Ellen Shine Callaghan

NYC Speaker Christine Quinn speaks about her grandmother’s survival on the Titanic


Ellen Shine Callaghan

A strong contender for the next New York City mayor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn recently recalled her grandmother’s story of survival on the Titanic.

A steerage passenger in her late teens, Ellen Shine set sail from Cobh for a new life in America.

“Her age is a bit in dispute,” Quinn told the New York Times. “She had two birth certificates.”

Quinn’s grandmother was orphaned and lived with her elder sister in rural Ireland near
Newmarket, County Cork. After taking in an orphaned infant the house became too crowded and it was decided that Ellen would go America.

“The only time we spoke about the Titanic was when she was recovering from a broken hip, and I asked her the story when we were hanging around her room,” Quinn said.

“The tradition was to travel with a relic or a medal or a holy card of a saint, and everyone prayed to that saint for your passage, and you sent it back when you got here,” Quinn said.

“She was heading to Cobh and bumped into one of her elementary schoolteachers. The teacher asked, ‘To whom should I pray?’ ”

This was embarrassing according to Quinn, as the decision about Ellen’s departure was made so quickly, they did not have time to pick out a saint.

“So the teacher then gave her a relic or a prayer card,” Quinn said. “I asked my sister, and Ellen’s recollection is it was St. Brigid. When the ship sank, she lost it. She felt horrible that she couldn’t send it back, and how would the teacher ever know?”

When the young Irish emigrant got off the rescue ship Carpathia she was in a terrible state.
“Her brother and her cousin didn’t know what to do with her, so they took their belts off and strapped her to a chair and carried her to their apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Just kind of left her there,” Quinn told the Times.

Quinn has her own theory on what the relic could have been.

“I bet it was a medal,” she said. “My grandmother, my mother and aunt always had 18 relics pinned to their bras.”

Adding: “It would be a nightmare today with the metal detectors”.

Because she did not speak openly about her brush with death, Christine’s mother Mary, did not know Ellen had been on the Titanic until eighth grade, when read an article about the tragedy in a newspaper.

“She said, ‘Mom, there was a girl on the Titanic with your name,’ ” Quinn said. “Her mother said, ‘No, Mary, that was me.’ ”

 Ellen Shine Callaghan died in 1993 at 101.


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