The recent centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on 15th April 1912 has evoked many remembrance ceremonies on both sides of the Atlantic, especially over the past month or so. Because of the unique link of the ship with this country, due to its construction in Belfast and the departure on its final journey from Queenstown (Cobh), the Titanic story has many connections the length and breadth of Ireland.
South Tipperary too had its own bond with that fateful final voyage and one small primary school, St. Michael’s NS, Clerihan, has its own special affinity with the ship which was at the time of its construction considered by most to be unsinkable. One proud pupil in St. Michael’s, six year-old Cian O’Sullivan, is a great-great grand-nephew of Kate McCarthy.
The story begins with Kate McCarthy (born 1890) from Ballygurteen, a small townsland between Cahir and Bansha. As a young woman Kate always had a desire to travel and in her early twenties decided to follow her older siblings to America. Her brother John and sister Mary had at this stage been in America over 10 years and Kate felt secure in crossing the Atlantic to start her new life.
Kate was one of four young people from South Tipperary who purchased their tickets in Cahir in 1912 from Patrick Clarke, White Star Line agent. The other three were Katie Peters, Kate Connolly and Roger Tobin. Kate McCarthy would be the only survivor of the four who departed Cobh on 11th April, 1912. At Cobh 123 Irish passengers boarded making a total of 2,200 passengers and crew as the ship commenced what was meant to be the last leg of its maiden voyage. It was to be its last-ever voyage.
At around midnght on 14th April the Titanic struck an iceberg and, as they say, the rest is history.
In Kate McCarthy’s story lady luck was to play a major part in her rescue. Awoken from sleep by Roger Tobin, Kate put on her lifebelt and made her way to the second class deck with the help of a man from Dungarvan. She succeeded in getting on to a lifeboat but was removed again as it was considered too full. She then made her way across to the other side of the huge ship and was the second last person to embark on the very last lifeboat. Her lifeboat had just moved away from the stricken ship when the Titanic, so gloriously built at the Harland & Wolfe shipyards in Belfast over many years, split in two and sank to the bottom of the sea.
Many slow hours passed in the freezing North Atlantic waters before Kate McCarthy’s lifeboat was located by the Carpathia. The rescuing ship then continued to New York where the survivors were taken to hospital. After recovering from her initial ordeal Kate went to New Jersey to be with her brother and sister, as had always been her intention.
In New Jersey Kate would meet John Croke, also from West Tipperary, and in 1915 they married in the U.S. The couple would return to Ireland in 1921 and together ran a general grocery store between Dundrum and Donaskeigh. They were also, reputedly, the first couple in the area to have a motorised car. The couple had no family. Kate died in 1948, aged 58 years. She is buried in Tipperary Town.
And so to St. Michael’s N.S. in Clerihan where Cian O’Sullivan, son of Bernard and Louise, is a proud senior infant student with a link all the way back to Kate McCarthy. (Incidentally Cian is also a great-grandson of legendary Tipperary hurler Theo English and his wife Maureen). But the school has always had a fascination with the ship and school principal John Walsh is foremost in promoting an appreciation of such history to the pupils over many years.
Besides numerous books and newspaper cuttings about the story, a treasured possession in the school is a replica model of the RMS Titanic made 12 years ago as a class project by the Sixth Class pupils. It was presented as a gift at the altar on their Confirmation Day. To this day it remains on proud display at the school.
On Friday last at the school a specially made flag of the RMS Titanic was launched to officially commemorate the centenary of the ship’s fateful maiden voyage and to once and for all connect up the school’s interest and intrigue with perhaps the most famous ship of all time. Young Cian O’Sullivan was very proud to be special guest of honour on the day.