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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Titanic Family Squabble

Irish author Martina Devlin stumbled upon a family secret while scanning a list of Titanic passengers.

Idly running my eye down it, a name and address leapt out: Thomas O'Brien of Bonavie, Co Limerick. My grandmother, Josie English née O'Brien, came from Bonavie. It's such a small townland (near the Tipperary border) that I assumed there had to be a connection between the two.

"Did Granny have a relation on the Titanic?" I asked my mother. Her forehead pleated. "That's ringing a vague bell," she admitted. "I don't know anything much about it, just that there's a family connection. We knew never to talk about it as children. It upset your granny too much."
Devlin learned that Thomas O'Brien was her grandmother's uncle, and had boarded the ship with a woman named Hannah—possibly his bride, and certainly pregnant. Hannah survived and gave birth five months later to a daughter. Devlin also discovered the reason for her family's secrecy: Hannah and Thomas' mother fought over who should be considered his next-of-kin and collect compensation from the White Star Line. A letter from Hannah to Tom's sister was less than conciliatory.
"You needn't worry about me. My baby and myself will be alright. I knew ye were all trying to get some money. I produced my marriage certificate, and I had the nearest claim. So you nor the lawyer needn't bother," she said. [Link]

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