Margaret Devaney tightly gripped a tiny pen-knife her 12-year-old brother, John, gave her as a farewell present just before she sat into the pony cart that took her to Ballisodare railway station 100 years ago for a train to the Titanic.
His parting words to his 19-year-old sister, as each wondered tearfully when they might meet again, were that the knife would be useful to cut fruit on her journey to New York. Neither realized that in just a few days the knife would play a vital role in saving 32 lives.
The knife was discovered last weekend by this reporter in time for a commemoration in April of the sinking of the ship. The commemoration is planned by the Sligo shop, Barton Smith, where the knife was repaired just months before the Titanic disaster.
Margaret produced it in reply to a plea for help from a ship steward on Titanic collapsible C lifeboat in time to cut free ropes that allowed the vessel to sail away minutes before it would have been dragged down by the sinking ship.
Now Margaret, a 19-year-old from Kilmacowen near Sligo town, and her knife are to be remembered with a special April event to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. The knife was repaired by Archie Smith early 1912.
Descendants of Archie, great grandson of Barton Smith who opened the Sligo shop in 1788, thought it was with Titanic artifacts in a museum.
But it was traced on Saturday to Margaret’s granddaughter, Patti Gildenberg in Houston. Patti, 62, also has Margaret’s £7.17.7(seven pounds, seven shillings and seven pence) sailing ticket Number 330958, and an emblem from the life-saving boat. She also proudly possesses Margaret’s Rosary beads which she prayed on in the lifeboat.
Patti, a doctor’s wife, said, “My grandmother clutched her beads in her hands saying the Rosary for the people suffering and screaming in the water. We wouldn’t be without those beads in this family. I’m so proud of what she instilled in all of us.”
Margaret left her parents’ two-room stone cottage to seek her fortune and join a brother and two sisters who were already in New York.
Her father left her to Ballisodare railway station in a pony cart, and she then travelled by train to Queenstown, now Cobh, where she was ferried by tender to the Titanic for the trans-Atlantic crossing.
She was traveling third class and, when tragedy struck, was forced to climb up ladders and past locked gates to reach second class before she was caught up in a crowd around collapsible C and was bundled into the boat. Two men were threatened with a gun by an officer before they left the lifeboat to make room for women and children.
As the boat was lowered the crew had difficulty loosening the falls. Margaret handed over her pen-knife and the blades, repaired just a few months earlier in Barton Smith in Sligo, cut the boat free and saved 32 lives.
Margaret’s only surviving child of her New York marriage in 1919 to John Joseph O’Neill is her daughter Helen Landsberg, 86, who lives in the city of Clifton, New Jersey.
Helen, Patti Gildenberg’s aunt, said, “I think it is a great idea that Sligo is remembering my mother on the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. I hope they have a big party for it.”
Margaret Devaney, who died in June 1974, is buried in the Holy Name Cemetery, Jersey City, New Jersey.
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