The Addergoole Fourteen were a group of young emigrants from County Mayo who boarded the Titanic, steerage tickets in hand, from Queenstown, Ireland with dreams of fortune in America. Only three survived when the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912.
With new waves of young people leaving Ireland to escape the financial crisis in Ireland, history is repeating itself and Addergoole parish is embracing its past.
The group has posted a new welcome sign on the edges of the parish, designating it "Ireland's Titanic Village," and members of the society are hoping to build tourism with annual events and a Titanic memorabilia shop.
For the centenary, a local volunteer force built a memorial park with a 12-foot bronze sculpture of a ship's prow rising from the center along a hearth made with stones from the abandoned homes of the Addergoole Fourteen.
“This gives us an ability to build an identity,” said Paul Nolan, a local doctor and the society’s chairman, whose own son, Dylan, is preparing to emigrate to Germany. “It’s often hard to get tourism started, and this is the first step to attract people through a cultural focus.”
In 1912, nearly every family that lived in the Addergoole parish of 3,4000 pooled their resources to send their young to America. Many of the emigrants were young women, who could be relied on to dutifully send money home.
Catherine McGowan, 42, who ran a Chicago boarding house, returned to her native Addergoole in 1912 to recruit other emigrants, among them, her 17-year-old niece Annie McGowan.
When Mr. Nolan moved to Addergoole in 1984, he recalled two patients in their 90s who remembered all of the Titanic passengers, including Catherine and Annie.
“I was amazed,” he said. “It was the first I heard of it.” Soon after, both of them died, and their stories were never recorded.
It was the passing of the older residents that spurred the community to salvage what remained of the fast-disappearing memories from four generations who were raised to avoid discussing the tragedy.
Many were scarred by the financial calamities caused by the sinking -- some impoverished relatives were expected to repay loans for their relatives' Titanic tickets, which would have been the equivalent of about $522 today.
“They were embarrassed,” Mr. Nolan explained, adding, “It was as if their family had failed because they didn’t get to America.”
In 2002, a memorial ceremony was created for the 90th anniversary of the Titanic sinking.
The society's first task was to restore the church's 1947 bell, which had been silent for 20 years. Since then, every April Titanic descendants gather before midnight to toll the bell until 2:30 am, with somber tones for the 11 who perished and thundering notes of joy for the three women who survived and made it to America.
That first year, only a handful of descendants participated. This year, which marks the centennial of the sinking, hundreds of participants are expected, including descendants from New Jersey and the Chicago area, where the three Addergoole survivors --- Annie McGowan, Annie Kate Kelly and Delia McDermott settled.
John O'Boyle, 77, said his father never talked about the tragedy of his cousins John Bourke, who was 42, Mary Bourke, 40, and John's pregnant wife, Catherine McHugh, 32. However, stories told by Addergoole survivors like Annie Kate Kelly, say that the women gave up their lifeboat seats because they refused to leave John Bourke alone. Kelly, who eventually became a nun, credited them with her survival because she took their place.
For other residents, the bells toll for emigrants past and present. Last year, 50 young adults int heir 20s emigrated from the villages of Crossmolina and the neighboring Lahardane.
“When my two children are grown, the chances of them remaining here in Ireland are slim,” said Patricia Keigher, a member of the Titanic Society. “The bell ringing out across the lake and the mountain is a call to say: you may not be here, but we are still thinking of you.”