Travelling 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 4 May 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 (7 May 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 4 May 1912, reported that the irrepressible Daly was quickly back to his pipes: