THE story is well told, but it never gets any less poignant. For one small community in Co Mayo, the Titanic was supposed to be a ticket to a new life. Instead it became a nightmare.
Fourteen souls had set off from the parish of Addergoole, most of them from the village of Lahardane in North Mayo. Three survived, all women; 11 perished, eight women and three men. Their story has been passed down through the community.
Norah Walshe, of the townland of Derryfadda, was just 12 years old in 1938 and attending Rathbane National School. For the Folklore Commission, she penned a Titanic essay. She wrote:
"There were two passengers on board from our school area. One of them perished and one was saved by a sailor. She is now a nun in Chicago. . . The memory of the accident is still held in our parish and when we sing 'Nearer my God to Thee', the master refers to the accident."
Bridgie Leonard of Cuilnakillew was 17 when Titanic sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912. In the mid 1980s, she gave an interview recalling how the news of the sinking was received:
"I heard the people talking and crying in the village and all over. You know, Jim Flynn, a fine young boy, was drowned -- and they were all going up near Leonard's, crying what about it, and I was excited with all this news.
"We used get the paper and I used read the paper for me grandfather. He'd hear all the news then. He'd sit down and I'd read the paper. Lord, it was terrible!"
The story of the Addergoole 14, as they are now known, is a very human story of emigration. Three had already spent several years in America.
Another, Annie McGowan, 17 years old, had been born there and was returning with her aunt to find employment. She was one of the three saved: her school record states simply, "Gone to USA."
The three women who had worked in America had prospered. Records from the probate court of Cook County, Illinois, for February 1913 show that Catherine McGowan, who perished, had $300, a gold watch, two rings, a gold bracelet, mink furs, and four tailor-made suits among her possessions.
Our Titanic travellers knew in advance the ship they would be travelling on. Annie Kate Kelly, who was also saved and who later became a nun, wrote to her cousin:
"I am coming to America on the nicest ship in the world. I am coming with some of the nicest people in the world, too. Isn't that just splendid? They live in Chicago, and I shall be able to make the entire trip with them. They have told me all about Chicago and I know that I shall like it much better than I do Ireland."
Her cousin received this letter in Chicago the day news of Titanic's sinking broke.
Annie Kate Kelly, now Sister Patrick Joseph, told her Adrian Dominican Sisters in Michigan:
"As the ship was sinking, women and children were evacuated first. They formed a line. A young bride refused to leave the ship without her husband. I was given the bride's place. As I was lowered into the lifeboat I looked up and saw my cousin Pat watching, holding in his hand his rosary, which he raised to bless me." The nuns called her 'Sister Titanic'.
The young bride was Catherine Bourke. She and her sister-in-law, Mary, were in Boat 16, but Catherine's husband, John, was not allowed on. The two women got out and Annie Kate took her place. Her cousin with the rosary beads was Pat Canavan. Pat was going to see his sister Kate in Philadelphia. On a photograph of Pat, his distraught sister Kate has written: "Brother Pat, drowned on Titanic, 4/14/1912."
Delia McDermott, from Knockfornaught, survived. Delia's mother would tell her that while they had no money, it did not take money to be a lady. She was to be sure that when she arrived in New York, she was to be wearing her hat and gloves.
Delia was in a steerage cabin with Mary Canavan. They were in bed when they heard a loud bang. She got out of bed and stuck her head out the door to ask a crew member what was wrong. He said nothing was wrong and to go back to bed.
They sensed, as they could hear the scurrying of the crew outside their door, that something was amiss.
Perhaps 10 minutes later, there was a banging on their door. Delia answered and the crew member said to get their life jackets and get up on deck. Delia asked if they had time to dress. He said they had time for nothing.
Delia and Mary put their coats on over their pyjamas, went up and got in a line for the lifeboat. It was cold, and as Delia took her gloves out of the pocket of her coat, her mother's words were ringing in her ears: "You are a lady, and a lady is not a lady without her hat and gloves. Be sure that you are wearing your hat and gloves when you arrive in New York."
She then said to Mary Canavan that she was going back down to get her hat. When she went down, people were panicking. She retrieved her hat and tried to persuade some friends to come back up with her. They refused and were cowering in the toilets.
The main staircase was now blocked. As she stood nervously in the corridor wondering what to do, a group of young men ran by and said to come with them. They knew of a back staircase that they had been using all week to spy on the upper decks.
When she returned with her hat she had to stand at the back of the line of passengers and then jump down a long way into Lifeboat 13. Once on the Carpathia, a prayer service was held.
Delia McDermott then tried to find her friend, Mary Canavan. Sadly, Mary was not on board. Mary was from Tornacrick; her name on the list of the dead was down as Mary Concannon, causing horrendous confusion back home.
Bridget Donohue of Cum worked in nearby McHale's general store, a short walk from home. She asked Maura McHale, then six years old, what she wanted from America. Maura wanted a ring. Bridget measured her ring finger with string, promising to send a ring from Chicago. Bridget perished; no ring arrived. Initially Bridget's family did not know whether she had survived: her name on the passenger manifest was Bart Donohue.
In April 2002 the Addergoole Titanic Society erected a memorial in St Patrick's Church, Lahardane, to the 14 Titanic travellers. For over 25 years, a commemorative mass has been said annually.
At the invitation of Cobh Tourism, adults and children from Lahardane made the five-hour journey to Cobh for the Titanic Memorial Service on Sunday, April 10 last. The children participated in the service and read the names of the 11 who perished.
Now, as the centenary of Titanic's sinking fast approaches, the Society has very challenging plans to ensure that the Addergoole 14 are never forgotten.
The limited-edition book 'The Addergoole Titanic Story' was published by James Flynn's relatives and is available through the website.
An Post recently wrote to say that a commemorative stamp suggestion submitted by the Society has been included in the Approved Stamp Programme for 2012.
Mayo County Council has erected signage on the three roads into Lahardane, reading "Ireland's Titanic Village".
A relative of Pat Canavan is recording a Titanic song, 'The Water Is Black'. GMTV is researching a documentary, 'Waking the Titanic', which vividly tells the story of the Addergoole 14.
The Society raised funds largely through a parish-church gate collection, its Titanic Time Capsule project, where donators sponsor links in a symbolic chain down to Titanic's wreck.
Matched funding is being sought from North West Leader and Ireland Funds for a Titanic Memorial Park, on land donated by Killala Diocese.
April 8-15, 2012 has been set aside as Addergoole's Titanic Cultural Week.
This will comprise a re-enactment of the journey from Lahardane to Castlebar Station by sidecar, the opening of the Memorial Park, a live American Wake, the annual bell-ringing ceremony and mass, and the Mayo Titanic Ball.
All are welcome to visit Ireland's Titanic Village: Lahardane, Ballina, Co Mayo. Visit www.Mayo-Titanic.com for further information.