General Interest - Kelly's on the Titanic


RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 after colliding with an icebergduring her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK to New York City, US. The sinking of Titanic caused the deaths of more than 1,500 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in modern history. The RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time it entered service. Titanic was the second of three Olympic class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line, and was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast with Thomas Andrews as her naval architect. Andrews was among those lost during the sinking. On her maiden voyage, she carried 2,224 passengers and crew.

Lost James Kelly

On 23 April the Mackay-Bennett search vessel picked up the body of Leixlip man James Kelly. The Mackay-Bennett’s crew was so overwhelmed by the scope of its recovery that it was decided to bury some bodies at sea. Some 116 bodies were buried at sea and 190 brought back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. James Kelly’s body went back into the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean the following day when he was buried at sea in canvas sacking. His death was recorded as: ‘Body No. 70 Male estimated age 34. Hair and moustache light. Clothing – Dark suit, vest and trousers; white socks; black boots. Effects – Beads, left on body; comb; knife. No marks. Name – James Kelly.’ James Kelly was actually older than thirty-four. He was forty-five and his death plunged the family at home in Co. Kildare, into financial crisis as well as the deepest grief. Mrs Kate Kelly was struggling to feed the rest of the family. There was some money sent home from the eldest son, Tom, who was a sergeant in the Connaught Rangers, and mill-workers Catherine (18) and Mary (16) also handed up money, but this was not enough. There were three other children – Bridget (13) William (12) and James (7). James Kelly senior was emigrating to America to join his eldest daughter, Margaret (20), and planned to then send for the rest of the family when he gained employment. James Kelly was born in Co. Kildare in 1867 and in the 1901 Census his employment was entered as a road labourer. He married Kate Goff on 31 January 1887 in Leixlip. Kate was born in Leixlip in 1863. In the 1911 Census James Kelly was recorded as a general labourer, who could not read, which was not uncommon at the time. The Kelly’s lived in a two-roomed house in the town. Kate Kelly applied for money from the Distress Fund and at a meeting of the Celbridge Board of Guardians in May was awarded 4s per week as relief. The sum of £12 had been subscribed towards the fund from the local church collection the previous Sunday.

The entire Kelly family later emigrated to America to join Margaret and other relatives. Margaret had been employed at the Strouse-Adler garment company in New Haven, New England, for two years and had sent the fare home (Ticket number 330911 – £7 12s 4d, plus 4 extra) for her father to join her in the United States. He planned to send for his wife and children in a few months when he was employed and had lodgings for them. The family had sold all their possessions in readiness for their move to America and with the death of James decided to go ahead with the original plan. Margaret’s company volunteered to be responsible to the immigration authorities that the family should not become public charges and they were admitted to the United States in June 1912. A huge crowd greeted the family at Union Station, New Haven, with banners saying ‘Welcome – Titanic Kellys.’

A specially-formed committee advanced $625 to pay for the passage and to meet the expenses of establishing a new home for the Kelly’s. Two of Margaret’s younger sisters, Catherine and Mary, were employed by the garment company, while the three remaining children were enrolled in a local Catholic school. 

Further grief was visited on the family four years later when Sgt Tom Kelly died of wounds received in battle on 23 January 1916 in Mesopotamia. A military memorial in Basra, Iraq, bears his name. His sisters Margaret, Catherine, and Bridget all lost their husbands at an early age. James Kelly’s widow, Kate, died in 1955, aged ninety. 

