On July 24, 1915, Western Electric Co. employees and their families boarded the S.S. Eastland, one of five ships chartered for a company outing, bound for a picnic across Lake Michigan to Michigan City, Ind. Twenty feet from the Chicago wharf, the excursion boat, top-heavy and overloaded with more than 2,500 passengers and crew, listed to its side and many people were thrown into the filthy water of the Chicago River, while hundreds of others were trapped inside the vessel as water flooded in. That day, 844 people, mostly working class, were killed.

On Friday, July 24, Chicago residents, historians, and the descendants of the victims and survivors gathered in Chicago to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Eleanor Fitzmaurice, from Ballingarry, Ireland, traveled to Chicago to attend the commemorations and to visit Mount Olivet Cemetery, the final resting place of her two great-aunts who died with hundreds of others in the tragic accident.
The sisters, Catherine and Hanora Moynihan, were telephone operators for Western Electric Co. 

Fitzmaurice only learned of the sisters in January 2014 and was drawn to their story.

"I have been very fortunate to put the pieces of the jigsaw together," she told DNAinfo.com.

Fitzmaurice visited the cemetery with her husband, Paudie, and her two children — Frank Ryan of Dublin and Beth Ryan of Vancouver.

The family’s pilgrimage begins with Hanora Preston, who was born in Ballingarry, Ireland, in 1859 and immigrated to New York in 1878. She married Michael Moynihan shorty after her arrival, and the couple had two children, John and Catherine. The family thenmoved to Iowa.

"I believe they followed the railroad. Plus the eldest son ended up working for the railroad," Fitzmaurice said.

Hanora had three more children—Henry, Mary, and Hanora. In 1890, Michael Moynihan died, and Hanora married Maurice McCann in Buena Vista County, Iowa. Together, Maurice and Hanora McCann had two children. Ellen was born in 1895, and Joseph was born three years later. Ellen McCann is Fitzmaurice's grandmother on her father's side.

In 1907, after Maurice died, Hanora McCann returned to Ballingarry in 1907 with her two McCann children. Her father was ill back home, and Hanora later inherited the family farm where she lived the remainder of her life.

Fitzmaurice said she always wondered why her grandmother moved back to Ireland from America. 

"That's where my mystery started," she said on Monday. "It became an absolute fascination for me."

Hanora’s daughters, Catherine and Hanora Moynihan, had traveled to Chicago to stay with their aunt and uncle, John and Mary O'Keeffe. 

Mary O'Keeffe and her daughter Katherine were also on the Eastland on that day but were rescued. Catherine and Hanora Moynihan were likely below deck listening to live music. Many of those killed were trapped on the lower levels.

Fitzmaurice says she could only imagine the horror her great-grandmother must have felt while living in Ireland and learning her two daughters were killed on the Eastland. Three years later, she'd receive news of another tragedy befalling her son, John Michael Moynihan, a switchman for the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, who died after being struck by a cart in south suburban Harvey. He is also buried at Mount Olivet

She says she was touched by the commemorative ceremonies held on Friday for all the victims of the Eastland disaster.

"It was really really moving.”

Fitzmaurice has vowed to return to Chicago and erect small headstones marking the plots of her distant relatives.