracly home to the north of England, loved her summer holidays at her grandmother’s house. She admired her grandmother, who worked all day in strong heavy boots, her grey hair swept back into a bun. It was only later, seeing a ring with the initial M carved into its surface, that the true story gradually emerged.
It appears that the young Margaret grew in confidence in America, and began ‘walking out’ with a young German who was non-Catholic. He had Americanised his name to Michael Blackburn (he was probably M Schwartz ), and he and Margaret had plans to be married. However, while a mixed marriage meant little or nothing in America, Aunt Celia was horrified. It is suggested that the money was quickly found to bring Margaret back home.
The raffle was only a pretence. Michael Blackburn gave her the ring with his initial M, just before she left America for ever.
Sheron only heard this story in recent years, but what had always intrigued her, and her family, was that Grandma Margaret was lucky to survive the Atlantic crossing in the first place. She was to travel with a distant cousin, and close neighbour, Celia Sheridan. They had both bought £7 steerage class tickets on the White Star line RMS Titanic due to sail from Cobh (then called Quenstown ) on April 11 1912. Queenstown was her last port of call before setting out for New York.
Luckily for Margaret and Celia, because in those days emigrants rarely returned to their native land, a huge fuss was made before departure. The traditional ‘American wake’, was celebrated. Cousins, and friends called to the house, presents for the journey, and for relatives already in America, were probably given. There was food and music. And if the young emigrants were too shy for whiskey, then certainly the adults indulged.
Between the jigs and the reels, however, the two young people set off late. They missed the mighty Titanic which had sailed the day before with much horn blowing, and waving goodbye from those along the shore. Luckily, the RMS Celtic, a sister White Star ship, came into Queenstown the following morning, and the two girls were allowed to sail on her. Two nights later, while Margaret and Celia were asleep in their cabin 700 miles away, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank. One thousand, five hundred and seventeen passengers were drowned. Of the 123 passengers who boarded her at Queenstown, only 44 survived.
Not meant to be
On April 21 1912, the New York Times reported that the news that the Titanic had gone down, ‘was received by Capt Hamilton of the Celtic last Monday several hours after the liner went down, but it was not known among the passengers until last Wednesday, when it was posted on the bulletin board. From that time on some of them kept a life preserver near at hand. ’The Rev Dr W F Hovis took the lead in a successful effort in calming the more excitable second and third class passengers.
The Chicago Tribune revealed that an SOS was sent to the Celtic but other boats were nearer, adding ‘After Wednesday the nervousness spread. Few passengers, if any, took off their clothing when they retired. When Mrs H C Berg, wife of a Rochester businessman, refused to go to bed, her example was followed by most of the married women passengers.’
On April 20 Margaret and Celia were among the first passengers to sail into New York, docking in the very bay the Titanic should have had. It must have ben a gloomy start to their American adventure.
As it turned out America was not meant to be for Margaret. And yet when the successive anniversaries of the sinking of the Titanic came round her grandchildren would notice it was a day Margaret spent mainly in silence. But the turning of the ring on her finger told a different story.
NOTES: I am taking this from the recently published A Brush with the Titanic Tragedy, published in the Journal of the Old Tuam Society 2017, by Sheron Boyle. Sheron is still researching her family story, and would welcome any information at [email protected].
Sharon gives great credit to her Granny Boyle who virtually raised her family single-handed, only to watch, as countless other families had to, three sons (including her father ) and three daughters leave for the UK and the US. The youngest son Sean stayed behind to run the family farm. His son Michael, runs it today.