00:00 Saturday 14 April 2012 

Ballydehobs Titanic three

EXACTLY a century ago this week, excitement was mounting in Europe and the United States as the White Star liner, the Titanic, the largest and most luxurious ship of its time, was about to set sail on her maiden voyage from Europe to New York on April 10th, 1912.  

The rich and famous vied to be included on the passenger list, first class, of course, but many were disappointed to find that tickets were almost impossible to procure. The demand for steerage, third class, tickets was much less as the emigrant poor who made up the bulk of those travelling in that section seemed quite happy to travel on the first available ship.

Throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, emigration to Britain and America was at its peak as thousands of young men and women departed annually in search of a better life. Thus, almost every town and village had its own shipping agent to facilitate the emigrants' departure.  

Ballydehob was no different with John Barry being the local White Star Line shipping agent.  John, as well as being the rate collector for the Schull District of the Mizen Peninsula - Ballydehob, Schull and Goleen - ran a family business, which included a hotel and shipping agency on Main Street where Hudson's Health Food Store is now located.

It mustn't have been unusual for him, when in late March or early April, 1912, he sold three steerage class tickets to three young ladies for passage to America. Little did they or he know how fateful those berths on the new giant liner, 'the unsinkable Titanic', would be.

The tickets, all of which were numbered in sequence - 14311, 14312 and 14313 - were sold to Bridget Driscoll, Letter, Ballydehob; Mary Kelly, a native of Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, and Annie Jane Jermyn, Derreenaclough, Ballydehob, respectively. The total cost per ticket was the expensive sum, at the time, of £7-15s-0d - £7 for the boat and 15 shillings for rail transport from Ballydehob to Cobh, or Queenstown, as it was then known.  

The 80-mile long rail journey consisted of the short trip to Skibbereen on the West Carbery Tramway, then on to Cork city on the West Cork Railway and, finally, from there to Cobh for embarkation. There they joined the 110 other third class passengers who boarded the ship in Queenstown.

Folk memory

The story of Bridget Driscoll has always lived on in folk memory because of her widespread family connections that still exist in Ballydehob, but with passing years memories of the other young ladies had vanished. To mark the village's unique connection with the Titanic, Ballydehob Community Council has decided to erect a plaque beside the Danno Mahony Monument in their memory and in memory of all the others involved in the disaster.  This plaque will be unveiled on the centenary of the terrible event, which is next Sunday, April 15th, at 2pm.

Bridget Driscoll, at 27, the oldest of the girls, was born on January 17th, 1885.  She was the eldest daughter of John and Kate Driscoll, who resided on the family farm at Letter, Ballydehob.  Happily, that direct connection continues today with her niece, Miss Kitty O'Driscoll, who will be shortly celebrating her 96th birthday, still living in Letter.  

Bridget had actually emigrated to America in 1910, but on hearing that her mother was seriously ill, returned home the following year.  Unfortunately, her mother had died a matter of days before her return. So, after spending a short time in Letter, she decided to return to America.

Mary Kelly, the recipient of the second Ballydehob ticket, was just 22 years of age, having been born in Collinstown, near Castlepollard, to Laurence Kelly, an agricultural labourer and his wife, Mary, on February 19th, 1890. How Mary came to buy her ticket in the Ballydehob Shipping Agency is a matter of great speculation.  By 1911 her father had died and her widowed mother, with Mary's younger siblings, had moved into the 'Widows' Home' in Pakenham Hall (Green) Street, Castlepollard.  No record of Mary living in Co Westmeath during that year is available.

However, in 1911, a Mary Kelly, who fits her profile, was working as a domestic servant in 'a big house,' Rosnalee, owned by a prosperous family named Leader in the parish of Dromtarriffe in the Millstreet-Kanturk area of Duhallow, Co Cork.  Can we assume that she must have moved on to Ballydehob to take up similar employment some time after the census of 1911?

It seems likely as otherwise it doesn't seem feasible, considering the distance, 70 or 80 miles, between the two locations, that she would have purchased her ticket from John Barry.  Her grand-daughter, Mary Moynihan, who lives in Florida has been in email contact with us and, in one of her communications, she said that her grandmother often mentioned Ballydehob when she, Mary Moynihan, was a young child.  

The older Mary's plans to stay in Ireland don't seem to have been of a long term nature as she had decided to join and marry her boyfriend, John Heslin from Castlepollard, who was already in New York.  Her uncle, Jack Kelly, in the US, sponsored her trip.

Annie Jane Jermyn, the third ticket holder, born on July 13th, 1885, was 26 years old when she decided to emigrate. She was the third of nine children of Henry, a farmer, shopkeeper and builder, and his wife, Susan, Derreenaclough, Ballydehob. Annie Jane, or Nancy, as she was called by the family, was planning to stay in Lynn, Massachusetts, with her older married sister, Mary Grace Draper.  

There are now no close remaining relatives of the Jermyns in Ballydehob as shortly after the Titanic tragedy, the entire family, including the parents, all moved, lock, stock and barrel, to the United States, where Henry and Susan lived in a substantial dwelling on Carlton Street, Peabody, Massachusetts.  However, a number of further-removed cousins still live in the general West Cork area and Henry's excellent workmanship as a builder can be observed locally in many houses reputedly built by him. William Swanton, a co-researcher of this article, has a particularly close connection with him as his mother, Mrs Sadie Swanton, lives in the original Jermyn home and William, himself, lives in a house nearby built by Henry.

