On April 15, 1912 the Belfast built RMS Titanic sank after colliding with an iceberg, killing over 1,500 passengers and crew on board. This was one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters in modern history and among those on board were many Irish.
In the run up to the anniversary of the disaster IrishCentral will take a look at the Irish on board – the lucky, unlucky and heroic.
This is an extract from the book “The Irish Aboard the Titanic” by Senan Molony which tells the tales of the people who were on board the night the ship went down. This book gives those people a voice. In it are stories of agony, luck, self-sacrifice, dramatic escapes, and heroes left behind.
Ticket number 330920. Paid £7 12s 7d, plus 3s 10d extra.
Boarded at Queenstown. Third Class.
From: Kingwilliamstown (now Ballydesmond), County Cork.
Destination: 855 Trement Avenue, Bronx, New York city.
Daniel Buckley lived because a woman in a lifeboat threw a shawl over him. Her action cloaked his presence as officers fired shots and ordered men who had rushed a boat to leave it – or die. A moment’s humanity had turned Dannie Buckley female.
He was an ambitious and enterprising young man who wanted to go to America to
make some money, as he told Senator William Alden Smith at the US inquiry. ‘I came in the Titanic because she was a new steamer.’
But his good luck lasted for only another six years. Daniel Buckley was killed in 1918, a month before the end of the First World War, while helping to evacuate American Expeditionary Force wounded from the front line on the French/Belgian border.
Buckley was born on 28 September 1890 and baptised the same day in the Church of
the Immaculate Conception in Boherbue, County Cork. His proud parents were Daniel Snr and Abigail Sullivan. The family moved to neighbouring Kingwilliamstown in 1905, where Daniel Snr became the town baker.
By 1912, Buckley and a number of young friends had decided on emigration to the United States, where opportunities would be better for a jobbing labourer like himself. The night before the party left for Queenstown to embark, there was an American wake in the town with strong drink, set-dancing and a singsong send-off. Buckley had penned a ballad to ‘Sweet Kingwilliamstown’, a tuneful tribute that endures in the area, but chose that night to sing an optimistic valediction: ‘When the Fields are White with Daisies, I’ll Return’.
Aboard the White Star vessel, Buckley and three friends found a Third-Class compartment near the bow. He shared the cramped room with his near neighbours Patrick O’Connell, Patrick O’Connor and Michael Linehan. Here is Buckley’s account in a letter to his mother composed three days after rescue:
On board the Carpathia, 18 March [sic], 1912.
I am writing these lines on board the Carpathia, the ship that saved our lives. As I might not have much time when I get to New York, I mean to give you an account of the terrible shipwreck we had.
At 11 p.m. on the 14th, our ship Titanic struck an iceberg and sank to the deep at 2.20
a.m. on the 15th. The present estimation is 1,500 lost, 710 saved. Thank God some of us are amongst the saved.
Hannah Riordan, Brigie Bradley, Nonie O’Leary and the Shine girl from Lismore
are all right.
There is no account of Patie Connell (25), Michael Linehan from Freeholds, or Jim
Connor, Hugh’s son, from Tureenavonacane. However I hope they were taken into some other ship.
There were four of us sleeping in the same apartment. We had a bed of our own and in every apartment there were four lifebelts, one for each person. At the time when the ship got struck I heard a terrible noise. I jumped out of bed and told my comrades there was something wrong, but they only laughed.
I turned on the light and to my surprise there was a small amount of water running
along the floor. I had only just dressed myself when the sailors came along shouting ‘All up on deck, unless you want to get drowned!’
We all ran up on deck. I thought to go down again to my room for a lifebelt and my
little bag. When I was going down the last flight of stairs the water was up three steps so I did not go any further. I just thought of Dan Ring’s saying ‘stick to your lifebelts and face a tearing ocean’.
We were not long on deck when the lifeboats were prepared. There were only sixteen
boats and that amount was only enough to carry a tenth of the passengers. The third boat that was let down, I went on it. There were about forty men in it.
We were only fifteen minutes in the boat when the big ship went down. It was a
terrible sight. It would make the stones cry to hear those on board shrieking.
It made a terrible noise like thunder when it was sinking. There were a great many
Irish boys and girls drowned. I got out without any wound. There were a lot of men and women got wounded getting off the steamer.
A good many died coming out on the lifeboats and after getting on the Carpathia.
It was a great change to us to get on this strange steamer as we had a great time on the
Titanic. We got a very good diet and we had a very jolly time dancing and singing.
We had every type of instrument on board to amuse us, but all the amusement sank in
the deep. I will write a note when I get to New York. Good-bye at present.
Dannie was paid $100 in relief assistance by the American Red Cross. On 4 May 1912, he sent home a postcard of the Carpathia, telling his brother John: ‘I am sending you the picture of the ship that saved my life. Tell my mother to keep it and frame it. I hope she got better alright. I am getting on fine. Hoping ye are all well. Love to all. Dannie.’
