4 Febraury 1998
by Tom Shiel
Nephin Mór had been snowcapped on a number of occasions during the winter of 1912 and the people in the valleys below were longing for Spring.
Even when only the boggy summit of Mayo's highest mountain was mantled in white, the people of Addergoole Parish (Lahardane), indeed the whole of Ireland, had a cold time of it.
A popular seanfhocal at the time ran: "Nuar a bhíonn sneachta ar Nephin bíonn fuacht ar Eireann".
Many times that long ago Spring of 1912, Delia McDermott looked westwards from her parents' thatched cottage at Knockfarnaught at the great majestic bulk of mountain.
When the hedgerows were greening and only a few tiny stripes of snow remained on the upper reaches, Delia knew the time was fast approaching when she would be uprooted, perhaps forever, from her birthplace.
As part of her preperations for the great journey to America, she travelled one day to Crossmolina to buy new clothing. One of her purchases was a smart new hat. She liked the hat so much that weeks later she risked her life to recover it from her cabin in the ill-fated Titanic.
Delia was one of 14 people from Addergoole preparing in Spring 1912 to travel on the White Star liner. Only three of the group survived. Delia, despite dicing with death on the double in order to retrieve her cherished millinery, was one of the lucky ones.
There was great activity in Addergoole as sailing time approached. Those not travelling were out and about on the land and in the bog or perhaps taking the odd trip to Castlebar where the women sold eggs and the men purchased grain and farm implements. Thoughts of turf-cutting and harvesting were far from the minds of the young men and women who were about to emigrate as they travelled by pony and trap over the steep Windy Gap and then at a smart gallop into Castlebar.
By the time the scythes had felled the first grass of that year's hay harvest, they planned to be carving out new lives in Chicago or other bustling industrial cities of the prosperous United States
In March, ten of the intending passengers, including Delia McDermott, then 28 years old, booked their passage with Thomas Durcan of Castlebar. Three others booked with another travel agent Mrs. Walsh of Linenhall Street.
The days before they were due to travel for Queenstown ( Cobh) were extremely busy ones for the Addergoole contingent. They visited neighbours most would never see again and there were tearful embraces on the doorstep of many a thatched cottage.
Delia McDermott's niece, now Delia Melody of Lord Edward Street, Ballina, tells the story of a strange and chilling encounter between her aunt and a mysterious man in black in Lahardane village the evening before she left for Cobh.
"She was in Lahardane with friends when suddenly a hand tapped her on the shoulder", Mrs. Melody explained. "She turned around and there was a little man there whom she thought was a traveller. My aunt went to give the man a few pennies and he told her he knew she was going on a long journey. 'There will be a tragedy but you will be saved', the little man said before disappearing".
When Delia mentioned the little man to her friends, they said they hadn't seen anybody. Thus Delia McDermott began her long and eventful journey to the New World filled with some foreboding.
After the terrible sinking, the Chicago Evening News reported in sombre tones that of those bound for Chicago, only Annie Kelly and Annie McGowan survived.
No mention was made in the Evening News report of Delia McDermott who was also rescued. The explanation for this was probably due to the fact that Delia stayed in New York and her Chicago bound companions did not know she had been rescued..
Reported the Evening News: "Only two have arrived here, two colleens, Annie Kelly and Annie McGowan. The rest are at the bottom of the ocean for they went down with the Titanic, and there is grief here in Chicago where relatives mourn and grief back home in Mayo over the sudden end to the dreams and plans of some of the flower of Ireland's youth.
"It was a family party, all the members being bound by the ties of kinship or of lifelong companionship.
"In it were John Bourke, a sturdy young farmer, and Kate, his bride of less than a year, and John's sister, Mary, all from the farming country around Crossmolina.
"There was also Kate McGowan, a former resident of Chicago, and her niece, Annie McGowan, aged 18 of Castlebar; Patrick Canavan (18), a cousin of Annie Kelly, Mary Mannion, who was to join her brother in Chicago; a boy, Patrick and Mary Flynn, his sister; three blue-eyed rosy cheeked girls named Donohue and Mahan Driscoll, Nora Fleming and Mary Glynn.
Historian Tony Donohoe, who lives at Castlehill, Ballina has carried out intensive research into the Titanic tragedy from a local perspective. He believes the trip was organised by an older woman who was home from the States and points out that all of the Addergoole contingent were related to each other in some way.
Tony Donohoe's theory is backed up by the Chicago Evening News which, presumably, conducted interviews with survivors Annie Kelly and Annie McGowan when they arrived there.
The paper reported: "The mysterious workings of destiny contributed to the formation of this ill-fated little squad of ocean travellers. Some ten years ago, Kate McHugh and Kate McGowan, then little more than children, came to Chicago from their homes near Crossmolina.
"They prospered and about fifteen months, Kate McHugh went back to Ireland for a visit. She met John Burke, a playmate of her childhood days, and he married her out of hand, for an old affection both had almost forgotten, quickly leaped into love. It was the intention of Burke and his wife to live out their lives in Ireland.
"Kate McGowan went back to Ireland last October. She owned a rooming house in Chicago and it was her intention to return in the Spring.
