Trevor Quinn and Edwin McGreal
It’s Thursday morning in Lahardane and the start of the Titanic Cultural Week is only days away. Across from St Patrick’s Church RTÉ’s Mary Kennedy is preparing to record a piece to camera for Nationwide when she is interrupted by an articulated truck which pulls up right behind her.
He didn’t realise his mistake and reverses immediately. It was a rare error because nothing, it seems, is going to stop the people of Lahardane putting on as good a week as they can to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
The desire to commemorate the event in ‘Ireland’s Titanic Village’ has been all-consuming. Beside where Mary Kennedy is standing a man is painting a house to have it spick and span in time. A group of locals got together to paint the vacant old surgery in the village so it would not be an eyesore.
More got together to tidy up some unfinished houses in a village estate which just missed out on the Celtic Tiger. And then there’s the Titanic Memorial Park itself. Much of the work was done for free, more for next to nothing and you know when you are leaving the village that the people from the parish of Addergoole are determined to honour the memories of the eleven locals who perished and the three who survived.
For the bulk of the 100 years since 1912 that hadn’t quite been the case. The tragedy was spoken about in hushed tones by relatives of those who died and there was, as Chairperson of the Addergoole Titanic Society Dr Paul Nolan states, a ‘stigma’ around Addergoole’s Titanic connection.
It was Paul Nolan, together with the likes of Toss Gibbons, Michael Molloy and Fr Seamus Heverin who can take much of the credit for reawakening the Titanic story in Addergoole and paying a fitting tribute to ‘the Fourteen’.
The tragic loss of 11 of the Addergoole Fourteen represented the largest proportionate loss of life from any locality on RMS Titanic but when Dr Nolan arrived in the village as a GP in 1984, he knew nothing of it.
However, during his first year, separate conversations with two elderly locals told him remarkably identical and emotive stories about the impact of the tragedy locally. The man and woman in question died within eighteen months of each other Dr Nolan saw that the stories needed to be recorded and he saw the urgency too as many of the locals with stories to tell were at an elderly age.
But it wasn’t until 2002 that the Addergoole Titanic Society clicked fully into gear and the inspiration came in a pub one night when locals were talking about the 90th anniversary of the sinking which was at 2.20am the next morning.
So ensued a late night jaunt by Dr Nolan, Michael Molloy, Fr Seamus Heverin and Toss Gibbons to St Patrick’s Church grounds in Lahardane to ring the Timoney Bell. So out of the blue was it that many locals the following morning were giving out about ‘the hooligans who were messing’ with the bell! Dr Nolan admits the initial commemoration was put together in a ‘scramble’ but since then the society has worked incredibly hard to create a lasting legacy for the Addergoole Fourteen.
“It moved slowly and we put together in a scramble the concept for the bell ringing ceremony. We realised ‘the Fourteen’ were never honoured anywhere, and they never had a headstone, and that was an embarrassment for the village, and that was why I think this story was forgotten for such a long time.”
Ten years on and what started as a ‘higgily-piggily’ idea has blossomed in to a truly remarkable community effort to honour the Addergoole Fourteen.
“That night we rang the bell in the church at 2.20am in the morning to honour the time that the boat went down. The bell hadn’t been rang for ten years prior to that and the sound of it coming over Lough Conn around the slopes of Nephin was extraordinarily romantic and very touching, and from there came the gem of the bell-ringing ceremony,” added Dr Nolan.
The committee which originally began with three members now has expanded hugely and all of the work is voluntary and is testament to the wonderful community spirit. Paul Nolan described the dynamic behind the committee as ‘quite incredible’.
“Since then at night time once a year we have honoured the 14 who boarded the Titanic from the area. Within two or three years it began to become rather formalised, very civilised and very serious. And from there on in the society grew so that other people who came to ring the bell and wanted to join the society did. We knew our focus, our focus was to bring the whole thing back to life again.”
Next Sunday’s ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary promises to be a very moving event in Lahardane.