Saturday, July 14, 2012

Documentary: Waking The Titanic

Addergoole Parish in North County Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland became known in 1912 for one distinguishing fact besides its crushing poverty; fourteen of its own were involved in the Titanic disaster of April 14th of that year. Known as the Addergoole Fourteen, these young people were aboard Titanic, on her maiden voyage, to the New World, filled with hope for the opportunities of a better life. Only three of them would survive the sinking. For one hundred years, the families of the Addergoole Fourteen never spoke about what happened, about their terrible loss. Waking The Titanic , tells their story.

Lahardane, was a small village in Addergoole, comprised of only 96 souls living in twenty-two houses. The county was extremely poor, with large families often crammed into three room houses. The people of Lahardane led a very harsh life, with the average person dying in their forties or fifties, often from tuberculosis, due to the damp, cold homes.Despite the difficulties, families and communities were very close knit.

Nearly every family had a relative in America. Families often had between six and twelve children and at that time only one child could inherit the land. This meant the other children had to find work, but there were few jobs in Ireland. So these children, once they came of age, emigrated to America, Australia and Europe. Between 1855 and 1912, over four million Irish emigrated - a significant percentage considering the population was only eight million.

In the early 1900's the trans-Atlantic steamer transportation was big business and there was heavy competition between White Star and Cunard. Steerage passengers were the bread and butter" of the business and steamer lines actively recruited and advertised for steerage passengers in Ireland. The cost of passage to America was expensive though - about seven pounds for steerage. It would usually take about three years to save this amount. Often the money came from those already in America and was known as remittance, that is money to pay for the next generation to go over. It was remittance that got the Addergoole fourteen onto the Titanic.

It was very important for Irish families to get their daughters to America, since there were very few options open to women in Ireland. And likely most women did not want their daughters to lead the hard life they had experienced. America was a land of opportunity. Catherine McGowan, one of the Addergoole Fourteen,  was a perfect example of this. She had come to America twenty-two years earlier and she was now wealthy. Catherine ran a boarding house for newly arrived immigrants. She returned to Addergoole to collect her neice, Annie McGowan to take her back to America. It was Catherine who convinced the other young people from Addergoole that they should all travel together on the same ship.

For the Irish, there developed the tradition of the American wake, which was held for those who left the emerald isle for America. Emigrating was like a death because the person leaving would most likely never return. It was a bittersweet time; sad to leave loved ones, but thrilled at the opportunities.

The Titanic was built in Belfast, about 100 miles away from Addergoole. Strangely, Titanic was never christened, nor was she blessed. Perhaps it was because she was considered "unsinkable". This was unusual and added to the superstition that is was unlucky to travel on a ship's maiden voyage. The Irish were very religious and very superstitious. It is claimed some of the Addergoole had premonitions that something terrible was to happen.

On April 10, 1912, the Addergoole Fourteen left home to travel to Queenstown, where Titanic would embark on her first voyage to America. When they boarded Titanic and settled into her third class berths, they were astonished at the incredible luxury. For many, it was the first time they had seen electric lights, used silverware, had a bed to themselves and had proper bathroom facilities. They were among the poorest passengers.

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, the collision went mostly unnoticed. Steerage passengers were told to remain calm and stay where they were. At first they did so, but as the ship began to develop a steep incline, the Addergoole Fourteen knew something was seriously wrong. They were unable to get access to the second class lifeboats and they knew there were not enough boats for everyone on board. Since there was no way to get to the lifeboat deck which was in first class, they climbed three or four decks until they found a ladder leading to the lifeboat deck.

What they found was chaos and soon they became separated from each other. There were only three lifeboats left. In the end, only three of the Addergoole Fourteen survived; Annie Kate Kelly, Delia McDermott, and Annie McGowan, the niece of Catherine McGowan. Of the eleven who perished, only the body of Mary Mangan was recovered. She was buried at sea.

The three survivors were taken to St. Vincent's Hospital in New York where they stayed for two weeks. They were very traumatized and did not speak about the tragedy afterwards. They simply "moved on" and continued with their lives.

This docudrama tells the story of Ireland at the turn of the century, reenacts the tragedy of the sinking of Titanic as it pertains to the Addergoole Fourteen, and interviews historians and the direct descendants of the three survivors. It preserves for posterity, the story of the Addergoole Fourteen. The documentary, directed by Frank Delaney and produced by Gillian Marsh is gripping and emotional.

About ten years ago, the residents of Addergoole decided that they needed to preserve a remembrance of the tragedy for the younger generations that came after, otherwise this piece of their history would be lost forever. One can only imagine the sorrow of the families who lost loved ones and the bittersweet happiness of those whose children survived.

The trailer for Waking the Titanic can be watched below:

And here is a report done by CBS News on the 100th anniversary of the disaster:

The following websites may be of interest as well:

Addergoole Titanic Society

Addergoole Fourteen

Also, the Titanic website has information as well: Titanic Stories.

Those interested will now find a wealth of information on the Addergoole Fourteen, perhaps fitting for the one hundred years of silence that hid the pain and sorrow of a deeply wounded community.

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