Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. On that fateful day – Monday, April 15, 1912 – James Farrell (26), Killoe, perished. Plans are now in place in the north Longford parish to erect a memorial to Farrell, whose heroism on the day the ship sank features regularly in films and TV shows based on the tragedy.
Local man John Devaney has been researching the life and times of James Farrell for the past few years and he initiated the memorial plan.
“As the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic approaches, this now seems an opportune time to consider a memorial to James Farrell,” said Mr Devaney. “Killoe has a proud history and the people of the parish maintain a strong sense of identity and place.
“While many places in Ireland may have reason to stake a claim to one or more of the Titanic stories, few events in modern history have a more poignant connection for the parish than the sinking of the Titanic. From a list of 118 Irish people, three were from Killoe, yet so many people in the parish would be unaware or unfamiliar with the story of James Farrell.”
Born in the townland of Clonee, Farrell was the third child of John and Ellen (nee McCarthy). The family lived on a small farm and in 1912, he purchased a ticket to travel on the RMS Titanic. Katie Gilnagh and Katie Mullan from Rhyne also purchased tickets and all three were placed in third class steerage aboard the ill-fated ship.
“On the night of April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank to the ocean floor with the loss of 1,500 souls,” said Mr Devaney.
“Katie Gilnagh and Katie Mullen were alerted to the impending disaster by James Farrell who then accompanied them to a barrier that led to the upper deck. This is recorded in Walter Lord’s landmark book, A Night to Remember, which is also a film.
“Having ensured the women’s safety, Farrell then led them to Lifeboat 16 and they were among the last to board. Katie Gilnagh’s shawl had blown off and the final act of kindness from Farrell was to give her his cap to cover her head. The last sighting of the Killoe man was of him kneeling beside his suitcase saying the rosary and it was eight days after the sinking when his body was recovered from the sea. He was still clutching his rosary beads.”
On April 24, nine days after the Titanic sunk, James Farrell’s body was sealed in canvas, given a brief religious service and consigned to the sea. Having been rescued, Katie Gilnagh settled in America, married and appeared on two TV programmes ‘To Tell the Truth’ and the ‘Steve Allen Show’. Her picture also appeared in a 1953 Life Magazine account of the tragedy. She died on March 1, 1971 in Long Island, New York at the age of 75. Katie Mullan also lived in New York for the rest of her life. She married Martin Kearns and they had four children. She died on November 1, 1970.
“James Farrell’s deeds on that fateful night have been featured in many films and books,” explained Mr Devaney, adding that the film A Night to Remember received a Golden Globe in 1959. In the 1979 TV show SOS Titanic, the part of James Farrell was played by Welsh actor Robert Pugh. In 1997 the film Titanic brought Farrell to life once more with the part of Tommy Ryan whose charachter was largely based on Farrell.”
Mr Devaney concludes that a memorial to James Farrell, “would serve as a timeless tribute to a young man, who left his home in Clonee in 1912 and through his valour and kindness, will forever be associated with those tumultuous events on that fateful night almost a century ago”.