Buckley testified before the Senate inquiry into the disaster, the only Irish passenger
to do so. Senator Smith, chairman of the subcommittee, took his evidence separately and the questions posed emanate from this source:
This night of the wreck I was sleeping in my room on the Titanic, in the steerage. There were three other boys from the same place sleeping in the same room with me. I heard some terrible noise and I jumped out on the floor, and the first thing I knew my feet were getting wet; the water was just coming in slightly. I told the other fellows to get up, that there was something wrong and that the water was coming in. They only laughed at me. One of them says: ‘Get back into bed. You are not in Ireland now.’
I got my clothes on as quick as I could, and the three other fellows got out. The room
was very small, so I got out, to give them room to dress themselves. Two sailors came along, and they were shouting: ‘All up on deck! Unless you want to get drowned.’
When I heard this, I went for the deck as quick as I could. When I got up on the
deck I saw everyone having those lifebelts on only myself; so I got sorry, and said I would go back again where I was sleeping and get one of those life preservers; because there was one there for each person.
I went back again, and just as I was going down the last flight of stairs the water was
up four steps, and dashing up. I did not go back into the room, because I could not. When I went back toward the room the water was coming up three steps up the stairs, or four steps; so I did not go any farther. I went back on the deck again, and just as I got there, I was looking around to see if I could get any of those lifebelts, and I met a First-Class passenger, and he had two. He gave me one, and fixed it on me.
Then the lifeboats were preparing. There were five lifeboats sent out. I was in the sixth. I was holding the ropes all the time, helping to let down the five lifeboats that went down first, as well as I could.
When the sixth lifeboat was prepared, there was a big crowd of men standing on the
deck. And they all jumped in. So I said I would take my chance with them.
Who were they?
Passengers and sailors and firemen, mixed. There were no ladies there at the same time. When they jumped, I said I would go too. I went into the boat. Then two officers came along and said all of the men could come out. And they brought a lot of steerage passengers with them; and they were mixed, in every way, ladies and gentlemen. And they said all the men could get out and let the ladies in. But six men were left in the boat. I think they were firemen and sailors.
I was crying. There was a woman in the boat and she had thrown her shawl over me,
and she told me to stay in there. I believe she was Mrs Astor. Then they did not see me, and the boat was lowered down into the water, and we rowed away from the steamer.
The men that were in the boat at first fought, and would not get out, but the officers
drew their revolvers, and fired shots over our heads, and then the men got out. When the boat was ready, we were lowered down into the water and rowed away from the steamer. We were only about 15 minutes out when she sank.
What else happened?
One of the firemen that was working on the Titanic told me, when I got on board the
Carpathia and he was speaking to me, that he did not think it was any iceberg; that it was only that they wanted to make a record, and they ran too much steam and the boilers bursted. That is what he said.
We sighted the lights of the big steamer, the Carpathia. All the women got into a
terrible commotion and jumped around. They were hallooing and the sailors were trying to keep them sitting down, and they would not do it. They were standing up all the time.
When we got into the Carpathia we were treated very good. We got all kinds of
Did you feel a shock from the collision when the ship struck?
Yes, I did.
And did that wake you up?
It did. I did not feel any shock in the steamer; only just heard a noise. I heard a kind of a grating noise.
Did you get right out of bed?
Yes, I did.
When you got out, you got into the water? There was water in your compartment in the steerage?
Yes; water was there slightly. There was not very much.
The floor was only just getting wet. It was only coming in under the door very slightly.
You had two or three boys with you?
Yes; three boys that came from the same place in Ireland.
What became of those other three boys?
I cannot say. I did not see them any more after leaving the room where I parted from them.
They were lost?
Yes, they were lost.
Was there any effort made on the part of the officers or crew to hold the steerage passengers in the steerage?
I do not think so.
Were you permitted to go up to the top deck without any interference?
Yes, sir. They tried to keep us down at first on our steerage deck. They did not want us to go up to the First-Class place at all.
Who tried to do that?
I cannot say who they were. I think they were sailors.
What happened then? Did the steerage passengers try to get out?
Yes, they did. There was one steerage passenger there, and he was getting up the steps, and just as he was going in a little gate a fellow came along and chucked him down; threw him down into the steerage place. This fellow got excited, and he ran after him, and he could not find him. He got up over the little gate. He could not find him.
What gate do you mean?
A little gate just at the top of the stairs going up into the First-Class deck.
There was a gate between the steerage and the First-Class deck?
Yes. The First-Class deck was higher up than the steerage deck, and there were some steps leading up to it, 9 or 10 steps, and a gate just at the top of the steps.
Was the gate locked?
It was not locked at the time we made the attempt to get up there, but the sailor, or
whoever he was, locked it. So that this fellow who went up after him broke the lock on it, and he went after the fellow that threw him down. He said if he could get hold of him he would throw him into the ocean.
Did these passengers in the steerage have any opportunity at all of getting out?
Yes, they had.
What opportunity did they have?
I think they had as much chance as the First- and Second-Class passengers.
After this gate was broken?
Yes, because they were all mixed. All the steerage passengers went up on the First-Class deck at this time, when the gate was broken. They all got up there. They could not keep them down.
How much water was there in the steerage when you got out of the steerage?