Kildare Observer 27 April 1912

Anna Katherine Kelly, “Annie Kate,” later to become also known as Sister Patrick Joseph, was born on January 14, 1892 in Cuilmullagh, Lahardane, in Addergoole civil parish, County Mayo, Ireland. Her parents, John Kelly and Ellen Flaherty were also born in the same area. Annie Kate was one of eleven children. She had nine sisters and one brother, Patrick. She was baptized on January 16, 1892.
Annie Kate spent her early life growing up happy in Lahardane playing with her sisters, working on the small farm supporting the large family, and going to school at the Rathbane School in Lahardane. She received a typical education until she was 14 years old, graduating in January 1906. Her life from 14 years - 20 years old is unknown, but probably revolved around the house, farming, planting, and harvesting in the small rural Mayo community. For Annie Kate, after finishing school, life continued around farming in Lahardane. Five years later in October 1911, a chance visit by Katherine McGowan, a cousin, who now lived in Chicago, changed her life forever. From this time forward, Annie Kate Kelly’s life and thirteen others from Lahardane would forever become intertwined with the United States, Chicago, and the ill-fated story of the White Star
Line Royal Mail Ship Titanic.
In October 1911, Katherine McGowan arrived in Lahardane with her niece, Anna McGowan, for an extended visit. Katherine, born in Lahardane and currently living in Chicago, had returned to Ireland and specifically Lahardane to visit family and friends. She intended to return to Chicago in the springtime of 1912. As Katherine McGowan moved through the rural village, she reacquainted herself with her family and re-established old friendships. She spoke often and enthusiastically of the United States and the opportunities present. Katherine had done well in Chicago where she owned a boarding house.
As Katherine McGowan’s accounts of life in Chicago became the talk of the village, some of the young men and women became captivated with the idea of creating a better life for themselves in the United States. And as an advantage, there was an existing network of family and friends in Chicago. As winter began to release its hold on the villages of Lahardane and the season gave way to spring, Katherine made her plans to return to Chicago in April 1912 aboard the new luxury liner RMS Titanic.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, eleven local young men and women agreed to go with her.

Annie Kate also made her decision to join the group traveling to the USA which now a total of fourteen people.

The group of fourteen was made up of mostly young men and women. All were from the Cuilmullagh or Crossmolina area in Lahardane. Most of them were also related to each other. All but the two McGowan’s were emigrating. Katherine McGowan had emigrated earlier, an Anna McGowan was born in the USA. Most of the Lahardane group was heading to Chicago. Annie Kate Kelly was to join her sister and cousins already living in Chicago.

To understand the magnitude of their decision to leave Ireland, one must understand the state of travel almost one hundred years ago. It is amazing that Katherine McGowan would have had the money and the time to afford a return trip to Ireland. A typical trip would take weeks and cost a considerable amount of money. The fact that Katherine returned to Ireland at all was a substantiation of the opportunities in the US. For those emigrating, a return trip was highly unlikely. It was simply an issue of economics, time, and distance. It was too expensive, too far, and requiring too much time. Those wishing to emigrate often had to borrow money from family and friends or ask for donations to scrape up enough cash for the long one-way passage. Transportation in that era, except for the wealthy, was frequently only one-way. Most emigrates barely had the funds to purchase a one-way ticket, never mind come back for a visit. Passage by ship was the only method available, typically taking weeks or months to reach a destination a quarter to half-way around the world in the US, Canada, or Australia. As a result, families and friends were permanently divided by time, distance, and money. These poor people would unlikely ever have enough money or time to ever return to Ireland again. The vast majority never did.

As was customary at the time, those leaving Ireland were often given a “wake.” The “wake” would be a celebratory send-off of sorts. They were frequently noisy affairs filled with both laughter and tears, everyone attending wishing farewell and healthy life to those family, friends, and loved ones leaving or staying. Many a tear would be shed at these gatherings as families and friends reconciled themselves to their final separation, as though those leaving had died.

At the beginning of April 1912, as the day of departure for Cork city approached, there was a large “American wake” for the group of travelers. Indications are that this was a large merry affair with many laughs and tears shed by both those leaving and those staying in Lahardane.

One of the travelers in the group, Bridget Delia McDermott, related an eerie and chilling encounter with a mysterious little man in black on the evening before she departed for Queenstown. (This story has been related by Delia’s niece, Ms. Delia Melody of Ballina.) As the story goes, Delia was preparing for her departure by purchasing new clothes. One of her prized items was a sharp new hat. The evening before she left for Queenstown, as she was in Lahardane village with friends, she was suddenly tapped on the shoulder. She turned around to see a mysterious little man in black whom she thought was a traveler. As she reached in her purse to give the man a few pennies, he told her that he knew she was going on a long journey. He told her there would be a tragedy, but that she would be saved. As Delia turned back around to tell her friends, the little man disappeared. Her friends said that they hadn’t seen anyone.