Was experienced

There is no record of whether the three girls were acquainted with each other as they set off from the railway station in Ballydehob, but in all probability, they must have communicated on the way, the other two depending on Bridget as she was an experienced trans-Atlantic traveller. This experience may have been a fortunate turn of events when disaster struck early on the night of April 14th, 1912.

As well documented, escape from the stricken ship was chaotic with third class passengers confined to the bowels of the liner until almost the very last minutes. Therefore Bridget's relative intimacy with life aboard ship may have saved all three.

In a newspaper interview afterwards, Annie Jane said that the third class passengers were made prisoners by a heavy ten-foot high gate which was locked.   Nearly two hours passed before they succeeded in getting on deck, many still in their night clothes and bare feet.  

As the final lifeboat, 'Collapsible D', was being launched at 2.05am on April 15th, Bridget made her way on to the boat, followed by Mary and then Annie Jane, who injured her chest jumping on board.  At the last moment before the lifeboat was lowered into the freezing ocean, a remarkable event occurred: a frantic father handed Mary his two infant sons, Louis and Lola, and asked her to carry them to safety. Later the boys' story and rescue became headline news. 'Collapsible D' successfully made its escape and was just 100 metres from the doomed Titanic when she slid beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic.

Eventually, the survivors were picked up by another liner, the Carpathia,and conveyed safely to land. The 'Ballydehob Three' would, as far as we know, never meet again as their lives took very different paths.

Bridget initially stayed with her cousin, Mrs Minnie Fenn in Jersey City before marrying Dominic Joseph Carney.  They owned a grocery store in City Island, New York and had four children, Cathy, Joe, Patsy and Bill.  

She never again, for understandable reasons, crossed the Atlantic though her husband, Dominic, did and, while here, visited his in-laws in Ballydehob. After his death in 1963, she moved to Houston, Texas to live with her daughter, Cathy.  

Bridget Driscoll died on Tuesday December 28th, 1976 at the fine age of 91.  She had survived more than 64 years after her miraculous escape.

Mary Kelly went on to marry the love of her life, John Heslin, within a year of her rescue and went on to have six children.  She told her children that she escaped from steerage because a crew member showed her and others a way to the upper decks through a ventilation shaft. ,She died at her home in Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn, on Wednesday, December 27th, 1950, aged 60.  Her grand-daughter, Mary Moynihan, in an e-mail, said 'Mary travelled quite a bit. She did return to Ireland and travelled to England also.  She also made many trips to Canada'.

To meet her

Annie Jane, on arriving in the States, travelled on to Lynn in the company of her brother-in-law, Richard Draper, who went to New York to meet her when news of her survival became known. One of the local newspapers in Lynn reported on her rescue and safe return to her sister Grace's home.  

She was reunited with her parents when they moved to America, but soon after she became estranged from the family when she fell in love with a man deemed unsuitable.  Unfortunately, the break in relations seems to have never healed and we have no record of what eventually became of Annie Jane; whether she ever married the man that brought about the family difference or when she passed away.

What of the two young boys handed into the care of Mary Kelly as the last lifeboat was about to be launched? The story of 'The Orphans of theTitanic' became an international sensation.  

Three-year-old Michel Marcel and two-year-old Edmond Roger Navrati boarded the Titanic with their 32-year old father, Michel Snr., in Southampton.  Michel was estranged from his French wife and he took the children in a tug-of-love abduction when visiting them in the south of France.

He used the pseudonym, Hoffman, to travel on the liner.  Mary minded the boys until rescued by the Carpathia and then the mission to discover their true identity began.

Some passengers who had met their father on the Titanic identified them as the Hoffman children, but on arrival in New York and, after much publicity, their real names and backgrounds became known. Their mother travelled, at the expense of the White Star Line, amid a frenzy of press stories, to be re-united with them in America. Their father's body was found floating dead in the Atlantic, with a loaded revolver in his pocket. Mary Moynihan, in her exchanges with us, mentions that, later in life, they met her grandmother in Brooklyn.

Later, and even to this day on websites, etc, for reasons unknown, Ballydehob is listed as the home of a number, other than Bridget, Mary and Annie Jane, of Titanic passengers, lost and saved.  On The Sunday Independent of April 21st, 1912, Andy Keane, a prominent Galway hurler who hailed from Athenry and who died in the tragedy, is given as being from Ballydehob.

That ends the known Ballydehob connection with the Titanic, but we should also remember 21-year-old Denis O'Brien from Caheragh, who tragically didn't survive the disaster. Denis was a part-time postman who had a reputation locally as a talented young jockey.  

Paddy O'Driscoll, Letter, recalls how his late father used to talk about him, the races he won in Ballydehob and in the wider district of West Carbery and his unfortunate end.  Denis' father, Michael, was a farmer and publican while his mother, Mary, was the postmistress of the Caheragh Post Office. He had at least four sisters and two brothers.

Finally, compensation for the survivors and for the families of the lost was minimal by any standards. The White Star Line seems to have escaped almost scot-free except for its reputation. Bridget , Mary and Annie Jane received $100 from the American Red Cross to help replace their lost luggage and to cover other expenses.

A must-read for anyone interested in how Irish passengers fared in the disaster is Senan Molony's The Irish Aboard Titanic, republished this year by Mercier Press.

This article was researched by William Swanton and Noel Coakley.

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