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The tragedy of Mayo’s Titanic emigrants

Titanic remembered
Stained-glass window, designed by Michael Coleman, in St Patrick’s Church in Lahardane

The tragedy of Mayo’s Titanic emigrants


Edwin McGreal

“The Titanic when she was built was meant to make history. It never occurred to anyone - not even to her builders or her owners that she was destined to make history so suddenly and so  certainly.”
Belfast Evening Telegraph, April 16, 1912

Stained-glass window, designed by Michael Coleman, in St Patrick’s Church in LahardaneFourteen people set-off from the village of Lahardane on April 11, 1912 in the hope of a great new life in the USA. They would form what is believed to be the greatest representation from the one area aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic.
Three of their number had been there already and people in Addergoole saw plenty of evidence that the grass certainly was greener on the other side of the Atlantic.
Catherine McGowan is credited with spreading the tale of the American Dream with the greatest degree of ease. Locals could clearly see that the native of Terryduff had done very well for herself. She left in 1905 and progressed to owning a boarding house in Cleveland before moving to Chicago.
She regularly sent money home including, in 1908, enough to pay for a lavish headstone for her parents. Her friend, Catherine McHugh, had been in Chicago with her and although she returned home in 1910 and married childhood sweetheart John Bourke, Chicago was still close to her heart.
Mary Mangan was home from American after getting engaged to another emigrant by the name of Walsh from Crossmolina. The fact that she could afford to come home for such a visit and the sight of her solitaire diamond engagement ring would quickly have convinced neighbours that Mary had done well for herself too.
Catherine McGowan had returned home to bring her niece, Annie McGowan, over to America with her. It is believed that she encouraged as many locals as possible to join them on the trip. Some, like John and Catherine Bourke and John’s sister Mary, were going in any event but Catherine’s promptings do appear to have been a factor in convincing many of the Addergoole Fourteen to go west.
The Ireland they were leaving didn’t hold near as much opportunity. Parnell had fallen, political emancipation was almost in reverse and poverty was a fact of life, especially in the west of Ireland. It is little wonder then that those among the Addergoole Fourteen who had never left home were willing to uproot and move to a distant land in the hope of finding a better life than their home place could offer them.
A big adventure was ahead of them. Little could they have known that they would be involved in a story, a tragedy, which still resonates across the world over 100 years later.

FINAL GOODBYE This striking stained-glass window, designed by Michael Coleman, in St Patrick’s Church in Lahardane shows one of the Addergoole Fourteen, Annie Kate Kelly, on the lifeboat waving a heartbreaking goodbye to friends and neighbours. Among them are Catherine and Mary Bourke who would not leave John Bourke, their husband and brother, respectively, behind.?Pics: Michael McLaughlin

Eleven natives of the parish of Addergoole, which sits beneath the watchful eye of Nephin, were taken by the sea when RMS Titanic hit an iceberg just before midnight on April 14 and sunk at 2.20am the following morning.
Their story is a fascinating and tragic one, a multi-layered tale with so much depth to it. As Dr Paul Nolan, Chairperson of the Addergoole Titanic Society, argues, the Addergoole Fourteen were the story of the steerage class on Titanic.
Three of them survived - Annie Kate Kelly, Annie McGowan and Delia McDermott. Catherine and Mary Bourke refused to leave their husband and brother, John, behind when they were offered a place on a lifeboat. The three Bourkes went down with the Titanic.
James Flynn tried to get on a lifeboat too but was refused.
At home news was slow in coming through and signals were very mixed in terms of casualties with confusion over names adding to the tragic limbo that families in Addergoole were caught in. When the full story emerged, a parish was broken.
The sense of the catastrophic loss to Addergoole is apparent from this report in The Western People on May 4, 1912 where it reports of the loss of five people - John, Catherine and Mary Bourke, Nora Flemming and Mary Mangan - from the townland of Carrowskeheen.
“One of the saddest sights ever witnessed in the West of Ireland was the waking of five young girls and one young man (sic) from a village near Lahardane who went down with the ill-fated Titanic.
“They were all from the same village and when the first news of the appalling catastrophe reached their friends the whole community was plunged into insufferable grief. They cherished for a time a remote hope that they were saved but when the dreaded news of their terrible fate arrived a feeling of excruciating anguish took place.
“For two days and two nights wakes were held. The photograph of each victim was placed on the bed on which they had slept before leaving home and kindred. The beds were covered with snow-white quilts and numbers of candles were lighted around. The wailing and the moaning of the people was very distressing and would almost draw a tear from a stone …”
The loss was not just an emotional one. It might seem a crude term but many of the Addergoole Fourteen were an investment by their family. The cost of a ticket on the Titanic, even for third class (steerage) was significant. Most of the Addergoole Fourteen paid £7 15s to travel.
If you are looking for a comparative analysis of the cost of the ticket on the Titanic, research conducted by Lahardane native Dylan Nolan - son of Addergoole Titanic Society Chairman Dr Paul Nolan - for a history thesis in NUI Maynooth reveals that a female night attendant at Castlebar District Asylum would start on an annual wage of £14 so it is easy to see how difficult it would be for some of the Addergoole Fourteen to raise the price of the fare - generally £7 15s.
This was especially the case when most business was conducted by barter at the time. Some families had to sell most of their sparse livestock to fund the ticket. They hoped their departing sons and daughters would be able to repatriate money once they established themselves in the US. Since so few made it, poverty reigned in many houses. There had to be an appeal to the diocese for support for some families.
A relief committee was set-up locally as people were acutely aware some families were in dire straits. The Titanic crashing into the iceberg in the North Atlantic sent shockwaves crashing around Nephin in so many ways.