With a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and heartache, Annie Kate prepared to depart for Chicago via Queenstown and New York City. Annie Kate was luckier than most of her group. She had relatives living in Chicago; her sister Mrs. Margaret Kelly Rowland and first cousins Anna and Mary Garvey. Things were looking up for Annie Kate, passage had been scraped together, family waited on the other side of the ocean to greet her, and the passage would be swift on the immense and awe-inspiring RMS Titanic the largest man-made moving object in the world. Finally, the big day arrived in early April 1912 for the fourteen to depart Lahardane, probably forever.

From the Chicago Inter Ocean, April 19, 1912:

“Annie Kelley [sic] is my cousin,” Mrs. Garvey said yesterday afternoon, “and several
days before she sailed on the Titanic for America she wrote me a letter. I received this
letter on the day that I read of the disaster.”

Dear Cousin, I am coming to America on the nicest ship in the world. I am coming with
some of the nicest people in the world, too. Isn’t that just splendid?

They live in Chicago, and I shall be able to make the entire trip with them. They have
told me about Chicago and I know that I shall like it much better than I do Ireland. –
Annie Kelly”

Annie Kate was 20 years old when she boarded the RMS Titanic on Thursday, April 11, 1912 in Queenstown Harbour, near Cork city, County Cork, on the southern coast of Ireland. (Today Queenstown has been renamed its original Irish name, Cobh, pronounced “cove.”) The RMS Titanic, built in Belfast, was on her maiden voyage to New York making earlier stops for passengers in Southampton, England and Cherbourg, France. Annie Kate boarded the ship with a 3rd class passenger ticket # 9234, for £7, 15 shillings. The Titanic departed Queenstown at 1:30 PM, April 11, 1912.

After the Lahardane group had boarded the ship in Queenstown, the young red headed Patrick Canavan and 43 year old John Bourke began exploring the ship. During their exploration, they found a ladder leading from the 3rd class steerage deck to the upper decks of the ship. That seemingly small discovery would make the difference between life and death in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic for some of the members of this group from Lahardane.

The first few days passed as they became acquainted with the ship. At the end of the third day out of Queenstown Harbour, at about 11:35 PM on Sunday night April 14, 1912, while the Lahardane group slept in their cabins near the bottom of the ship, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg at 23 knots in the North Atlantic and began taking on water. The ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews, reported to Captain Smithshortly after midnight 12:00 AM that the Titanic is doomed and will go down in 2 hours. At 12:05 AM, Captain Smith gives the order to prepare the lifeboats for evacuation.

The stewards did not awaken the steerage (3rd class) passengers at that time. Those steerage passengers who did awaken became alarmed but were ordered to go back to bed by the stewards “because there was no danger.”1 Soon though, it became apparent that something was not quite right. In the eerie silence of the stopped engines, Patrick Canavan and John Bourke gathered the members of their group together to look for a way up to the upper decks. They too were blocked from leaving the steerage class levels. From their previous exploration of the ship, they remembered the ladder that lead to the upper decks. They are reported to have gathered women and children around them and
helped them up to a higher deck. Patrick Canavan and John Bourke saved the lives of an unknown number of people that night through their quick thinking under pressure and their commitment to others. Unfortunately, they made their contributions at the cost of their own lives and the lives of the ones they loved traveling with them. They are undoubtedly only two of the many people who committed selfless acts that night, but even still, their act should not go unnoticed.

Once on deck, they sought out a lifeboat. However, the RMS Titanic had only twenty lifeboats, enough for only about half the passengers and crew. There was obviously confusion on the decks. Anna McGowan must have become separated from Annie Kate as she was possibly saved in lifeboat #13. Delia McDermott also may have been saved in lifeboat #13, but first she would risk her life for a sharp new hat.

As Delia McDermott arrived on deck near the lifeboats and prepared to board, she realized that she had left her new hat behind in her cabin. She got out of line and ran back below deck to retrieve her new hat. As she returned to the boat deck, it is reported that she had to jump the fifteen feet from the rope ladder into the lifeboat. She risked her life for a new hat, but as the strange little man dressed in black in Lahardane village predicted, she survived and with her new hat in hand.

