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 382650.
Paid £6 19s.
Boarded at Queenstown.
From: 2 Wolfe Tone Terrace, Athlone, County Westmeath.
Destination: E.G. Schuktze, 477 Avenue E, Brooklyn, New York city.
Eugene Daly was on board the Titanic until the very end. His sensational story tells of an officer shooting two men dead – before another shot rings out and the officer himself falls.
Daly’s account of the panic and of his own escape is probably the most graphic of any told by any survivor. He was in compartment C-23 on F deck, very far forward on the starboard side, so close to the impact that he was almost thrown out of bed:
"I was in compartment 23, Deck C, steerage [there was no steerage accommodation on C Deck]. Two other men were with me. I was in my bunk asleep on the Sunday night (the night of the disaster). A crash woke me up. It nearly threw me from my bed. I got up and went to the door. I put on my trousers and shoes.
"I met the steward in the gangway. He said there was nothing serious and that I might go back. I went back for a little while. Then I went up on deck as I heard a noise there. People were running around. Then I went down and went to the room where Maggie Daly and Bertha Mulvihill were.
"They came out with me, but a sailor told us there was no danger. He said the ship would float for hours. He also said to go back, and that if there was any danger he would call us.
"I went for a lifebuoy in the stern and Maggie and Bertha came with me. I had a scuffle with a man for a lifebuoy. He would not give it to me, but he gave it to Maggie Daly.
"There was a great deal of noise at this time and water was coming in. We knelt down and prayed in the gangway. Then the sailor said there was danger. We went to the deck but there were no boats going off. Then we went to the second cabin deck. A boat was being lowered there. It was being filled with women. Maggie and Bertha got in, and I got in. The officer called me to go back, but I got in. Life was sweet to me and I wanted to save myself. They told me to get out, but I didn’t stir. Then they got hold of me and pulled me out. Then the boat was lowered and went off.
"There was another boat there, but I went up to the first cabin. The steerage people and second cabin people went to the first cabin part of the ship. They were getting women into the boats there. There was a terrible crowd standing about. The officer in charge pointed a revolver and waved his hand and said that if any man tried to get in he would shoot him on the spot."
Saw two men shot
Two men tried to break through and he shot them both. I saw him shoot them. I saw them lying there after they were shot. One seemed to be dead. The other was trying to pull himself up at the side of the deck, but he could not. I tried to get to the boat also, but was afraid I would be shot and stayed back. Afterwards there was another shot and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him.
Then I rushed across the deck, and there was a sort of canvas craft there. I tried with six or seven men to get it out, but we could not. It was stuck under a wire stay which ran up to the mast. The water was then washing right across the deck. The ship lurched and the water washed the canvas craft off the deck into the ocean. I was up to my knees in water at the time. Everyone was rushing around, but there were no boats. Then I dived overboard.
When I struck the water I swam for the boat that had been washed over. When I got to her she was upside down. I helped myself up on her. About fifteen people got upon her the same way. At the time I jumped there were a lot of people jumping overboard.
As I stood on the craft I saw the ship go down. Her stern went up and she gradually sunk down forward. Her stern stuck up high. I thought she would fall over on us, and she seemed to be swinging around, but she did not. There was no suction at all that we felt. Our craft was not drawn in at all. - (Daily Sketch, 4 May 1912, reprint of New York Herald)
Eugene Daly was finally rescued on collapsible B, a life-raft lashed to the roof of the officers’ quarters on the port side until washed off by the onrushing sea. He had previously seen his cousin Maggie and his Athlone neighbor Bertha Mulvihill into lifeboat No. 15, all the way aft on the starboard side, which loaded from A Deck and from which he himself was bodily pulled having defied orders.
The boat where men were gunned down appears to have been collapsible A, all the way forward on the starboard side, since Daly says he then ‘rushed across the deck’ to collapsible B on the port side. In 1913 evidence he cited two shot dead, but no officer.
Dr Frank Blackmarr, a passenger on board the Carpathia, noted that Eugene Daly was unconscious when carried to his cabin, where he was revived with stimulants and hot drinks. Dr Blackmarr later took down Daly’s dictation of his experiences as they approached New York on 18 April 1912. This was his first account of what transpired:
"I left Queenstown with two girls from my own home town who were placed in my charge to go to America. After the accident, we were all held down in steerage, which seemed to be a lifetime. All this time we knew that the water was coming up, and up rapidly.
"Finally some of the women and children were let up, but, as you know, we had quite a number of hot-headed Italians and other peoples who got crazy and made for the stairs. These men tried to rush the stairway, pushing and crowding and pulling the women down, some of them with weapons in their hands.
"I saw two dagos shot and some that took punishment from the officers. After a bit, I got up on one of the decks and threw a big door over the side. I caught hold of some ropes that had been used setting free a lifeboat. Up this I climbed to the next deck because the stairs were so crowded that I could not get through.
