Titanic hero’s nephew retraces family roots from New York back to Clonee

Dr James Farrell, the nephew of James (Jim) Farrell who perished on the Titanic, was in Ennybegs last Sunday to unveil a special monument and memorial garden dedicated to the memory of his late uncle.

Dr James Farrell, the nephew of James (Jim) Farrell who perished on the Titanic, was in Ennybegs last Sunday to unveil a special monument and memorial garden dedicated to the memory of his late uncle.

The 90-year-old, who was accompanied by his sons and members of his extended family, said it was his first time to visit the picturesque north Longford parish, a place where his family origins are deeply rooted.

Dr Farrell, a very well known and respected cardiologist in the USA where he practised medicine for over 50 years, was one of the founding doctors of the Palmetto General Hospital, which is based just outside Miami in Hialeah. It was an emotional journey back home, but one which enabled him to trace the family roots on his father’s side, right back to where it all began in a small Longford parish well over 100 years ago.

“The commemorations in Ennybegs meant the world to me,” he said, speaking to the Leader this week. “It was unbelievable actually. I enjoyed it very much; the Mass was lovely, especially the singing and the music and the people are really lovely.”

Dr Farrell’s father Michael arrived in New York in 1905 after leaving the Farrell family homestead in Clonee. He was an ambitious and bright young fellow and before long he established the now famous Farrell’s Bar and Grill in Brooklyn, New York.

He married Annie McRobbie, a Scottish lady and the family resided in Manhattan. The bar remained in the family for many, many years, up until about 16 years ago, when the venue was then managed by Dr Farrell’s brother Edward. Edward died suddenly after he boarded a plane in New York to travel to his nephew’s wedding.

James (Jim) Farrell was en route to his brother Michael when he boarded the ill fated Titanic at Queenstown, just days before it sank in the North Atlantic Sea.

It would be years later before Dr Farrell would learn of his heroic uncle who saved the lives of neighbours and friends on the night of April 15, 1912, and even longer before that information would lead him on a journey that would take him all the way back to Killoe and to the birth place of his father, uncles and aunts and indeed other relatives.

“I was the seventh child born of 11 children; I had brothers and sisters that were 10 or 12 years older than me and my father died when I was 14 years old, so I never got that much information from him about his brother Jim who sailed on Titanic,” Dr Farrell recalled.

“My mother died when I was eight, but it was my sister Margaret who had some information in relation to Jim. Margaret was 16-years-old at the time my mother died and working for an insurance company at the time, but she had to quit her job and look after us.”

At the time, little was known about their heroic uncle, Jim, although Margaret did hold the key to unlocking further revelations about him.

“Margaret said that we had an uncle on the Titanic and told us his name, but it wasn’t until the book ‘A Night to Remember’ was published and I read it that I began to become more interested in his story, and then of course the famous film of the same name was made.”

Having discovered some information, Dr Farrell then became caught up with his medical profession and with the rearing of his 12 children alongside his wife Peggie the fate of his uncle Jim was placed on the back burner, so to speak.

Then one day last year, he received a call from John Devaney, the Killoe native who embarked on researching the life and times of James Farrell.

“I knew by then that we had a uncle John Farrell and an aunt Mary here in the USA,” Dr Farrell added. “Mary lived a long life and was in her 90s when she passed away. She married late in life and was married to George Hayden. I spoke with John [Devaney] who explained everything to me and told me that Jim would be commemorated and I told him there and then that if I could swing it, I would be in Killoe for the commemorations.

“It was my 90th birthday some time later and my wife organised a party which I knew absolutely nothing about; in fact she told me that we were going to a Confirmation Mass for our grandchild and when I got there it was all for me. She presented me with an Aer Lingus plane ticket to come to Ireland for the commemorations and I was so touched.”

One of the highlights of Dr Farrell’s journey to Ireland this month has been his encounter with the families of the other Longford passengers who were aboard the Titanic.

Connected to each other for so long through the Titanic disaster, many of them had never met. However, they were provided with a very special opportunity to do just that last Saturday afternoon at Aras an Chontae when family members were presented by Cllrs Peggy Nolan and Padraig Loughrey (on behalf of Longford Co Council) with special scrolls on which their loved ones names were engraved as a special memory to them.

“It was so nice to meet the families of the other Longford passengers and I particularly enjoyed meeting the family of Katie Gilnagh.” Dr Farrell added.

“It has been a wonderful journey; everyone has been so kind.”