Annie Kate became separated from the group herself. A steward, who had taken a liking to Annie Kate and was seen talking to her on several occasions, happened along at a critical moment. He noted that she was frightened and confused in the rush and the panic. The steward grasped her hand and led her to the boat deck and lifeboat #16. The steward probably saved her life. An account noted that, “As the ship was sinking, women and children were evacuated first. They formed a long line. A young bride refused to leave the ship without her husband.”2 In this account, the “young bride” was probably Catherine McHugh Bourke. She and John Bourke had been married only a little over a year. Catherine Bourke and her sister-in-law Mary Bourke were placed in the lifeboat by the crew. When they realized that John Bourke would not be allowed in the lifeboat, both Catherine and Mary refused to remain in the lifeboat. They proceeded to get out of the
lifeboat and join John Bourke and Patrick Canavan waiting against the rail. Annie Kate was placed in the lifeboat after the Bourke women got out. All three of the Bourke’s, John, Catherine, and Mary, as well as Patrick Canavan perished in the tragedy. Tragically, lifeboat #16 was not filled to capacity.

Another document quotes, “She (Annie Kate), along with a cousin, a young man near her age, was emigrating to America on the Titanic. . . . . . As she was being lowered into the lifeboat, she looked up and saw her cousin watching, holding in his hand his rosary, which he raised to bless her.”3 Patrick Canavan, her cousin, was 16 months older than Annie Kate and probably at the railing as the lifeboat was lowered.

Ernest Archer, 32; A.B. Seaman.

EA: We lowered the boat, and my mate pulled at the releasing bar for both falls, and that cleared the boat, and we started to pull
SB: Having about 50 passengers in the boat and only your mate and yourself?
EA: Yes, sir; the master-at-arms came down after us. He was the coxswain.SB: He came down one of the ropes?
EA: Yes, sir; came down the fall.
SB: He was sent by an officer?
EA: I presume he was sent by an officer.
SB: To help fill up your complement?
EA: He said he was sent down to be coxswain of the boat.
SB: And he took charge?
EA: He took charge.

Besides these six men I should think there were about 50 passengers. There was no effort on the part of the steerage men to get into our boat. I was told by the officer to allow none in it. When the officer started to fill the boat with passengers and the men to man it, there were no individuals who tried to get in, or that were permitted to get in. There was no confusion whatever. The officer asked me if could take an oar. I said I could.

Lifeboat #16 was lowered about 1:35 AM on Monday morning April 15, 1912. As the lifeboat pulled away from the sinking ship John Bourke, his wife Catherine, his sister Mary, and Patrick Canavan were standing by the railing, hands clasped, hoping for deliverance and waiting for the end. At about 2:20 AM at 41.16 N; 50.14 W, less than 3 hours since striking the iceberg, the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic disappeared below the waves in a huge cauldron of boiling sea with 1,522 souls, including eleven of the fourteen young people from Lahardane.

Of the people traveling in the Lahardane group, only three, Annie Kate Kelly, Anna McGowan, and Bridget Delia McDermott survived the ordeal. Only 705 passengers and crew survived, not even one-third of the total complement. The survivors remained afloat in the ship’s twenty lifeboats until rescued by the Cunard Liner Carpathia and taken to New York City. This disaster was a particular blow to the people of Lahardane given that so many of their children perished that night. It is unclear why the women who did not survive the tragedy, besides the Bourke’s, were not in the same lifeboat with Annie Kate. The lifeboat contained forty passengers plus eleven crew in a lifeboat built for sixty-five passengers and crew. One possible explanation is that during the escape up the ladder from steerage class, the group became separated.