"I finally got up to the top deck and made for the front. The water was just covering the upper deck at the bridge and it was easy to slide because she had such a tip.
([Blackmarr’s note:] Here this man fell back on his pillow crying and sobbing and moaning, saying: ‘My God, if I could only forget!’ After a bit he proceeded.)
My God, if I could only forget those women’s cries. I reached a collapsible boat that was fastened to the deck by two rings. It could not be moved. During that brief time that I worked on cutting one of those ropes, the collapsible was crowded with people hanging upon the edges. The Titanic gave a lurch downwards and we were in the water up to our hips.
She rose again slightly, and I succeeded in cutting the second rope which held her stern. Another lurch threw this boat and myself off and away from the ship into the water. I fell upon one of the oars and fell into a mass of people. Everything I touched seemed to be women’s hair. Children crying, women screaming, and their hair in their face. My God, if I could only forget those hands and faces that I touched!
As I looked over my shoulder, as I was still hanging [on] to this oar, I could see the enormous funnels of the Titanic being submerged in the water. These poor people that covered the water were sucked down in those funnels, each of which was twenty-five feet in diameter, like flies.
I managed to get away and succeeded in reaching the same boat I had tried to set free from the deck of the Titanic. I climbed upon this, and with the other men balanced ourselves in water to our hips until we were rescued. People came up beside us and begged to get on this upturned boat. As a matter of saving ourselves, we were obliged to push them off. One man was alongside and asked if he could get upon it. We told him that if he did, we would all go down. His reply was ‘God bless you. Goodbye.’
I have been in the hospital for three days, but I don’t seem to be able to forget those men, women and children who gradually slid from our raft into the water.
Signed, Eugene Daly. Collapsible B.
After safe arrival in New York, Daly wrote a letter to his mother in which he clearly and casually glossed over all that had happened:
Dear Mother, got here safe. Had a narrow escape but please God, I am all right, also Maggie. I think the disaster caused you to fret, but things could have been worse than what they were.
(The Cork Examiner, 7 May 1912)
But the Irish World of New York, in its May 4, 1912 issue, offered another picture:
Eugene Daly of County Athlone [sic] bore the marks on his face of blows from sailors who fought with him against entering the last boat as it was lowered with many vacant seats. With five other men he launched a life raft and put off, picking up a score or more of passengers and crew who were struggling in the water.
‘We were only a little distance from the Titanic when I saw her sinking and sinking, but I mistrusted my eyes until I looked and saw that the sea covered the place where she had been.’
It had all been so different when Daly first set out to join the Titanic at Queenstown. A 29-year-old weaver in Athlone Woollen Mills, he was also a mechanic and a prominent member of the Clan Uisneach War Pipers’ Band, the Irish National Foresters Band and the local Gaelic League. He had been working for ten years at the woollen mills when he decided to leave that job and the terraced family home which faced directly onto a salmon weir that roared and foamed with the rushing waters of the broad and majestic Shannon river. He bought his passage in Butler’s of the Square, Athlone.
Traveling with his 30-year-old cousin Maggie, Eugene played airs on his bagpipes on the tender America ferrying passengers from Queenstown to the Titanic anchorage at lunchtime on Thursday 11 April 1912. The Cork Examiner of 9 May reported that as the tender cast off from the quay, he played ‘A Nation Once Again’, his performance being received with delight and applause by his fellow travellers.
He played many native airs on board the tender and as the latter moved away from the liner, the pipes were once more giving forth A Nation Once Again. Those who were on board the tender that day heard with extreme pleasure of his being amongst the survivors."
Daly’s pipes are visible from his right ear downwards as he stands with them on the tender America in a little-known photograph taken on the day the Titanic sailed by Cork Examiner photographer Thomas Barker (see page 2).
The Westmeath Independent played up its local hero on May 4, 1912:
"Eugene Daly’s courage
"The courage credited to Eugene Daly in the foregoing will not surprise his fellow townsmen, who knew him as a man of principle and pluck. In the present deplorable disaster, he appears to have upheld the traditions of the Gael, and one can well imagine that when the Captain seized the megaphone and roared: ‘Be British!’ Daly thought of the Pipers’ Club in the old Border Town and determined to ‘Be Irish’, as he ever has been."
The Cork Examiner (May 7, 1912) said he was an Athlone man who ‘acted the part of a hero. He fought his way to the boats and was the means of saving two of his town’s women.’ Actually another passenger, Katie Gilnagh, also credited Daly with helping to save her life.
The Longford woman told how she was woken by a man she had seen playing the bagpipes on deck earlier that day. He told her to get up, ‘Something is wrong with the ship.’
