Irish woman Mary Delia Burns died aboard the Titanic after sacrificing her own safety for her friend.

Editor's note: 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.

Mary Burns

Ticket number 330963. Paid £7 12s 7d, plus extra 5s.

Boarded at Queenstown. Third Class.

From: Kilmacowen, Knocknarae, County Sligo.

Destination: 942 Kent Avenue, Brooklyn, New York City.

Mary Delia Burns could have been killed by her own kindness. It was reported from one source that the teenager chose to attend Kate Hargadon on board the Titanic as the latter was suffering from nausea and was unable to climb a ladder to the boats.

Mary, known as Delia by her family, had been rooming in the single women’s quarters at the stern of the vessel with fellow Sligo woman Kate and her own near-neighbor Margaret Devaney. They were in compartment Q-138 on E deck.

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The Irish World published Margaret Devaney’s account of what happened to the trio in its edition of 4 May 1912:

"There were four of us from Knocknarae, County Sligo – Mary Burns and Kitty Hargadon and a boy we knew. We were all on deck, not thinking it was serious when the boy comes along and said: ‘You girls had better get into a boat.’ Then he held out his hand, saying: ‘I hope we’ll meet again.’"

"I got into the boat, but Mary Burns and Kitty Hargadon held back, thinking it was safer to remain on the ship. I never saw them again."

Lifeboats fleeing the sinking Titanic

Lifeboats fleeing the sinking Titanic

Seventeen-year-old Mary thought she was used to the sea. She lived in a tiny two-story home less than 100 yards from the beach at the end of a narrow boreen that gives onto Ballysadare Bay. Mary had often helped carry seaweed up to the parcel of land they called a farm to act as fertilizer for the soil.

In the 1911 census, her age appears correctly as 16, with a brother Joseph, aged 12. Her parents, Thomas, a laborer, and Mary, née Monaghan, were aged 43 and 37 respectively. Mary’s date of birth was 15 November 1894.

Like many another young girl, she hoped to become a housemaid for a wealthy family in New York and was traveling to the home of her aunt, Mary Sheridan, where she had been promised room and board.

As with the overwhelming number of Irish victims, her body was never recovered.

"Her death was never spoken about in the house afterward because it was so sad," said a younger sister, still alive at the century’s end, who asked not to be identified.

The Cork Examiner of Saturday 20 April 1912, noted:

There are two names of Mary Burns and Ellen Shine on the passenger list of the Titanic, while on the list of those saved, the names Burns without a Christian name and Axel Shine appear and probably mean the same. There is, therefore, some doubt about these passengers. Ellen Shine was indeed rescued, but about the fate of Mary Burns there was no doubt at all – she drowned in the North Atlantic.

Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund, 1913 Report: Case No. 446. Burns, parents, £25.

“The Irish Aboard the Titanic” by Senan Molony is available online.

* Originally published in 2012. Updated in April 2024.