It was some thirteen months after the sinking of the Titanic and the loss of 1,514 lives that a small glass bottle washed up on the shores at Dunkettle in the mouth of Cork harbour.
Inside, the fragment of paper bore the simple but harrowing message: “From Titanic. Good Bye All.”. It was signed “Burke of Glanmire, Cork”.
Its remarkable journey across the Atlantic becomes all the more so because it landed close to the home of the 19-year-old who had set off, like so many others, to a new life in America only to have it ended in the chilling waters of Newfoundland between April 14th and 15th, 1912.
And as she reflects on the moving story of her great grand-uncle, Therese McMonagle, school Principal at Stramore N.S. in Glendowan, continues to mourn for the passing of a family member whose body was never found but whose memorial was contained in that small glass bottle.
From Whitecross in the parish of Glanmire, County Cork, Jeremiah wasn’t even supposed to have sailed on the ill fated liner. He had originally been booked to travel on another White Star ship, the Cymric, which was due to set sail a month previously, but his sister, Nora, decided to surprise him by purchasing him a ticket for the Titanic.
“It was more expensive but she thought he’d have a safer journey,” says Therese.
And so, accompanied by his cousin, Nora Hegarty, also 19, who was travelling to Boston to enter a religious order of nuns, Jeremiah was waved off at Queenstown by his parents, William and Kate - setting out in a tender to the huge ship where fiddler, Danny Buckley from Ballydesmond played to keep the spirits up. Buckley was to survive the sinking but, ironically, six years later was killed in the First World War.
In Jeremiah’s possession, a bottle of Lourdes water presented to him by his mother as a parting gift.
“His father never knew the Titanic had sank until he was delivering milk to a farm near Blackpool in Cork some time later and saw a billboard which announced the sinking. The family waited for weeks but heard absolutely nothing,” Therese reveals.
Some thirteen months later, the Royal Irish Constabulary were contacted by a man who had been walking his dog at Dunlettle close to the Burke’s farm. He handed in a glass bottle which, when opened, revealed that most touching of messages.
The bottle and the message were handed over to the family - Jeremiah’s mother immediately recognising it and her son’s distinctive hand-writing. To the family it became something of a tombstone. Not long after his mother died of a broken heart.
It was, of course, a double tragedy for the family with the loss of Jeremiah’s cousin, Nora. The ‘Cork Examiner’ of April 27th, 1912 reported: “They left Queenstown fill of hope for a bright and happy career in the United States. They were seen off by a number of relatives and friends and with them they cheerfully discussed their future prospects, but alas their young hopes and schemes were doomed by cruel disappointment.”
Before their own respective deaths, neither William nor Kate Burke ever visited the harbour of Cobh again, such was their grief. And Jeremiah’s sibling, Nora, also never got over the family’s personal tragedy and the part she had unwittingly played by presenting him with his ticket for the Titanic.
Up to two years ago, the family retained the bottle and its pitiful note when they decided to hand them over to the Cobh Heritage Trust. They now occupy a notable presence in the specially dedicated museum.
Resident in Donegal for the past eighteen years, Therese travelled to her native area in Cork at the weekend to participate, along with other family members, in the special commemoration activities marking the 100th anniversary. It included the placing of a wreath into the waters of Cobh harbour.
Her family, husband Connell and children, Eimear (18), Daire (16), Roisin (13) and ten-year-old Conor have all shared in the poignancy of the story.
For Therese herself - the family reside at Crieve-Glebe near Letterkenny - it’s a story that continues to echo mournfully down the years. “I still find it hard to watch any films relating to the Titanic,” she admits.