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An Irish village remembers its loss

The story of the building of Titanic is told in Belfast. The story of mass emigration from Ireland, of which Titanic was one small part, is told in Cobh, formerly Queenstown.

But the story of the people -- the children of laborers, farmers and tradespeople -- who bought passage on Titanic to start new lives in America is told in the tiny County Mayo village of Lahardane, "Ireland's Titanic Village."

Fourteen people from Addergoole, the parish that includes Lahardane, booked passage to New York on Titanic. When the ship went down, 11 of them died, including the pregnant wife and sister of John Bourke, who refused to leave him. News of the loss plunged the village into shock and despair.

"It was the largest proportionate loss of life suffered by any community in the world," says Dylan Nolan, public relations officer for the Addergoole Titanic Society.

The group of 14 was gathered by Catherine McGowan, 42, who had immigrated to Chicago and returned home to bring her 17-year-old niece, Annie McGowan, to America. The 11 women and three men, most in their 20s and early 30s, were neighbors, friends and related by blood or marriage. "The families were all intertwined," says Dylan Nolan. "They would have known each other well."

The Western People newspaper of May 4, 1912, reported that the wake held for several of the Addergoole victims was "one of the saddest sights ever witnessed in the West of Ireland." Photos of the victims were laid on the beds where they had slept the night before leaving home. "The wailing and moaning of the people was most distressing and would almost draw a tear from a stone," the story said.

But, as decades passed, memories began to dim. Some of the families died out or moved from their home places, and their cottages fell into ruin. The Addergoole 14 were in danger of being lost again.

"It just wasn't spoken about," says Pauline Barrett, whose great-uncle, James Flynn, was headed for New York on Titanic.

Dr. Paul Nolan, who moved to Lahardane in 1985, heard about the Titanic link from some of his older patients. In 2001, Nolan joined with the parish priest, school principal and other residents to form the Addergoole Titanic Society.

That first year, a small group of people who had been discussing the event in the local pub next to St. Patrick's Church (where most of the Addergoole 14 were christened) left the pub in the early hours of April 15 and rang the church bell for each victim.

Next the group commissioned a plaque listing the 14, which was was put up inside St. Patrick's. Then money was raised to commission two splendid stained-glass windows telling the story of emigration and Titanic, which both seriously affected the village.

The Emigration Window depicts young people waving from the back of a pony cart as they leave, with the Holy Spirit shining down from above.

The Titanic Rescue Window reproduces the memory of one of the survivors, Anna Katherine "Annie Kate" Kelly, 20, who, as the No. 16 lifeboat was lowered, saw her friends gazing at her from the doomed ship. She remembered her cousin, Pat Canavan, holding up his rosary and blessing her, and her friend, Martha Mangan, who is pictured wearing the watch used to identify her body before she was buried at sea.

Up the road a bit, behind a neat Irish stone wall, is the new Addergoole Titanic Memorial Park. In a round central plot stand four figures, dressed for their journey. Two are gazing back at the gable end of a stone cottage constructed from blocks salvaged from the ruined homes of the 14 who died. "The light in the window at the gable end would be the last light you would see when you were leaving home," says Dylan Nolan.

Two other figures are gazing ahead at a 16-foot-tall reproduction of the bow of Titanic, sleek and eerie, framed against Mount Nephin.

Behind the four figures is a hearth where neighbors would have joined the resident family to tell stories, play music and read and reread the much-anticipated letters from America.

The stone hearth was salvaged, block by block, from one of the families' now-ruined cottages. "They would have sat around this hearth discussing the trip and deciding whether to go," says Paul Nolan.

Most of the money for the memorials was donated privately, and most of the work in Lahardane was done by volunteers.

This year's ceremony, like every other one, will include the traditional ringing of the Timony Bell, 11 somber tones for those lost and three joyous peals for those who survived.

The three women whose lives were saved all settled near Chicago, and except for Annie Kate Kelly, who became a Dominican nun, they had families. This year, many of their American descendents joined their Irish relatives in Lahardane to remember the Addergoole 14. The events of Mayo Titanic Culture Week in Lahardane will end today, but the memorials can be seen daily.


If you go

Entering Lahardane, which is on R315 about a half-hour north of Castlebar, you will see signs proclaiming it "Ireland's Titanic Village." St. Patrick's Church, on the right, houses the stained glass windows and plaque. Behind the church is the Timony Memorial Bell, rung each year on the anniversary of Titanic's sinking.

Next door to the church is Murphy's Pub, where proprietor Michael Murphy and his staff offer a warm welcome and excellent food and drink. The memorial park is across the main road and a short walk from Murphy's Pub. Many of the 800 or so residents of Lahardane, which may well be the friendliest place in Ireland, can talk about their personal Titanic connections.