Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Titanic and the Irish and Katie O’Reilly

Did you know the first immigrant registered at Ellis Island in 1892 was Irish?

Annie Moore was her name and there’s a statue of the fifteen-year-old girl at Ellis Island.

Years later in 1912 when the survivors of the Titanic arrived in New York, many of the 705 survivors were Irish who had boarded at Queenstown, Ireland on April 11th; many more were lost in the sinking.

Margaret Rice and her five sons were lost on the Titanic. So were Julia Barry, Norah Hemming and Mary Mangan, according to the passenger list in Walter Lord’s “A Night to Remember.” Names that should never be forgotten.

I decided my heroine, Katie O’Reilly, would board at Queenstown because…

Well, because I’m Irish. No surprise here. Me grandmother came to America from Ireland with her fourteen brothers and sisters and used to regale me with stories about fairies (the “gentle people”) and green hills and grand houses.

Like every good Irish family, we had a priest and a nun among the siblings.

And then there was Aunt Marie. A somewhat scandalous lady, from what I remember. She had studied to become a nun, but she didn’t take her vows ( I never found out why); however, she lived and worked with the nuns. She was a forward thinker and a strong believer in women getting ahead in the world and a follower of the saints. I still have the statue she gave me of Saint Catherine Labouré, a sister of the Daughters of Charity.

But I digress…

Growing up with my grandmother and Aunt Marie, I developed a strong sense of faith and that became a very important part of Katie’s character. Yet, like Aunt Marie, she also has her own mind and tends to do things “her way,” while trying to keep her faith intact.

So there you have the beginnings of Katie O’Reilly, my heroine…

Remember Margaret Rice and her five sons were lost? When her body was recovered, she was identified as being a Catholic by her rosary.

Many survivors said they saw passengers--including many men--on bent knee saying the rosary at the time of the sinking.

The word “rosary” comes from the Latin meaning “garland of roses.” Rosaries are usually made from plastic or wood. I remember my grandmother making rosaries by hand for the missions. I still have the cornflower blue rosary she made for me among my keepsakes.

In my story, my heroine Katie O’Reilly takes her few possessions with her on the ship, including her mother’s black rosary beads. They’re a symbol of everything she’s left behind in Ireland.

And of her faith.

Katie grabs her rosary when she’s at her lowest point after the ship hits the iceberg:

Hot tears veiled her eyes and they burned something awful. In the whole of her life Katie had never felt more alone. She wiped her face, picked up her black rosary, then huddled in the corner of the bunk with only her wounded pride and lost hope for company.

Abandoned by her God she was, for surely He had listened without sympathy to her pleadings and sent the girls to give her hope, then take it away.

How Katie gets her faith back and learns to believe in herself is an important part of my story.

Also, how her staunch beliefs change the life of Captain Lord Jack Blackthorn, a gentleman gambler, is even more amazing…

Next time: Titanic and Gamblers


Ashlyn Chase said...

Awesome post, Jina!

I used to wish I was Irish, but my English grandfather knocked that idea right out of my head. LOL

Jina Bacarr said...

Thanks, Ashlyn! Remember, we're all Irish on St. Patrick's Day!

Wynter Daniels said...

What a good post! Very interesting stuff.

Jina Bacarr said...

Thank you, Wynter! There's so much to learn about the many stories and facts and what ifs...interesting point I'll be talking about in upcoming posts:

When the list of survivors was posted in the newspapers, third class or steerage survivors weren't listed.

Michelle Polaris said...

It's fascinating to take seeds from ones own history and weave them into stories. What a wonderful task you've taken on.

Jina Bacarr said...

A task it is, Michelle! I was reading old newspapers from April 1912 into the wee hours of the night.

Fun ad: you could buy a silk petticoat for $2.69 on Wednesday Bargain Day at a store in Denver.