Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Titanic widow's sadness

In our recent special series on the Titanic we asked readers to give us their stories about the ship. This is what they told EDDIE McILWAINE.

In our recent special series on the Titanic we asked readers to give us their stories about the ship. This is what they told EDDIE McILWAINE.



THE headstone on a family grave in the grounds of Lambeg Parish Church reveals to passers-by an intimate aside to the Titanic saga of which celebrated deep sea cameraman Ralph White, who helped find the wreck on the ocean bed and James Cameron, director of the blockbuster movie, know nothing.

For the epitaph here proclaims that in the burial plot lies Helen Reilly, daughter of John Barbour of Conway, Dunmurry, born April, 1881, died August, 1966 _ the wife of Thomas Andrews, the man who designed the doomed liner and who went down with her.

'Heroic unto death', declares the epitaph of Helen Reilly's first husband.

It goes on to tell those who pause in the quiet of the cemetery that three years after the tragedy the lady married Henry Harland, one of the shipyard dynasty who built the ship of which her beloved Thomas was so proud and on which he perished.

And for the next 40 years _ spent with a man with whom she shared a common bond of loss _ she was able to regain a degree of happiness.

'She was left a widow for a second time with Henry Harland's more natural demise in his 70s in 1945,' says North of Ireland Family History Society enthusiast James Davidson, who lives in Lambeg.

'Helen was a Barbour of linen fame. She lies in the family plot which is graced with an impressive monumental headstone. The grave is still regularly tended.'There was never a lot of happiness for White Star Line chairman, notorious Bruce Ismay, who after the collision ignored the call for women and children first and fled to the lifeboats.

He lived a lonely existence for the rest of his life in the Irish Republic and now rests in a grave at Costello Lodge in Connemara, I am reminded by David Stewart, whose grandfather James Ferguson was a Harland & Wolff shipwright.

Cameraman White will be describing his historic dive in a submersible with scientist Robert Ballard to locate the Titanic in September, 1985, at a lecture in the Ulster Hall tonight. He has since recovered many artefacts from the wreck.

But he will still be fascinated to hear on this visit to the liner's home port of 75-year- old Margaret Hamilton's draught board.

For it was handed down to her by her grandfather John Millar, a carpenter who worked on board the Titanic while she was being fitted out.

He honed the board from scrap wood discarded in the lavish dining room, a replica of which was seen in the film.

The visit of White and the screening of the movie have stirred memories for people like Norman Salters of Rathcoole, whose father William was a grader at the yard when the Titanic was on the gantry and housewife Louie Marshall, of Cookstown, whose grandfather William Clements of Greencastle was a cabinet maker at the fitting out.

Patrick Toms grew up hearing stories of how his grandfather Andrew Shannon was lost that April 15, 1912 _ by a quirk of fate.

He was quartermaster on the Philadelphia, of the American Line, berthed next to the Titanic at Queenstown when the miners went on strike that spring.

All the coal in the Philadelphia's hold was transferred to the Titanic so she could continue her voyage across the Atlantic.

And as the Philadelphia's own departure was indefinitely delayed by the coal shortage, Shannon was ordered to travel as a passenger on the Titanic so he could sit an exam for his master's ticket in New York.

'His body was never recovered,' says Patrick Toms, late of Poole in Dorset, now of Bangor. 'He was just 35 and dreaming of being master on the Titanic one day.

'I formed the Shannon- Ulster Titanic Society in his memory in Bangor.'On April 14, the anniversary of the night the Titanic tragedy began to unfold, Toms and his society will host a Titanic Tea in the Europa at which stew, on the menu for third-class passengers that fateful day, will be served.

Samuel and Margaret Martin of Hillsborough have a poster advertising that doomed maiden voyage which quotes the third-class fare on the 'Queen of the Ocean' at £7 9 shillings from Southampton and £6 10s from Queenstown.

'You couldn't get a taxi from Glengormley to the city centre for that now,' says Margaret.

Holywood man Brian Millar's father-in-law Hugh McRoberts (1891-1982) was a joiner on the famous grand staircase and heard a sorry tale from a workmate who had a handcarved hardwood trim split when he was fitting it to the base of a newel post.

'The pair of them put their heads together and the fissure was mended with a mixture of glue and sawdust.

'When the word of the sinking filtered down to the men in the yard Hugh's mate whispered in his ear: 'They'll never find it now.'Richard Beach, of Bangor, challenges the suggestion that her master, Captain Smith, was steaming Titanic at a full rate of knots to claim the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic when she struck the iceberg.

'The sister ships Olympic, Brittanic and Titanic _ the three Titans _ were not built for speed but for comfort.'Never mind the blaze of publicity over the current movie starring Kate Winslett and Leonardo Di Caprio _ a Titanic exhibition has been the star of the Ulster Folk Museum for 11 years, put together to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the sinking.

The museum's modelmaker, David Tedford (53), who took 14 months to build the 6ft 2in replica of the liner from rigging plans supplied by H & W, admits today: 'I became emotionally involved _ I got to know that ship from stem to stern.

'When the model was finished and I glimpsed her all lit up, she looked so real I was in tears knowing how the real thing ended up.'His grandfather, Nelson Keith, was an apprentice draughtsman who held a tape measure when the dog kennels down below were being built and David's dad Jimmy was a manager in ship repair.

'So I was privileged to be taken right down to the floor of the her slipway as a boy and I once built a model of her bow in dry dock.'One of the bravest men aboard Titanic in her death throes was bandmaster Wallace Hartley (33), who became a legend for playing Nearer My God to Thee with his colleagues to comfort the passengers.

'His body, with his music case still strapped around his shoulder, were picked up by the steamer Mackay Bennett out of Halifax, Novia Scotia,' points out Brendan Cormican, of Lisburn Road, Belfast.

Hartley, buried at Colne in Lancashire, was just one of hundreds of corpses picked up by the Mackay Bennett and the Minia and the Montmagny.

The Titanic has always fascinated artists. A limited edition print of a painting of her sailing out of Belfast by Rowel Friers is a seller for the Ulster Titanic Society.

And now Derek McAfee, of Coleraine, has come up with a limited edition pencil sketch of her sailing away en route for Southampton and the start of that voyage to New York that was never completed.

'I felt a need to draw her,' says McAfee. 'The legend grabs people like me and urges us to put our feelings about the tragedy on canvas.'There are lighter moments in the story, too. A wag going in to see the three and a half hour marathon Titanic in MovieHouse at Yorkgate asked for a seat in the shallow end.



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