Titanic crewman: Vitriol about Pope could sink this ship

Previously unseen letters from a Catholic crewman who perished on the Titanic tell how he felt that the language used against the Pope by other crew was enough to “sink the ship”.

The letters were sent by engineer William Kelly, who died when the famous liner sank, to his mother and friend in Dublin in March and April 1912.

In the letters, he writes that the language used against the Pope by some of the crew on board was enough to “sink the ship”, while making a foreboding reference to its eventual sinking on Apr 15, 1912, in which 1,514 people of the 2,200 on board died.

“I hope when the Titanic gets hold of me I won’t be sorry I ate so much,” he wrote to his mother a week before it sank.

Relative Hugh Kelly, 47, said he only became aware of the letters from his grand-uncle — and indeed their family’s connection to the Titanic — in recent years.

For many years the historical items were kept in a chest in an attic in the family’s Glasnevin home, by his mother Ethna, now 79, after they were passed to her for safe-keeping 50 years ago.

Mr Kelly, a father-of-two, who moved to Limerick nearly 20 years ago to work with Murray O’Laoire architects, said his family have now decided that these letters really need a home:“We were thinking maybe the Titanic Centre in Belfast or the engineering institute in Glasgow would like them.

“The letters are interesting from the point of view of a Catholic working in Harland & Wolff at the time, which was very rare.”

William Kelly, 23, from Drumcondra in Dublin, made the fateful decision to join the famous ship-yard in Jan 1912 — just a few months before the Titanic finally set sail. It was the first time the assistant electrician had ever been to sea.

The first letter, posted from Belfast to a friend in Dublin on Mar 10, 1912, gives a flavour of the hardships on the work yard and the political atmosphere of the time.

“I’ve managed to get a fine cold and I’m sick of everything. Every rotten job is kept for the Dublin fellow. There’s a terrible lot of favouritism in the yard. I expect I’ll have to suffer on for a while longer, and perhaps I’ll get to know myself,” he wrote.

“The Churchill riots were entirely bloodless, in fact. I do not think there’s enough spunk in the whole of Belfast to cause a decent fight, so I have never seen one since I came up here. One person they are terribly afraid of is the Pope. On the saloon bulkheads before the funnelling was put up the language they used against him in writing was enough to sink the ship. They must think I am a relation of his because I got a good share of it too. I will now conclude my giving you advice — never come to Belfast.”

His second letter is written on Apr 9, 1912 from the Titanic, leaving Cherbourg, to his mother “dear mother” Annie.

Here he writes poignantly that this will be “the last opportunity I will have of writing home for some time”.

“We’re living like a prince now. We had lunch at one o’clock, I thought it was dinner and we dined at seven o’clock. I hope when the Titanic gets hold of me I won’t be sorry I ate so much.”

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