Tales from the Titanic

One of the remarkable stories of the last century was the sinking of the Titanic - not just the scale of the tragedy with the loss of over 1,500 men, women and children, but because, in many respects, it seemed the death of an era of grand-style travel, of a time when the pace of life (at least for some) appeared to be typified by the grace and luxury of a fine liner making stately progress across the oceans of the world. The ship had many special Irish links - she was built in Belfast for the White Star Line, and also probably had more Irish victims of the great tragedy than many other nationalities - the Titanic was the vessel that could bring them to a new life in the United States, but many had their death warrants sealed because they were travelling below decks and in steerage.

By Mattie Kilroy

The Titanic had on its passenger list many from the West of Ireland who were at the time looking to greener pastures of the U.S.A. for a better future, a better life and, of course, opportunities to work.
Many of the passengers had their ticket sent home by a brother, sister, uncle or relative who had travelled to the U.S.A. before them and wanted to share in their new life and to provide an opportunity for another family member to avail of a better life than was available in the early part of the 20th Century.

Most parishes had some connection with the ill-fated Titanic but Ahascragh, Caltra and a parish in Co. Longford had five members on board and in the village of Caltra a Commemorative Plaque stands and proves to be a daily attraction for many visitors. The following is an extract form the book “The History of Ahascragh-Caltra”

Five people from Caltra parish booked tickets to travel to Amercia on the Titanic on her maiden voyage. They were: Margaret Mannion, Loughanboy, Ellie Mockler, Tom Kilgannon, Martin Gallagher of Currafarry, hero of the fateful liner, and Tom Smyth, Chapelfinnerty. The three men perished. Margaret Mannion and Ellie Mockler survived. Tom Kilgannon gave an Aran sweater to Ellie Mockler which his mother had knitted for him and it is said that she took it back to his mother in Ireland nine years later. Ellie later joined the Mercy Sisters.

Martin Gallagher was one the heros in that fateful liner. It is said that he recited the Rosary as the last of the lifeboats was lowered into the water. Almost fully recovered from the shock of her ordeal, when she was rescued from the sinking White Star Titanic on Monday, April 15, 1912, Ellie (sister of Martin Mockler) who had emigrated to New York previously, told the complete story of her experiences to her brother. Immediately on her arrival in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia of the Canara line, Ellie was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital suffering from shock and later went to the home of her sister in New York.

It was Ellie’s first trip across the Atlantic, also the first ship she had ever seen. Born and brought up in the village of Currafarry in the parish of Caltra, Ellie took passage on the steerage of the Titanic. She was accompanied by her neighbour Margaret Mannion and both were acquainted with Martin Gallagher who sailed from the port. For days, the voyage across the water was one of pleasure and gaiety.

When the ship struck the iceberg, Ellie and about eight or nine other young women were pushed through the hatchway by Martin Gallagher, the brave young man who lost his life. He fastened life belts on them and took them to the rail that divided the steerage section from the cabin passengers and lifted them over it onto one of the life boats that was being loaded, where they were all seated.
Martin then stepped back and made no attempt to escape himself. He not only assisted a number of women to one of the lifeboats, which the officers and crew made no attempt to do as far as the steerage passengers were concerned, but calmly remained on deck and took his chances in face of almost certain death.

Joe Giblin, also from the area, was to be another passenger on the ill-fated Titanic but did not travel due to a little too much alcohol at the end of a send-off party or “American Wake” as it was then know. He did not wake up in time to travel.

Margaret Mannion returned to Ireland in 1919 and married Martin Hopkins in Ahascragh parish. By coincidence, the ship on which she returned was the Carpathia, the ship which rescued many passengers from the Titanic. Ellie Mockler worked for five years with the National Biscuit Company in New York before joining the Mercy Sisters on the 8th September, 1917. Sister Mary Patricia, as she was then known, was assigned to Worcester and later served as Sacristan at St. Paul’s Cathedral for over thirty years.
Only 705 people survived the tragedy.

A night to remember
The following story of the R.M.S. Titanic is based on the account given by Margaret Mannion to her grandson.

She stood on the dock-side at Queenstown Harbour with the ticket she had bought in the town of Ballygar held tightly in her hand. She was waiting for the arrival of the fabulous ship the “RMS, Titanic”. Soon after the Titanic docked, a tingle of excitement ran through Margaret body. With her was the man she was going to marry when she arrived in “New York” . Two of his friends were with him and another friend of her own, Ellie Mockler.

After about half an hour, the long-awaited announcement came, “All aboard the R.M.S. Titanic for New York”. Almost immediately, people started walking towards the beautiful blue and white ship. Some were crying leaving their loved ones, others were excited going on such a magnificent ship on her maiden voyage. The Titanic was four city blocks in length with the latest, most ingenious safety devices. It even had a herd of dairy cows, but there were not enough lifeboats for the 2,207 passengers on board. Nobody seemed too worried about the fact that there were so few lifeboats on board because all were so confident in the ship. The Titanic had four large funnels so from the hull to the top of the funnel, it was at least eleven storeys high.

When Margaret Mannion and her friends boarded the ship they couldn’t believe how luxurious it was. The furniture was so heavy that one couldn’t lift it; it had beautiful deep-pile luxury carpets; it even boasted a French side-walk cafe.

After the Titanic left Queenstown, all the passengers were shown to their cabins. Margaret and her friend shared a cabin between them and her boyfriend shared another cabin down the hall with his two friends. Margaret stayed in her cabin for a while to rest, while her boyfriend went for a walk in “D. Deck” (D. Deck was for third class passengers) and to take in the smell of refreshing salt water. They didn’t see any of the three men until that night in the dancehall.

As the voyage progressed without incident, official sources say that around 7pm on the third night, the temperature dropped to 43F. Half an hour later it had dropped to 39F, and later still temperature was down to 33F. At 9.30pm second officer Lightoller is recorded as warning the engine room to watch the freshwater supply because it might freeze-up, and he also warned the lookouts in the crow’s nest to watch for icebergs. At 10.30pm the temperature was 31F. At 11pm the same night, other ships warned of ice on the vicinity.

In the dining halls and dance halls, the passengers were still unaware that the temperature was dropping rapidly. It wasn’t until Margaret and her friend went up on deck to get a breath of fresh air that they realised how cold it was and they also saw chunks of ice and little ice bergs floating on the surface.

Margaret recalled that they were just getting undressed when the ship took a very sharp turn which threw both of them onto the floor. Almost immediately, the Captain made an announcement asking for everyone to keep calm; they were only steering clear of an ice-berg. However, she recalled, he also requested them to return to their cabins just in case it should happen again. At 11.40pm as Margaret was just dropping off to sleep, there was a sudden jerk that sent passengers reeling across their cabins. This was followed by silence. The engines had stopped. Margaret recalled jumping up and rushing out into the corridor to see what was going on, as did many other passengers.

Suddenly, a deafening siren went off and people began to panic. Just as Margaret went back to her friends, there was a very loud crash. The two girls were in a terrible state because neither they nor any of the third class passengers knew what was going on.

In fact, up on top, evacuation had begun - if you were first class, your hopes of being saved were much better. The ship was, in fact, going down fast.

Down below Margaret recalled, the third class passengers began to get very panicky, especially as water started to rise about their feet. At last, one brave Irishman jumped up and said, “Tis do or die” and the rest of the men agreed. They stormed down the corridors followed by the ladies in their light clothes.

They were stopped by a large barrier at the foot of a stairway, put there to stop steerage passengers mingling on upper decks, but a few strong fellows managed to smash it down. They moved on. At one stage a sailor tried to stop them, but they took care of him and soon reached the top where there were two more sailors standing with guns. They tried to threaten the passengers by firing shots in the air but this did not frighten the men, Margaret recalled. They just threw the sailors out of their way and rushed to the lifeboats followed by the women and children. The second class passengers were just about to board the boats. The sailors had no other choice but to let the third class women and children into the boats. One by one the lifeboats were lowered down slowly and steadily.

Fortunately Margaret Mannion managed to jump into the second last boat to be lowered. It was there she lost sight of her lady friend and most of all, her boyfriend. The thought flashed through her mind that she may never see him again. As soon as they hit the water, the sailor in charge ordered everyone to start rowing straight away as fast as they could. The last time Margaret saw her boyfriend was on the deck saying the Rosary. They were all about a half a mile away when they saw the Titanic sinking.

The crying and the roaring of the drowning men and the few women in the distance, was a horrifying experience.
Fortunately, for Margaret, one kind lady in the boat gave her a fur coat as the temperatures plunged.
They spent twelve long cold hours rowing, when suddenly to their surprise and delight, they saw a flare shooting in the sky. They then saw smoke rising in the distance. It was the “Carpathia”. Everyone cheered loudly when they saw what was about the most beautiful sight they had ever seen.

The survivors were soon standing on dry deck with mugs of hot coffee in their hands. Suddenly, Margaret spotted her friend Ellie Mockler among the crowd. She ran to Ellie to console her and to console herself. They were both delighted to see each other and they were soon in the docks of “New York”.

Margaret Mannion was a native of Loughanboy, Caltra. She was aged 22 when she decided to emigrate to America. There were two reasons for her emigration: She had a sister Mary already living there, and she was also seeking employment. She had no arrangements made to travel on the Titanic but is so happened that it was sailing on the day of her departure.

When she finally did reach America, she got a job and spent seven years there. She returned to Ireland and met a man named Martin Hopkins, they got married and lived in the village of Ahascragh for forty years. She spent the last eleven years of her life living in Clontuskert where she died on the 15th May, 1970, the last survivor of the disaster then living in Ireland.

Courtesy of the Connacht Tribune
December 2002
By Mattie Kilroy