Next month, people around Ireland and around the world will mark the centenary of the tragic sinking of the legendary passenger liner Titanic.
Crowds are expected in Belfast, where shipyard Harland and Wolff built the massive liner in the early years of the last century; and in Cobh, formerly Queenstown, where the ship last docked before sailing into history.
But closer to home, the west Donegal village of Maghery will host a special exhibition of Titanic and other period memorabilia, documents and films in a fundraiser for a Rosses team taking part in the Relay for Life in Letterkenny.
The exhibition will be held April 14 and 15 at the Maghery Community Centre. Admission is €5 and tickets are available locally or at the door.
The Titanic sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 2012, after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage. The ship carried more than 2,200 people, including passengers and crew. More than 1,500 lives were lost when the ship went down.
The Relay for Life Team behind the Titanic fundraiser, called the Rosses Rascals, are also planning a series of more traditional fund-raising activities from now until the Relay for Life on May 26th and 27th at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. The 24-hour walking relay, held this year in Donegal for the first time, will benefit the Irish Cancer Society.
Margaret Campbell of Maghery, captain of the Rosses Rascals team, said that even in these difficult economic times, people have been very generous.
“Everyone is pitching in, everyone’s helping, everyone is coming up with some ideas,” she said.
A relation at the boatyard
Margaret’s husband, Frank, has been collecting for as long as he can remember. There is a family connection to the great ship: His great-uncle, Charles Campbell, was a carpenter who worked on Titanic at Harland and Wolff. Frank suspects his uncle may have passed himself off as one of the Campbells of Plumbridge in Tyrone, a prominent Protestant family, to get the job at the boatyard.
Frank’s grandfather was also “an awful collector”, Frank recalled, and two of the first objects Frank obtained -- a box of matches now about a century old, and a gentleman’s razor that would date back even further, came from his grandfather.
Frank is putting together a series of pictureboards for the fundraising exhibition, highlighting the building of Titanic, the passengers that travelled on the ship, and the disaster. He will also have on exhibit artefacts from his collection that give a view of life in the early 20th century.
There will also be screenings of documentary films on Titanic and on the expedition that uncovered the wreck of the ship in 1985, as well as a screening of the Academy Award-winning film, “Titanic” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
Cream tea will be among the refreshments on offer that weekend.
The Titanic-related documents Frank has in his collection paint a particularly poignant picture of that terrible night. One of the pictureboards for the exhibition is dedicated to the only Donegal casualty of the sinking: Neal McNamee, born 1884 in Castlefinn. Then 24, Neal was travelling with his 19-year-old wife, Eileen, to take a job with the Lipton Tea company in New York. Both perished.
‘Trust rumours unfounded’
Frank has copies of the telegraphic messages sent from Titanic to her sister ship, RMS Olympic. One, timed at 11.40 pm, reads, “Titanic says tell captain we are putting the passengers off in small boats.” Though Olympic headed for Titanic, the ship was still 100 miles away when Titanic’s last known position was recorded.
At 11.45 pm the Olympic sent a message to ask the Titanic what weather they had and got the response, “clear and calm”.
The measured language of those messages must have been a sharp contrast to the chaotic scenes on the sinking liner.
“You try to imagine what was going on, and the panic, and people trying to remain calm when everyone else around them was losing their heads,” Frank said. “It must have been horrendous.”
He also has some of the original blueprints for the ship, many photographs and letters, and landing cards for Titanic survivors who were brought to New York City aboard the RMS Carpathia.
There is an Aug. 15th telegraph from the board of trade at Whitehall to the White Star Lines: “Trust rumours about Titanic unfounded. Pray send me news.” The first response read, “There is no danger of loss of life.”
And Frank also has a copy of later messages, and their awful updates.
More Relay for Life events
The Rosses Rascals also wanted to thank Acres National School and Roshine National School for fundraising days they held for the team.
The team’s upcoming fundraising events for Relay for Life include a quiz at 10 pm, March 28th, at Caislean an Oir in Annagry; bag packing on March 31st at the Cope in Dungloe; traditional music at 9 pm on April 6th at the Mullaghduff Community Centre; the sale of raffle tickets from 2 to 5 pm on April 8th on Dungloe Main Street; bag packing on April 13th at SuperValu in Dungloe; and a poker classic at 6 pm, April 22nd, at Owenie’s Lounge in Dungloe. Additional events will be announced in the coming weeks, Margaret said.