Who were the Addergoole Fourteen?

John Bourke (42)        Carrowsheheen           Lost
John Bourke had been married to Catherine Bourke for just over a year and was moving to Chicago with his wife and his sister Mary to join Catherine’s sister in Chicago. It is commonly accepted that the Bourke family sold their land to pay for their passage to the USA and to have investment money after the death of John and Mary’s stepmother.

Catherine Bourke (32)    Carrowsheheen           Lost
Catherine (neé McHugh) had first gone to Chicago in 1905 and in 1910 she returned to Addergoole and met up with an old flame, John Bourke, whom she married. Although there is no confirmation, it is believed she was pregnant at the time. Catherine had the opportunity to be rescued aboard Lifeboat 16 but would not leave her husband behind.

Mary Bourke (40)    Carrowskeheen           Lost
Mary was travelling with her brother John and his wife Catherine to join Catherine’s sister in Chicago. She also had the chance to be rescued in Lifeboat 16 but would not leave her brother behind. She was very attached to her brother, having lived in the same house since birth. With the death of their stepmother, Mary had no more responsibilities to tie her to their holding.

Nora Fleming (22)    Carrowskeheen           Lost

Nora’s sister, Catherine, was in New York and Nora was moving to join her. The night the Titanic sank was her 22th birthday. She was inadvertently listed on the ship’s record as Nora Hemming. Margaret Devaney, from Sligo, who was saved, told Nora’s sister that she remembered Nora entertaining them with Irish songs when the first news of the trouble came.

Mary Mangan    (32)    Carrowskeheen           Lost

Mary was returning to Chicago to be married. She had come home to see her mother who was sick and to get her consent for the wedding, as well as to celebrate the engagement. Her body was recovered but returned to sea. Among  her possessions retrieved was a gold chain inscribed ‘M.Mangan’ which is still in her family’s possession.

James Flynn (28)        Cuilnakillew               Lost

James was going to join a younger brother, Anthony, in New York. He was related to Mary and Pat Canavan and Annie Kate Kelly. He left behind his stepsister Mary, brothers Thomas and Patrick and sisters Annie and Bridget. He was reportedly prevented from entering Lifeboat 16.

Bridget Donoghue (21)    Cum                   Lost
Bridget was joining a cousin, Bridget Burke, in New York. She appears on the passenger list as Bert O’Donohue due to a misreading of her handwritten name in the embarkation records. As a result her relatives thought she had been saved when Bridget was not listed among the dead.

Delia Mahon (20)        Derrymartin               Lost
A friend had purchased Delia’s ticket who was subsequently reimbursed by a Red Cross Committee who found that she couldn’t afford to lose that amount once Delia perished. Delia was destined for Brooklyn, New York. She was the only member of the Addergoole Fourteen not moving to the USA to link up with a relative.

Pat Canavan (21)        Knockmaria               Lost
Pat was going to stay with his sister, Kate, in Philadelphia. Another brother, Tom, three years older, had previously emigrated to the USA. Pat is credited, along with John Bourke, in Annie Kate Kelly’s account of gathering the women and children together and taking them to a ladder leading from Steerage to the upper decks.

Catherine McGowan (42)    Terryduff               Lost
Catherine had already spent several years in America, some of this with Catherine Bourke (McHugh). She had owned a rooming house in Cleveland and had recently moved to Chicago. She originally returned home to bring her niece, Annie McGowan, out to the USA. She is credited with getting the Addergoole group together.

Mary Canavan (22)    Tonacrick               Lost
A first cousin of Pat Canavan, Mary was going to her brother in New York. First reports of the casualties gave her name as Concannon, leading her family to think she had survived. It has been reported that when news arrived to the Canavan household of the disaster, her father, Anthony, was preparing farming stock for the market to cover the cost of her emigration.

Annie Kate Kelly (20)    Cuilmullagh            Saved
Sister Patrick Joseph (Annie Kate Kelly) was going to join cousins in Chicago. A steward guided her out of the steerage part of the boat and put her into Lifeboat 16, which was lowered at 1.30am, half-full. She became a nun when she was 29-years-old. Sr Patrick Joseph died on December 18, 1969, aged 77.

Delia McDermott (31)    Knockfarnaught        Saved
Delia was going to St Louis in Missouri to meet up with her cousin Mrs Delia Syron. It appears she was not aware of the seriousness of the situation and left a lifeboat to fetch a hat recently purchased in Cawley’s of Crossmolina. When returning, she had to jump some fifteen feet from a rope to Lifeboat 13. Delia Lynch (McDermott) died on November 3, 1959, aged 65 years.

Annie McGowan (17)    Terryduff            Saved
The youngest person in the group, she was born in America and returned home while still an infant. Annie Straube (McGowan) died on January 30, 1990, aged 95 years, and is buried in All Saints Cemetery, Des Plaines, Illinois.

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