"The famous bagpipes were actually Irish uileann pipes, and Daly later claimed $50 compensation from the White Star Line for their loss. He was very pleased with the level of compensation and considered it more than the pipes were worth. A set of pipes has been recovered from the Titanic’s debris field which may have belonged to Daly. They are undergoing restoration. Not everyone who heard them was impressed with his playing, however. Lawrence Beesley, a teacher in Dulwich College, wrote in his survivor’s account, The Loss of the SS Titanic:
Looking down astern from the boat deck or from the B deck to the steerage quarter, I often noticed how the Third-Class passengers were enjoying every minute of the time; a most uproarious skipping game of the mixed-double type was the great favourite, while ‘in and out and roundabout’ went a Scotchman with his bagpipes playing something that [W. S.] Gilbert said ‘faintly resembled an air’.
The Westmeath Examiner spoke of the same festive feeling:
Athlone piper’s story of Titanic disaster: scene of jollity
In a letter to a former colleague in the Athlone Pipers Band, Mr Eugene Daly describes the scene of jollity on board immediately before the Titanic ran into the iceberg. They were, he said, having a great time of it that evening in steerage.
‘I played the pipes and there was a great deal of dancing and singing. This was kept up even after we had struck, for the stewards came through and told us that we need not be afraid, that everything was all right. There was no danger, they said.
‘Most of those assembled believed them until it was too late. That is why so many of the steerage were drowned. When they tried to get on deck the rush had begun and they could not get to the boats.
‘I lost my pipes, which were a presentation, and which I prided myself so much on possessing. I lost my clothes and £98 which it had taken me many years to save in anticipation of this voyage to the United States …’
Daly later attested to the fact that his thick overcoat had saved his life in the freezing water. He dubbed it his lucky coat, and wore it religiously thereafter.
Report of the American Red Cross (Titanic disaster) 1913:
No. 99. (Irish.) Mechanic, 29 years of age, lost $250. Had delicate sister, aged 17, dependent on him in Ireland. ($250) Daly told US immigration in New York that he was from Lisclougher, County Meath, where his mother, Mrs Catherine Daly, was born. His younger sister named to the Red Cross was Maggie, the same name as his cousin who accompanied him on board the Titanic. The 1911 census report showed that his mother, Kate Daly, was a 60-year-old widowed housekeeper, while Maggie was a 21-year-old dressmaker, and Eugene’s brother John a 19-year-old warper of wool.
Finally, the Irish American newspaper of May 4, 1912, reported that the irrepressible Daly was quickly back to his pipes:
"Gaelic Feis in Celtic Park
"Athlone Piper Who Lost His Kilts and Pipes in Titanic Wreck to Play the Old Tunes
"The Gaelic Feis to be held in Celtic Park on May 19 … One of the competitors in the War Pipes is a survivor of the Titanic disaster, and he has recovered sufficiently to be confident of marching off with the prize. His name is Eugene Daly, from Athlone, Ireland. Eugene was coming from Ireland to compete at the New York Feis and sailed on the ill starred liner. He lost his Irish kilts and bag-pipes when the Titanic went down and he himself was floating on a raft for over two hours before he was picked up."
Eugene did not win the competition, but he stayed in New York for much of his life, occasionally returning to Ireland to visit relatives. On at least one occasion when he did so, he related that ‘six or seven’ men had been shot on board the vessel and that there had been pandemonium in the final struggles for survival. It was not at all as noble or as civilised as had been suggested, he said. He told his nephew Paddy Daly that by the time his lifeboat reached the Carpathia there were many already dead, ‘frozen solid’. Many years later, Daly was interviewed in Ireland in connection with script preparation for the 1958 film A Night to Remember.
He returned permanently to the United States in the early 1960s and died on October 30, 1965, at the age of 82, and was buried in St Raymond’s Cemetery, the Bronx. He and wife Lillian had an only daughter, Marian Joyce, later Marian Van Poppe.
Athlone woman Bertha Mulvihill told the Providence Evening Bulletin of April 19, 1912, that a boy named Eugene ‘Ryan’ from her home town had told the group on leaving Queenstown that he had dreamt the Titanic was going to sink:
‘Every night we were at sea he told us he had dreamt that the Titanic was going down before we reached New York. On Sunday night just before we went to bed, he told us the Titanic was going to sink that night. It was uncanny.’
Daly certainly knew Bertha and seems to have been keen on her. On August20, 1912, he sent a postcard to ‘Miss Mulvihill’ at the City Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. The card was a Titanic memorial card. Daly placed an X on the front illustration to indicate where his sleeping quarters had been and wrote on the reverse that he had ‘got home safe’, apparently after a visit to Bertha. He added: ‘Hope you keep well until we meet again and perm. me to be ever your friend, Eoghan O’Dalaigh, a survivor. xxx"
“The Irish Aboard the Titanic” by Senan Molony is available online.
* Originally published in 2012.