Annie Kate was clearly traumatized by her experience on the Titanic. After the survivors were picked up by the Carpathia, the ship immediately set sail for New York. In New York, the survivors were given expedited immigration and those in need hospitalized. Annie Kate and fellow survivor Anna McGowan were both hospitalized for about six weeks at St. Vincent’s Hospital. After that stay, they were both unceremoniously released. Both women were released from the hospital with nothing on but their hospital night gowns. Somehow they were given leftover clothes, an old pair of shoes, an old coat, and a train ticket to Chicago. When they arrived in Chicago, Annie Kate was still suffering from exposure and shock. The Chicago Daily Tribune article described:

A nervous wreck as the result of her experiences on the Titanic, Miss Anna Kelly is at
the home of her cousins, Anna and Mary Garvey, 306 Eugenie Street, with a physician
constantly in attendance. Efforts are being made to save the reason of the young woman,
who was one of the last steerage passengers to escape from the ill-fated boat. She has been unable to sleep, haunted by the wild scenes on the boat just before it went down, and is still suffering from the hours of exposure before she was picked up by the Carpathia. ’Miss Kelly is a nervous wreck,’ said Dr. Thomas J. O’Malley, who is
attending her. ‘I doubt she ever will completely recover her normal condition. Her life
is in jeopardy now. Unless she can overcome her awful fear and terror at every sound, I
fear for her life.’ Despite her condition, the young woman gave a graphic account of the
wreck and the escape in one of the last lifeboats to leave the ship.

Dr. Mary O’Brien Porter of the Catholic Woman’s League protectorate met Annie Kate and Anna McGowan in Chicago. Dr. O’Brien Porter appealed to Chicago Mayor Harrison to divert some of the Titanic relief funds, earmarked for the New York societies, to be used to assist these two women in Chicago. Dr. O’Brien Porter was reported to have said, 

“We want to see them get a fair pro rata share of the money collected in Chicago. These girls were sent away from a hospital in New York in their night gowns. They were forced to make the trip from New York to Chicago in their coats and night gowns. They had no dresses nor underwear. Anna McGowan is the oldest girl of seven children. The remainder of her family are destitution in

After the tragedy, Annie Kate remained in Chicago. As far as can be told, Annie Kate never spoke to anyone again about that night on the RMS Titanic. My father, her nephew, once encouraged her to write down her experiences. She refused. It has been reported that for years Annie Kate would vote in a precinct different from where she lived to better obscure her whereabouts from curiosity seekers.

In Chicago, Annie Kate belonged to the Holy Name Cathedral Parish and there became acquainted with the Adrian Dominican Sisters. She stopped in often at Holy Name Cathedral thanking God for her rescue, which she considered a miracle. On June 12, 1921 at the age of 29 years, she entered the convent in Adrian, Michigan. She took the name Sister Patrick Joseph Kelly. She professed on August 12, 1924 at the age of 32 years and made her final profession on June 19, 1933 at the age of 41 years old.

Sister Pat loved Chicago and taught for many years in the Chicago area including Our Lady of Good Counsel (closed), St. Philip Neri, and St. Rita (closed), all in Chicago; Ascension in Harvey, IL; and Visitation in Elmhurst, IL. She taught in only six schools outside of Chicago and only for a year or two each. These include St. Mary, Royal Oak, MI; St. Ambrose and Presentation in Detroit, MI; St. Paul in Owosso, MI; Resurrection in Lansing, MI; and St. Augustin in Des Moines, IA. She taught twice at St. Rita in Chicago over a period of twelve years. St. Philip Neri was also a long-term assignment for her as well as six years teaching in Our Lady of Good Counsel in the Stock Yards area of Chicago.

Chicago was special to Sister Pat possibly partially because of the family support and as the place where she became acquainted with the Adrian Sisters. Each time she was transferred to Michigan, she would beg to be sent back to Chicago.

Sister Pat was a tall slender woman. She was known for her outstanding forthrightness, honesty, and wit.

In the 1940’s, she broke her hip, which resulted in a lifetime of limitation and pain. The handicap did not however keep her from her devotion to teaching, and she continued her work in the classroom.

In 1950, Sister Pat made her first trip back to Ireland after the death of her parents who died in 1938 and 1945. She was met at Shannon airport by her brother Patrick Kelly and taken to the family farm in Cuilmullagh. There she met many relatives, including many nieces and nephews. She returned to Addergoole again in 1956. By 1950, my father, son of her brother Patrick, had already emigrated to America and was living in Chicago.

Sister Pat taught until June 1969, retiring to the motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan. She remained there until her death on December 18, 1969, and is buried there. The Chicago doctor who doubted Sister Pat would “ever recovering her normal condition” could not have been more wrong. Sister Pat had more strength than any of us knew. She lived till the age of 77 years.