Catherine Durkan (nee McCormack) and The Titanic

From an interview with the late Mick O'Connell in 1977.

One of the nicest people it has ever been my pleasure to talk to, comes from Ardara, near Charlestown. In her 86th year, she is Mrs Catherine Durkan, formerly Catherine McCormack. She has a vivid recollection of many happy episodes and one harrowing experience in her long and eventful life.

Catherine or Katie, as she is affectionately known, was attending Lowpark National School in or around the year 1904 on the occasion of the County Feis in Charlestown, which was attended by many Irish scholars including Dr Douglas Hyde, who later became the first President of Ireland.

A special Irish competition in conjunction with the Feis was held in the Schools throughout the Diocese of Achonry. Katie takes great pride in the fact that she was the first prizewinner in the competition. She says she received her prize of Ten Pounds, a lot of money in those days, from the hands of Dr Hyde himself, who at that time was spearheading the Irish revival movement. She remembers Dr Hyde congratulating her and speaking to her in Irish. Katie was proficient in Irish because her father John McCormack and her grandmother were fluent Irish speakers. She says her father was also a great singer, shades of his famous namesake.

Katie went on to relate that her teachers in Lowpark at that time included, Mr and Mrs John E Doherty. Mrs Doherty was trained in Paris and prepared a Number of school choirs which won prizes at several Feiseanna. She recalls that the Feis she referred to was not confined to music, singing and dancing competitions but also contained a section of the display of ancient Irish crafts, and there were also competitions in butter-making, basket-weaving etc. Katie travelled to America with her sister Mary on the Carpathia ship in 1912 - and later on she recalls that journey.

"I was a passenger on the Carpathia, which was the first and only vessel to arrive at the scene of the disaster. The hour was around midnight and we all had retired for the night. Suddenly we heard a great commotion and people were rushing around outside. We went up on deck to see members of the crew lined along the railing of the vessel, standing shoulder to shoulder, and all of them were armed. We were not allowed near the railings. I could see from my position people who had tried to escape from the ill-fated Titanic, floundering in the water, which was calm. The life-boats went out rescuing people as they came upon them. The Titanic, which had listed over, was close by and was slowly sinking out of sight. We returned to our sleeping quarters and prayed for all the passengers of the Titanic who were lost".

Katie described the witnessing of the disaster as a terrible heartbreaking experience. She added, "that night was the saddest night of my life. I still cry about it to this day".

Mrs Katie Durkan is a lively and alert woman for her years. She is all her life a regular reader of The Western People and would not be without her weekly copy. She had five sisters and two brothers, and two sisters still survive, Mrs Ellen Ruane and Mrs Mary Healy in New York.

Talking to her was a pleasure and it is our fervent wish that she will enjoy health and happiness for many tears to come.

© Cathal Henry 2003

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