The sorrows that couldn’t be drowned with the Titanic

When Hazel Gaynor heard the story of 14 Co Mayo villagers who left Ireland on the Titanic, she knew she had to learn more about them

The sorrows that couldn’t be drowned with the Titanic

THREE years ago, I was an aspiring writer, struggling to get published, struggling to write amid the demands of family life. Then, I had an idea — a novel about Titanic, the ‘unsinkable’ passenger liner that sank on April 15, 1912.

Writing about a well-known, emotionally charged subject was daunting. I would have to research the ship, and the era. But I wanted to write about Titanic’s passengers. Who were these people? What happened to the survivors in the lifeboats? What happened when they reached New York? How did friends and families hear about the disaster? I wanted to write about the less well-known, less ‘Hollywood’ aspects of the disaster.

I read everything I could about Titanic and her passengers, as documented in survivor accounts and newspaper reports. Titanic has generated a vast array of source material.

With a particular interest in the passengers who boarded Titanic at Queenstown, I noticed the same survivor names recurring: Annie Kate Kelly, Delia McDermott and Annie McGowan — three young women who had travelled as part of a larger group and survived. One believed she took the last place in the last lifeboat, after being assisted by a crew member. Another recounted how she’d jumped out of one lifeboat to return to her cabin, to fetch the new hat she’d bought for her arrival in New York.

I also discovered the story of the Addergoole Fourteen (as the group has become known): fourteen friends and relatives who, on April 10th, 1912, left their simple homes in the parish of Addergoole, Co Mayo, for the 14-hour trip to Queenstown to board RMS Titanic. Emigration was part of rural Irish life. Some of the fourteen were to join family members who’d already emigrated — all of them left Ireland with the hope of a better life in America.

I knew immediately that this was the story I wanted to tell: the story of a Titanic survivor and of a community left behind.

Armed with a small library of research notes, my novel, The Girl Who Came Home, began to take shape. With help from members of the Addergoole Titanic Society (descendants of the 14), I began to understand the impact Titanic had on their parish. I was moved by the stories of parents who waited for a week to learn the fate of their sons and daughters, and of the wakes held for family members who never returned. Eleven of the fourteen went down with the ship, including Catherine and Mary Bourke, who got out of a lifeboat, refusing to leave John Bourke, Catherine’s husband and Mary’s brother. Only Mary Mangan’s body was identified, through a gold watch engraved with her name. The watch was returned to her nephew in Lahardane.

For the people of Lahardane, the memories of the 14 live on through an annual bell-ringing ceremony, the Titanic Memorial Park, and a commemorative, stained-glass window in St Patrick’s church. The pride in their Titanic heritage, and the passion to honour the memory of the 14, is abundantly clear when you talk to Toss Gibbons and Mary Rowland of the Addergoole Titanic Society. “The stones of the Memorial Park walls, the hearth and gable end, are all taken from the homes of the 14,” Toss says. “Each night, a light comes on in the window of the gable, to signify a welcome home to all emigrants.” The minutes from meetings of the society, and other records of the parish’s Titanic connection, have been placed in a time capsule within the Memorial Park, to be opened in 2037, on the 125th anniversary. Lahardane will never forget its Titanic emigrants.

As we reach the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, it is testament to the descendants of those who left their homes and families in search of a better life that their stories live on so vividly.

With planned construction of Titanic II, and the success of tourist visitor centres such as Titanic Belfast, it is clear that the allure surrounding this most famous of ships is far from diminishing.

The Girl Who Came Home, inspired by the true events of the Addergoole Fourteen, is published by HarperCollins on April 24

More in this section

ieParenting Logo
Writers ieParenting

Our team of experts are on hand to offer advice and answer your questions here

Your digital cookbook

ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd