Written by Ken Kelly (Originally Published in Feb/Mar 2012 issue of Ballinasloe Life Magazine)
As we approach the centenary of the terrible sinking of the “Titanic” on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic in April 1912, many families in East Galway will remember the loss of their loved ones who were on board. Five people from the locality boarded the luxury liner but only one woman returned later to live out her life in East Galway.
Margaret Hopkins (nee Mannion) was one of five people from the Ahascragh/Caltra area who was on the ill-fated liner as they headed off to start a new life in America. But when “The Titanic” hit the iceberg only Margaret and her friend Ellie Mockler were saved as Margaret’s fiancé and two other men from the parish, perished in the disaster.
The tragedy was horrific but for the closely-knit East Galway parish is was devastating. The five immigrants were widely known, all coming from large families, hoping to join other relations in the New World and make it their homes. For weeks prior to their departure families and relatives joined forces to ensure they would get a “rousing send off.”
Margaret Mannion was born in the parish of Caltra on 1st November 1883 and at 22 years of age set sail for America with her fiancé Martin Gallagher, together with Thomas Kilgannon, Thomas Smyth and a friend, Ellen Mockler. The quintet had purchased their tickets in Ryan’s shop in Ballygar, for the princely sum of £7.14s 9d each, but a huge amount of money in those days.
When tragedy struck, after the “Titanic” struck an iceberg, the two ladies, Margaret and Ellen were helped into a lifeboat by the three men, who the women never saw again. They unfortunately were among the nearly 1,500 who lost their lives on that fateful night.
On reaching the States, Margaret joined up with her sister Mary, and worked there for seven years while Ellen Mockler joined the Sisters of Mercy in Worcester, Massachusetts. She never returned to Ireland, and died on her 95th birthday in 1984.
In 1919, Margaret Mannion returned to Ireland, where she met and married Martin Hopkins. They lived in the village of Ahascragh, raising a family before moving to Lismany, Laurencetown, in the late fifties.
In 1963, Margaret Hopkins featured on Telefis Eireann’s first ever live broadcast Television show from Hayden’s Hotel, in Ballinasloe which was titled “Location.” Interviewed by the late P.P. O’Reilly on the live programme, Margaret gave a graphic account of the night she lost her fiancé and two other close friends, right in front of her eyes.
“We were all so excited about starting a new life in America. I was with the man I hoped to marry. The five of us were all very close and we couldn’t get over the style and luxury of “The Titanic.” There were over 2,000 passengers on board and we were on D Deck (which was for third-class passengers).
“I was just going asleep on the third night when there was a thud and the engines stopped. Panic set in and as we tried to run down the corridors sailors were firing shots in the air. Lifeboats were lowered as the waters rushed in as children and women were helped onto the boats. Some men tried to get on but were stopped by sailors. It was pure mayhem” she said.
As Margaret managed to get into the second last lifeboat she looked up and saw her betrothed saying the rosary and minute later “The Unsinkable” went down. “I will never forget the roaring and crying of the drowning men. It was heartbreaking” she recounted. After twelve bitterly cold hours at sea, Margaret and other survivors were taken on board the “Carpathia” and it was only then she saw her friend, Ellen Mockler, safe and well on board. Both reached New York safely, thanking the Lord for saving them.
Spending the last eleven years of her life in Lismany, Margaret gave many interviews to the media of her memories on that ill-fated trip. She had first-hand experience of one of the world’s worst disasters and “lived to tell the tale”. Naturally she still got very emotional recounting the horrific deaths that three of her close friends met. Each time she related the saga, Margaret always paused to say a silent prayer in their memory.
Ironically it was on the “Carpathia” that Margaret returned to Ireland seven years after it had rescued her from the icy waters and taken her to New York. When she died on 15th May 1970, in her 86th year, Margaret Hopkins was the last survivor of The Titanic disaster, living in Ireland. She was a remarkable woman who returned to marry and raise a family in Ireland instead of what might have been only for that enormous iceberg striking “The Unsinkable” nearly one hundred years ago.