"Right industriously did she sing the praises of Chicago at the homes she visited in Mayo, and the result of it was that when she came to start back, there were fourteen ready to accompany her, among them the Burkes, who had sold their farm and planning to invest their money in a teaming business in Chicago".
From this account, Kate McGowan has been identified as the driving force behind the Addergoole exodus. Throughout the winter of 1911/1912, whichever small home she visited in her native area, she painted a glowing picture of the United States and the opportunities it presented.
At last the emotional day of departure from Addergoole arrived. The Chicago News reported:"The night before the fifteen started for Queenstown harbour to board the Titanic, there was an Irish wake at Castlebar. Hundreds of friends of the young people gathered and made merry that they might start with light hearts and merriment.
"Never were fifteen voyagers to a strange land launched on their journey with such a plenitude of goodwill and goodwishes".
Then there was the sight which greeted them at Queenstown, awe inspiring for those who had never travelled beyond the confines of their parish before. "The immense Titanic, overshadowing everything in Queenstown Harbour, was a revelation to 13 of the little party as they came alongside in the tender. Some of them had never seen an ocean liner before".
The Mayo group were assigned to the third-class quarters and kept mostly to themselves during the voyage, spending the days on deck in the fresh air and sunshine.
They were all asleep when the vessel, ploughing along at 23 knots, struck the iceberg. The impact did not disturb those in the third cabin and they only knew there was a problem when a steward roused and told them the ship had struck something but added there was no danger.
Although they believed the steward, they did not go to sleep again and when Mrs. Burke suggested prayer they all quickly knelt to say the Rosary.
Some twenty minutes before the boat went down, stewards ran through the steerage shouting orders for all the passengers to go on deck. There was no time for those who had neglected to clothe themselves to dress.
Passengers swarmed to the companionway leading to the upper decks but were held back by officers who said things were not ready.
John Burke and Peter Canavan knew from previous exploration of the vessel there was a ladder leading to the upper decks. Gathering the women and girls about them, they started for the ladder.
Just then, a steward who had been talking on several occasions to Annie Kelly happened along and saw her frightened and confused, dropping behind her friends.
That steward probably saved Annie's life. He grasped her hand and dragged her up the stairwat to the deck where the lifeboats were loading. She was clad only in a nightgown. A boat was just about to be launched. The steward pushed her in. It was only half full.
Then John Burke and his wife and sister, Mary, and the little Flynn boy appeared on the deck. The stewards tried to push the two women into the boat after Annie Kelly .
Kate Burke refused to leave her husband whilst Mary Burke wailed: "I'll not leave my brother". The crew of the lifeboat would not let little Flynn aboard altough he was of slight build and unable to care for himself.
Later, safely in Chicago, Annie was to recall the poignant scene as the lifeboat pulled away - John Burke, his wife, and his sister, and tiny Patrick Flynn - they were standing, hands clasped in a row by the rail, waiting for the end.
Of all that had left Mayo, Annie Kelly thought she was the sole survivor. But the next day when she had recovered from the effects of shock and exposure, she found Annie McGowan lying by her side. The two were cared for in a hospital in New York before being sent to relatives in Chicago.
Luck was also in Delia McDermott's favour. She was one of the first to find a lifeboat but returned to her cabin for the new hat she had brought before the journey.
Says Delia's niece, Mrs. Melody: "It was perhaps a foolish thing to do but luckily she managed to get a place in a boat. She had to jump fifteen feet from a rope ladder onto the lifeboat. At this stage, the Titanic was sideways. It was going down".
It took over a week for the full details of the bleak news to get back to Mayo. Delia Melody says her grandmother, Bridget Rowland, was informed of the tragedy by Charles Flynn from Bofeenaun who said, however, it was believed Delia McDermott had been among the survivors.
Delia indeed survived and later prospered in the United States. She married a Galwayman named Thomas Lynch and had three children, two girls and a boy. One of the girls later died. The family lived in the New Jersey area.
Delia was in her mid to late seventies when she died in 1959. She had never been back home since the fateful April day 47 years earlier when she departed with her laughing and happy companions.
Immediately the news of the sinking reached Castlebar, one of the local agents for the White Star line, Thomas Durcan, who had booked most of the Lahardane group, wired to the head office in Liverpool and received the following reply.
"Referring to your telegram re: Titanic, deeply regret to say that latest word is steamer foundered; about 675 souls, mostly women and children, saved".
Later accounts, which all confirmed, the shocking tragedy, but giving no positive news, were to the effect that the survivors numbered 868, and the death toll reaching the appalling total of 1,490.
Thirty three year old Mary Mangan of Carrowskehine was one of the unlucky ones but a memento of her short life survives to this very day.
Mary and her sister Ellen were experienced travellers having just returned from America. Mary was engaged to be married in the U.S. on her return.
Her inscribed gold watch was now taken from the body and eventually found its way back to the village where she was born. It is now one of the proudest and saddest possessions of her nephew Anthony Mangan.
The Addergoole contingent were the only passengers from Mayo on the Titanic. There is no monument or plaque in their home parish to their memory. But perhaps that will be rectified in the near future as the centenary of the terrible sinking is a mere 14 years away.