The parish of Addergoole in County Mayo lost 11 young men and women in the Titanic disaster – a sacrifice that still resonates today, almost 100 years later.
At precisely 2.20am on 15 April every year, a church bell is rung in the tiny County Mayo parish of Addergoole on the west coast of Ireland.
As the sound echoes across the slopes of Nephin mountain and the surrounding boglands, residents gather in the churchyard to remember the night that changed the parish for ever. It was at this exact time that RMS Titanic disappeared into the inky waters of the Atlantic.
The parish was then home to just a few hundred people, but 14 of them were on board the Titanic. It is believed to have been the greatest loss from the disaster suffered by any area.
As the 100th anniversary approaches, residents say that it is impossible not to feel a connection with those emigrants who set out from the village a century ago – only three of the 14 survived and just one returned, though only briefly. Their loss is still felt keenly.
“I know there are many tragic stories associated with Titanic, but I think ours is particularly sad because so many families from such a small area were affected,” says Mary Rowland of the Addergoole Titanic Memorial Society. “It’s why we’ve never forgotten them and we never will.
“These were people who were looking to better themselves, and most of them died a terrible death instead.”
To commemorate the centenary, a memorial park will be opened in the village and two stained-glass windows have been commissioned for the church, one depicting the people lost and the other the survivors.
Of those who set sail from the southern port of Cobh, in Co Cork, the oldest was 42, the youngest 17. Several had already been in America and each of them knew the others. All 14 travelled in third class, or “steerage”, having paid a one-way fare of about £7 15s.
Among them was Mary Mangan, 32, who was returning to Chicago and her fiancé, whom she was due to marry that summer.
Mangan had come back to Addergoole to visit her sick mother and announce her engagement. She left again with a promise to return soon with her husband. Several weeks after the disaster, salvagers employed by the Titanic’s owners, White Star Line, recorded the details of one of the bodies recovered from the freezing waters as: “Number 61: female. Estimated age: 30. Hair: light. Clothing: green waterproof, black coat, skirt, blouse, red cardigan jacket, black button boots with cloth uppers. Effects: One gold watch, engraved inside ‘M Mangan’. Gold locket with hair and photo engraved ‘Mary’. Gold chain, beads in pocket, brass belt-buckle. Medallion around neck. Diamond solitaire ring. Gold bracelet engraved ‘M M’, wire gold brooch. Probably third class. Name: Mary Mangan.”
Her body was returned to the sea by the salvagers for reasons not specified. The diamond solitaire ring, of which she had been so proud, never made it back to her family in Mayo, but the gold watch did arrive in a parcel with some of her other effects. They are still kept by her family’s descendants.
Today the parish of Addergoole, including the village of Lahardane, is home to workers from the nearby towns of Castlebar and Ballina. With a small pub and beautiful views of mountains and lakes, it attracts anglers and visitors in search of solitude. Many farming families in the area have kinship ties to Titanic victims. Among them is Bridie Syron, whose aunt Mary was killed. Speaking in Murphy’s pub in the village, she said that her family’s suffering was largely unspoken but ever present.
“My aunt, Mary Canavan, was aged 21 when she left for America, and her family were at first given to believe that she had survived the tragedy, after the initial casualty list returned her name as Mary Concannon. Days later, they were informed of the mistake.”
Syron said that her father, who was Mary’s brother, rarely spoke of the tragedy. “He didn’t want to talk about it and I suppose you can understand why. Even if there was a film on TV about Titanic, it was switched off. It was painful, I suppose.
“My aunt had been due to go out to her brother in California the following year, but then when the whole gang was going from Addergoole she wanted to go too. She went a year early and that was that.
“My uncle Richard told me about the day before she left. Everyone came to the house to say goodbye to her, and they were sad she was going, but also excited for her. I don’t think they could quite believe it when the news came she was gone.”
One of the three survivors from the parish was Annie McGowan, who had been travelling with her aunt Catherine, who perished. McGowan was 17, and left alone and destitute in New York by the tragedy. Assisted by the Red Cross, she found shelter and a job, but her family say that she rarely spoke of the tragedy.
It was only in 1984, aged 90, that she gave her first newspaper interview about the events, to her great-granddaughter, who is a journalist. McGowan died in 1990. Her family in America have made several pilgrimages to Addergoole, and will return for the centenary.
Her friend Bridget Donohoe, 22, was not so lucky. She’d worked in McHale’s general store on the main street of the village to earn the fare for her passage to the new world. Before she left, Donohoe asked the owner’s six-year-old daughter what she wanted from America. The little girl said a ring and Donohoe measured her ring finger with string, promising to send one from Chicago. Family folklore says that, watched by the child, she then packed the piece of string in her case.
Donohoe’s family initially were also given hope when her name incorrectly appeared on the passenger manifest as Bart Donoghue. However, after several weeks she was reported to have been lost at sea.
The others from the area who died in the tragedy were: John Bourke, 42, Catherine Bourke, 32, Mary Bourke, 40, Nora Fleming, 24, James Flynn, 28, Delia Mahon, 20, Pat Canavan, 21, and Catherine McGowan, 42. The other survivors were Annie Kate Kelly, aged 20 at the time of the disaster, and Delia McDermott, 31.
Donohoe’s nephew, David Donoghue, a farmer who is now in his late 70s, is one of more than 100 villagers who regularly take part in the bell-tolling ceremony every year.
Sitting in Murphy’s pub, he said that he feels sure she would be proud. “I’m sure they’d be delighted to know that we all think of them and pray for them, all these years later. I’m sure it would make them happy, the poor souls,” he says.