RMS Titanic outcome was bigger than we think

The memorial to those from Addergoole lost on the Titanic in the Addergoole Titanic Memorial Park in Lahardane.

The memorial to those from Addergoole lost on the Titanic in the Addergoole Titanic Memorial Park in Lahardane.

In 1912, the county of Mayo had been through seven challenging decades of continuous population decline. The reasons for such a plummet in numbers were multiple. High infant mortality, disease brought on by poor diet, a demanding lifestyle, and high emigration tested the people of Mayo’s strength to the limit.

The number of emigrants who left Ireland in 1911 was 30,573. More than 6,600 of those who travelled looking for better living conditions were from the province of Connacht and many, no doubt, were from Mayo. Shipping emigrants, especially to North America, was big business and several companies vied vigorously for their custom. The Canadian Pacific Line, the Laird Line, Mack Line, Allan Line, Dominion Line, and others took up pages of print media advertising space in the hope of directing committed and potential Mayo emigrants to their businesses’ local ticket selling agents. From Martin McIntyre in Belmullet to Michael Murphy in Ballyhaunis, scores of agents supplied the hopeful with passage from Ireland. The two giants of the shipping sector were the Cunard Line and the White Star Line. The Cunard Line had recently launched its ocean liner Lusitania and claimed to have the fastest vessels in the world. Its rival White Star Line’s counter claim was to have the largest vessels in the world. The pride of the White Star fleet were Olympic and Titanic.

On the morning of her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912, Titanic began to pick up passengers in Southampton. She then made her way to Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (Cobh ) in Cork where on April 11 further passengers boarded. Among those stepping on to Titanic in Queenstown were 14 passengers from the parish of Addergoole on the western shore of Lough Conn. Annie Kate Kelly, Catherine McGowan, Delia Mahon, and Annie McGowan purchased tickets from Mrs Walsh’s Hardware Shop, Linenhall Street, Castlebar. Delia McDermott, Catherine Bourke, John Bourke, Mary Bourke, Mary Canavan, Pat Canavan, Bridget Donohue, Nora Fleming, James Flynn, and Mary Mangan got their tickets from agent Thomas Durkan, also in Castlebar.

Already on board was crew member William Luke Duffy from Main Street, Castlebar. Titanic collided with an iceberg off the Newfoundland coast in the late, dark, hours of April 14. By the early hours of April 15, she was at the bottom of the Atlantic and 1,500 of her passengers were lost. Accurate news of the sinking was slow to reach Mayo. Initial reports noted seven of the Addergoole residents were on board, while the name of Mary Corcoran, who also bought her ticket in Castlebar, was listed. Mayo ticket agents described how some ticket holders had unknowingly avoided the disaster by missing their rendezvous with the ship or by sailing out of Queenstown the day before or after Titanic’s departure. Thomas Durkan wired the White Star office in Liverpool for news of his 10 Addergoole customers. The response stated conservatively that 675 lives had been saved but it was believed locally that all Mayo natives had died. But three had survived the nightmare — Annie Kate Kelly, Delia McDermott, and Annie McGowan.

The impact of Titanic’s fate reached far beyond the immediate disaster, quickly entering the political, judicial, and even entertainment spheres. Mixed emotions of sadness and hope on saying goodbye to family and friends turned to devastation and horror when news of the ship’s sinking was received in Mayo. The loss of 11 lives was felt throughout the county and among Mayo’s diaspora. The Titanic Disaster Fund was set up to collect money for the relief of affected families. Subscriptions to the fund were collected in Lahardane by local treasurer Thomas MacHale. The fund paid out grants to relatives and parents of victims.

To the Mayo families, grants ranging from £10 to £40 were issued. Titanic turned political too as groups apportioned ultimate blame on the British government for not doing enough to halt emigration. After passing resolutions of sympathy for the families of those caught up in the tragedy, the Castlebar Board of Guardians and District Council cursed the need for such large numbers of Irish people to have to emigrate in the first place. The board agreed emigration could only be stalled under a native parliament. The Philadelphia Mayo Men’s Benevolent Association took a similar line and passed a resolution condemning English misrule that compelled Ireland’s young people to leave their homes. Cases by relatives of victims against the owners of Titanic were heard in London. Successful judgments affected all relatives and Mayo claimants were expected to be paid out of court.

The first of a string of films depicting the ship’s doom appeared just 29 days after the disaster and starred survivor Dorothy Gibson. The now lost film, Saved From The Titanic, played in Harrisons’ Picture Palace in Market Square, Castlebar, in mid-1913. For fear of being accused of profiting from death, the producers billed the their film as healthy, interesting, and educative and which contained nothing to which the most delicate could object. Relatives of the Mayo victims and the Addergoole Titanic Society continue to sensitively remember the sinking of Titanic that took place this weekend, 105 years ago.

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