How a Churchill man escaped the fate of the Titanic

Paddy Walsh

Reporter:

Paddy Walsh

Had Nellie McCormack not been booked to travel to the United States on the ship ‘The California’, it’s certain that James O’Donnell would have made the trip on the ill-fated Titanic.

Had Nellie McCormack not been booked to travel to the United States on the ship ‘The California’, it’s certain that James O’Donnell would have made the trip on the ill-fated Titanic.

The Churchill man had been home on holidays from the land of the free and had booked the return journey on the White Star Liner which made its maiden voyage in April 1912.

But a neighbour from his native locality of Inniskill, 18 year old Nellie, was about to embark on her first ever trip to America and it prompted good-hearted James to change his original plans and travel with her to keep her company.

“It was her first time going to the States so he decided to change his booking which was for the Titanic,” Nellie’s daughter, Sally McClafferty relates.

“It’s true to say that my mother saved his life.”

Nellie was destined for Philadelphia while James was returning to his home in the States. And due to that late intervention arrived safe and sound.

A nephew of Nellie’s, Patrick McCormack, resides in the same house in Inniskill where she was raised. “She was also my Godmother,” he reveals.

The ruins of James O’Donnell’s house bear testimony to a former presence. “He was known as James ‘The Tailor’ O’Donnell because that was the occupation of his father, Brian.

“There’s nobody belonging to him living here now,” Patrick points out.

But the hand of fate decreed that James was to escape the tragedy of the Titanic which this weekend marks the 100th anniversary of its first and only voyage.

Such are the thin threads that weave and intertwine in life’s great journey.