Faces of the Titanic: Nora Keane survived - almost didn't make it as she wasted time putting on her corset


‘Later he proved of great use. He could handle the boat. After we rowed away from the ship, we learned that he was in the boat and asked him if we hurt him when we walked over him. He said, “No, still living.” The boat had but one sailor in it and this man came in very useful in helping us work the boat. He did good work … Two men floated by us. Both of them had life preservers. One of them drooped low in the water.

He did not call. The other called to us: “Take me on.” It was almost an impossibility to do anything. Our boat barely floated. “Goodbye,” the man in the water called. Then his head went down a little later. He disappeared out of sight. That was the case with many others. It was [a] terrible sight to witness. It cannot be forgotten. The sight of men in the sea was awful.’

From the lifeboat, Nora saw the Titanic go down. ‘The ship seemed to go down forward and raise to an awful height, all at once. There was a roar and a deafening sound. The cries and moans of those passengers and crew in the water were awful. Very soon there was nothing seen or heard. The ship went down about 100 yards from where our boat was. Bodies drifted past us. Pieces of the wreck were around.

‘And that band played, I don’t know how the men did it, while we were getting on the boats. It played when we drifted away. Men jumped into the sea but the band played.

Some of them must have stood in water that was then over that part of the deck while they played, for we were on nearly the same level with the deck then.

‘They played Nearer My God to Thee till the ship rose and they went out of sight. They must have been playing when it went down,’ said Nora. Nora and the 704 other survivors were picked up by the Carpathia about daybreak. And it was The Patriot which told her brothers in Harrisburg that she was safe, having previously reported their anxiety about her. At 9.15 a.m. on 18 April, the Carpathia docked in New York where Nora was met by her brothers, Dennis, William, Patrick and John Keane.

Nora then returned to Harrisburg where she had made her home with another brother, Michael, who had a hotel there.

(The Patriot, 20 April 1912)

The same newspaper the day before quoted Nora, in an account dictated to her brother Dennis, as saying that ‘some shots were fired on the ship. People said men had been shot. I don’t know who they were … it is so awful I cannot think of all that happened.’

Nora, who discreetly carved eleven years off her age when signing aboard the Titanic, had been born in 1866 to John Keane (1819–1885) and his wife Nora Fee (d. 1916) of Gardenhill, Castleconnell, Limerick. Nora later bought and managed a pub in Harrisburg, using money she received from an inheritance. The American Red Cross assisted her to the tune of $100.

Nora told her family back in Ireland little about the disaster. She said the other women in her cabin were woken up by stewards and told to leave the ship immediately. She was in the lifeboat all night, dressed only in her nightgown – sans corset of course – and strictly enjoined her nephews and nieces in later life: ‘When they tell you to get off the boat, do what they say!’

She eventually returned to Ireland and died on 20 December 1944, at the County Infirmary in Limerick, aged 78. The cause of death was complications from a broken leg.

Source - Mercier Press - Ebooks from Ireland – Irish author on Kindle, iPad, Nook and all ereading devices

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