There was only just a little bit. Just like you would throw a bucket of water on the floor; just very little, like that.
But it was coming in, was it?
Yes, it was only just commencing to come in. Then I went down the second time, to get one of the life preservers, there was a terrible lot of water there, in a very short time.
It was just about three steps up the stairs, on the last flight of stairs that I got down.
Did you find any people down in the steerage when you went back the second time?
There were a number, but I cannot say how many. All the boys and girls were coming up against me. They were all going for the deck.
Were they excited?
Yes, they were. The girls were very excited, and they were crying; and all the boys were trying to console them and saying that it was nothing serious.
Were you crying at the time?
Not at this time. There was a girl from my place, and just when she got down into the lifeboat she thought that the boat was sinking into the water. Her name was Bridget Bradley. She climbed one of the ropes as far as she could and tried to get back into the Titanic again, as she thought she would be safer in it than in the lifeboat. She was just getting up when one of the sailors went out to her and pulled her down again.
How many people were there in the steerage when you got out of bed?
I cannot say.
Could you see many people around?
Yes, sir; there was a great crowd of people. They were all terribly excited. They were all going for the decks as quick as they could. The people had no difficulty in stepping into the lifeboat. It was close to the ship.
I want to ask you whether, from what you saw that night, you feel that the steerage passengers had an equal opportunity with other passengers and the crew in getting into the lifeboats?
Yes, I think they had as good a chance as the First- and Second-Class passengers.
You think they did have?
Yes. But at the start they tried to keep them down on their own deck.
But they broke down this gate to which you have referred?
And then they went on up, as others did, mingling all together?
Yes, they were all mixed up together.
Have you told all you know, of your own knowledge, about that?
Were you where you could see the ship when she went down?
Yes, I saw the lights just going out as she went down. It made a terrible noise, like thunder.
I wish you would tell the committee in what part of the ship this steerage was located.
Down, I think, in the lower part of the steamer, in the after part of the ship, at the back.
That is all. Thank you.
Buckley told the Daily Times on landfall: ‘The lights were kept burning until the ship sank from sight. Men fought with women down in the steerage, and time and again officers would drag men from the boats in order to let women have their places.’
Daniel Buckley is buried in his native Ballydesmond, County Cork. The inscription
on his grave reads: ‘Of your charity, pray for the soul of Dannie Buckley, Ballydesmond, who was killed in action in France, on Oct 15th 1918, aged 28 years. Survivor of Titanic.’
Brave Irish American Soldier Second Lieutenant Daniel Buckley
A survivor of the ill-fated Titanic, he volunteered for active service under the stars and stripes in the 69th Irish (Rainbow Division) on American entrance to the war.
He came to France with his regiment in October 1917, saw fighting in several battles,
had some miraculous escapes, the same Supernatural power which aided him in the Titanic still appearing to come to his assistance.
He was wounded, though not seriously, in April last, and fell, paying the supreme
penalty, fighting under the flag of his adopted country, just previous to the cessation of hostilities. He was a native of Kingwilliamstown, County Cork, where he was extremely popular previous to his departure for the States.
(The Cork Examiner, 15 January 1919)
Buckley had joined the US army in June 1917, reasoning that it was better to choose his unit rather than wait to be conscripted. He wrote home having left his job in a Manhattan hotel: ‘Well mother, I am after volunteering to go with the 69th regiment. The regiment is composed of all Irish fellows, about 2,000 strong … I hope you won’t be vexed, but proud that there is one of the family gone in at least to put some nails in the Kaiser’s coffin.’
He trained at Camp Mills in Long Island and arrived in France that fall with Company
K of the 165th US infantry. His early letters complained of overcharging by locals – ‘they think we must be all millionaires when we come from the US’ – while adding that he had little of his $15 a month pay left having contributed $6.70 to an insurance scheme. He also arranged for much of the pay to be channelled directly to his family.
He was soon in the trenches, and though censorship meant he could not describe
military activity, wrote glowing generalised accounts: ‘We had some great battles with the huns, but they run away when they see an American bayonet shining in the sunlight.’
Reality intruded, and he sustained some wounds which he passed off with brief
references. A letter written on captured German paper related the death of a friend, Jack Reardon. ‘He was a fine fellow and loved by all his pals as he was full of life. God have mercy on his soul. I hope he is better off, as this is a rough life over here. He was not killed instantly, but died in hospital. I have had some narrow escapes myself, but thanks to God I have been lucky so far …’
His last letter was written on 9 October 1918, six days before his death:
My dear mother,
I am writing you a few lines hoping you are well, also Nonie, Julian, Jack and Neal, also all in Kingwilliamstown.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago and did not get a chance since, as we are very busy
drawing the huns back on all fronts. I believe the war will soon be over, as the Germans are getting a great licking.
I received the medals you sent me, also the cigarettes, but only 15 packets were left. I
was glad to get them as I was at the front then. At present I am behind the lines a little way and the music of our big guns is ringing all around.
“The Irish Aboard the Titanic” by Senan Molony is available online.
* Originally published in 2012.