1. The Rice family
It doesn’t look like a sad place, Cobh. But this beautiful town in County Cork, where Atlantic Ocean winds blow through streets lined with colourful houses has many tragic tales to tell. In the 19th century, Cobh was one of the island’s main transatlantic departure points, with an estimated 2.5 million passing through here to find a new life in the United States. It was also the final port of call for the Titanic on April 11, 1912.
Step inside the Titanic Experience Cobh and you’ll find countless tales of personal tragedy, but none is more affecting than that of the Rice Family. Thirty-nine-year-old Margaret Rice from County Westmeath was travelling back to America, having returned to Ireland following the death of her husband a few years earlier. With her were their five young sons, ranging in age from 10 to just two years. Travelling in third class, the entire family perished on that fateful night, with eyewitness reports telling of Margaret on deck, with her four other children clutching at her skirt.
Cobh, County Cork
2. The Addergoole Fourteen
We can never really know the hopes and dreams of those who sailed in the Titanic. For many, it was a ticket to a new and hopefully a better life, while others were emigrants returning to America to continue their new lives there. You can almost imagine the sense of bittersweet excitement, though, as 14 people from one small village in County Mayo stepped onto the ship. One of the travellers, Annie Kate Kelly, wrote to her cousin in advance of the journey: “I am coming to America on the nicest ship in the world. I am coming with some of the nicest people in the world, too. Isn’t that just splendid?"
Her cousin got the letter on the day that the world learned of Titanic’s sinking, but luckily Annie and two others survived. Annie secured a place in a lifeboat after a young bride gave up her seat to remain with her husband on the ship. The stories of the Addergoole 14 are recorded in The Addergoole Titanic Stories, while the Addergoole Titanic Memorial Park cherishes the memory of those who perished.
3. Tommy Millar and the two pennies
Personal connections to Titanic are fading as time goes on, but for Susan Millar who runs Titanic Tours Belfast, the links are still very strong. Millar is a direct descendant of Tommy Millar, who worked for the Titanic shipbuilders Harland and Wolff in their engine shop. Hopeful of a new life in America with his wife Jeannie and their two sons, Millar studied to become an engineer. In 1912, Jeannie died but Tommy stuck with his plans to emigrate and joined the White Star Line as a deck engineer on board Titanic.
On the day Titanic was setting sail from Belfast, Tommy said goodbye to his two sons and gave them each two pennies, telling them not to spend them until they saw him again. Tommy died in the disaster, but his youngest, Ruddick, never spent his penny, which is now owned by Susie Millar. Take a tour with Susie and you can hear more of these incredible personal tales about Tommy, the Titanic and its relationship with what was one of the greatest shipbuilding cities in the world, Belfast.
The Marconi station
4. The Marconi Station
Born into the Italian nobility in 1874, Guglielmo Marconi became an expert on long-distance radio transmission and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909. One of Marconi’s pioneering achievements was in the development of transatlantic transmissions leading to a regular radio telegraph service between Clifden in Ireland, and Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. But it was the role Marconi played in the Titanic disaster that really brought him fame and attention.
Two of Marconi’s radio operators were on board that night, and many have blamed problems with the communications equipment for the severity of the disaster. In the weeks after the sinking, the New York Times wrote: “Sixteen hundred lives were lost that might have been saved if the wireless communication had been what it should have been.” Today, the remains of Marconi Station can be found in Connemara, County Galway, where there are plans to redevelop the site as a major tourist attraction.
5. The last letter of Dr Simpson
A final letter written from on board the Titanic – just another other of the heartbreaking stories from the tragedy. Titanic’s assistant ship’s surgeon, Dr John Simpson died when the ship sank on that fateful April night. But his last letter to his mother in Belfast, written on Titanic headed notepaper, was brought ashore during the ship’s last stop in Cobh, County Cork.
It’s a simple letter from a son to his mother – updating her on his journey and complaining about the theft of some money from his trunk on board the Titanic. Neither could know that it would be their last communication. The letter survived and was in the Simpson family’s possession for many years. But you can find it now in Titanic Belfast – the city’s interactive Titanic museum. It remains a poignant reminder of the human toll of the disaster.