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Wednesday 13 December 2017

The Wexford six onboard Titanic

Hugh Walter Mcelroy, Chief Purser

Age: 37 From: Spring House, Ballymitty (just beyond Tullicanna crossroads)

PERISHED

HERBERT (or Hugh) Walter Mcelroy was less than two years married to his long time sweetheart Barbara Mary Ennis when he went down with the Titanic. The couple had met in Liverpool where Mcelroy grew up, the son of Wexford emigrants. Her father, the passenger manager of the Allan Line of steamships, had retired with his family to an extensive farm in Wexford.

Mcelroy had one of the most important jobs on board the Titanic. His role as Chief Purser made him the principal link between crew and passengers. He was a charming and likeable individual, as noted by Fr. Francis Browne, the famous photographer of the era, who had called to see Mcelroy in his office and recalled that 'a letter of introduction served as a passport to the genial friendship of Mc Mcelroy'.

The Wexfordman was a good friend of Titanic captain EJ Smith and the two were pictured on the deck together in a famous photograph. There is evidence that Mcelroy played a major role in preparing passengers to abandoned ship after the Titanic struck the iceberg, and that he fired shots into the air from a pistol to calm a panicked crowd and stop male passengers overloading the lifeboats. One first class passenger, Jack Thayer, recalled years after the sinking: 'Purser HW Mcelroy, as brave and as fine a man as ever lived, was standing next to the last boat, loading it. Two men dropped into the boat from the deck above [and] he first twice in the air. I do not believe they were hit, but they were quickly thrown out.'

Before the ship went under Mcelroy and some of the officers shook hands on the deck of the Titanic and bid each other a final farewell. Mcelroy's body was recovered by the search vessel Mackay-bennett and buried at sea.

Robert Mernagh, Passenger

Age: 28 From: Ballyleigh, Ballywilliam, New Ross

PERISHED

ROBERT Mernagh, described as 'quiet and industrious', booked his third class berth on the Titanic with an agent in New Ross and boarded at Queenstown. His ticket cost £7 15s.

Robert was on his way back to Chicago where he had lived for two years. He was accompanying his first cousin Elizabeth Doyle from Bree and may have delayed his own return to the U.S. to travel with his younger cousin. Both Robert and Elizabeth were drowned and the New Ross Standard of May 17, 2012 reports a High Mass at Bree Catholic Church in their memory.

Later, the same newspaper carried this report of the ceremony: 'The relatives of the deceased man who were present are - Mr Matt Mernagh, father, also deceased's mother, his brother Mr James Mernagh, and his sisters Miss Mary Mernagh and Mrs John Molloy, Wexford. He was going to his brother Mr Matthew Mernagh, and his wife, in Chicago.

Robert has been born as one half of two male twins, but his brother Moses died in infancy. Robert's father died at the age of 86, four years and one week after his son's drowning on the Titanic.

John O'connor, Coal trimmer

Age: 25 From: Coolcotts, Wexford

SAVED

ON the day the Titanic left Southampton John O'connor must have considered himself lucky to be on board. He was one of twelve stand-by workers on the dock, ready to board if some of the crew didn't turn up. Three brothers, with the surname Slade, were too late to board when a passing passenger train halted their progress as they rushed to make the Titanic before it sailed. John O'connor and two others took their place.

O'connor worked in the engine room, keeping the coals level in the boilers. Fellow worker Jack Podesta told a newspaper reporter in 1968 that he remembered the Wexford town man and another trimmer, Wally Hurst, being picked up from a raft 'shivering terribly with cold'. ' My mate and I gave them blankets and rubbed their legs to start up their circulation.' O'connor recovered fully from

discharge his ordeal and signed the crew book on April 30,

2012 after returning to England on the SS Lapland.

IN his excellent and comprehensive account of the Irish aboard Titanic, Senan Molony says that ' Titanic is the Rolls Royce of shipwrecks'. He makes a valid point. The sinking of the great cruise liner, considered all but invincible until she struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage to New York, still resonates with people across the world today, just over 100 years since the awful event.

On April 10, 1912, the new Royal Mail Steamer Titanic, flagship of the White Star Line, cast off from Southampton, England, on her maiden voyage to New York. She stopped at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, picking up additional passengers and mail, as well to debark cross-channel passengers.

Steaming west from Queenstown, she carried 2,223 passengers and crew (though this exact number is not certain) - an eclectic mixture of Edwardian society. From the affluent first class, the likes of Astor, Straus and Guggenheim, to the largely forgotten third class and crew, with names such as Kirkham, Sage and Ward - each with their own unique story to tell.

Titanic's speed had been steadily increasing during the voyage as additional boilers were brought online, and on Sunday, April 14, the vessel was making approximately 21.5 knots. Throughout the day and into the night the temperature outside had been falling until some time shortly before the collision when it dipped below the freezing point.

At 11.40 p.m. Frederick Fleet, one of the lookouts stationed in the crow's nest, noticed something in the distance. He rang the warning bell three times, signalling the bridge of an object directly ahead, and picked up the bridge-crow's-nest telephone. A terse exchange over the telephone effectively warned the bridge of the impending danger, however, the warning had come too late to avert a collision.

Scenes of unimaginable horror followed. There were only 20 ifeboats, enough for slightly more than half of those on board, and the largely forgotten third class were kept below deck, many to drown as the ship went down. Of the 706 third class passengers, only 75 out of 462 men survived, 76 out of 165 women, and 27 out of 79 children. In total, 1,514 people perished on the Titanic.

A proportion of the third class passengers were Irish, many of whom had embarked at Queenstown.

Each recorded account of survival or loss is a human story of huge proportions. Entire familes were wiped out in some cases, one example being the Sages from Peterborough in England. John and Annie Sage and their nine children, ranging in age from 2 to 20, all died. A newspaper report at the time published the text from a postcard bearing a picture of the Titanic sent to a friend from one of the Sage children during the ship's stopover in Queenstown. ' Will write a long letter while on the boat,' wrote Stella Sage. 'Cheer up, I'm coming back soon.'

In the days and weeks after the sinking of the great ship many stories would emerge of people who had near misses: who missed the boat either because their financial circumstances had changed, or because they didn't make it in time for the sailing.

It's said that three brothers from the Camolin area missed the boat train from Dublin and were left behind, and that a Mr. O'gorman from the Adamstown area, home from America in ill-health and due to to back on the Titanic, decided to delay his return across the Atlantic.

This week, to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, we publish brief accounts of all the County Wexford people onboard, six in total, including four crew members and two passengers.

Elizabeth Doyle, Passenger

Age: 26 From: Bree

PERISHED

ELIZABETH (Lizzie) Doyle's decision to buy a third class ticket instead of the second class ticket she had originally intended to purchase, thereby saving £2 15s, may have cost her her life. 84 per cent of the women in second class were saved, but only just over half of the women passengers in third class survived.

Lizzie had come home from Philadelphia in America the previous year to nurse her widowed father, Martin Doyle, in his final illness and was travelling back to first stay for a time with Bridget Fox at West 80th Street in New York and then travel on to Chicago. She was in the company of her first cousin Robert Mernagh from Ballywilliam who also perished when Titanic sank.

Lizzie, or Lil as she was sometimes called, was said to have 'charming manners and a bright, sunny disposition'.

Her estate came to just £10 and was granted to her brother Jeremiah on March 12, 2013, the legals papers noting that his sister had 'died at sea in an accident to the steamship Titanic'.

Lizzie's name is included on a family headstone in Davidstown cemetery.

Neither her body, nor the body of her cousin Robert, were ever recovered.

Laurence Doyle, Fireman

Age: 27 From: County Wexford

PERISHED

LAURENCE Doyle's birthplace is not known but he is thought to be the Laurence Doyle listed in the 1901 census as a teenage servant on the Donohoe farm in Monamolin. Formerly a crewman on the Majestic, he earned £6 a month as a stoker on the Titanic. At the time of his death on the Titanic his address was given as 10 Orchard Place, Southampton.

George Mcgough, Able seaman

Age: 36 From: Duncannon

SAVED

Twelve years before landing a job on the Titanic George Mcgough had been jailed in England for killing a man in a drink-fuelled brawl on another ship anchored off Brazil. After serving his 15 months for manslaughter the Duncannon native returned to sea, sometimes using an alias, George F. Bergin. Mcgough was 36 at the hiring fair for the Titanic but claimed to be 25, as many job seekers

did. Just months before the sailed

he married Beatrice Nellie Gannaway who

was ten years his junior. After the Titanic

started to sink, Mcgough made it on to one of

the lifeboats and took the tiller. It was dangerously overloaded with around 80 people but they drifted until picked up by the SS Carpathia.

The Irish Independent of April 30, 2012, quotes Mcgough recollecting the last moments of the Titanic. 'I saw Captain Smith swimming towards another boat. When they reached out to help him, he shouted at them: 'Look after yourselves men. Don't mind me. God bless you'. Then he threw up his hand and disappeared.'

George Mcgough went back to sea after the Titanic tragedy. The last reference to the well-travelled Duncannon man was on the crew list for the Corbis arriving in New York from Mexico in

1924. The entry had a line through it with

a note reading: 'Deserted, Lisbon, October 19'.

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