Courtesy of © Senan Molony
It was August 11, 1890 in the small County Limerick village of Askeaton. On this bright sunny Irish day a third child and second daughter was born to laborer James Madigan and his wife Margaret (née Duggan). They named their daughter Margaret and she became Maggie to family and friends in Askeaton. She had a much older brother, Simon (born in 1878), and a sister, Mary,who was three years older than Maggie.
This small family lived frugally on Church Street in the village. Maggie spent her early years living the life of a typical Irish peasant with church and family the focus of her life. The family’s life was forever altered when her beloved sister, Mary, emigrated to America in 1904 at the age of 19. She was suddenly alone, as her older brother, Simon, had a family of his own by then and her parents were very advanced in years. She decided she would join her sister in America as soon as the necessary money could be secured. James Madigan died about 1910 and Maggie received money from her sister Mary to sail for America. Simon, the ever-protective elder brother, would not allow her to sail until he had found others from the Askeaton area who would watch over Maggie on her trip to America.
In early 1912, the opportunity came when Daniel Moran, a New York City policeman, and his sister Bridget (Bertha), returned to settle the estate of their father, who owned a small farm in Toomdeely North, townland adjoining Askeaton. They were returning to the New York City region with a friend, Patrick Ryan, a cattle dealer from Toomdeely, who was emigrating to New York City at age 32. The threesome were well known to Simon and he entrusted Maggie’s care to them. The group, including Maggie, secured accommodations on the small White Star liner Cymric. However, due to the British coal strike, Cymric, like so many other small liners, was taken from service and its passengers were transferred to other White Star liners. The foursome from Askeaton were given accommodations on the luxurious Titanic, due to begin its maiden voyage on April 10 in Southampton and pick up passengers at Queenstown in Ireland on April 11.
The night prior to Titanic’s sailing, the foursome lodged at the McDonnell rooming house at The Beach in Queenstown. The morning of the 11th of April, the group from Askeaton joined scores of other Irish immigrants at Mass in St. Colman’s Cathedral and then made their way to the Deepwater Quay, where they would board the tender America and be ferried out to the Titanic, moored off Roches Point. Maggie’s tragic adventure had begun.
On the half-hour trip to the Titanic on the America, Eugene Daly, an Irishman from Athlone in County Westmeath, played the soulful Erin’s Lament on his bagpipes and Maggie found herself nostalgically wondering if she would ever again see her cherished homeland or her aged mother. Once aboard Titanic, Daniel and Patrick separated from Bertha and Maggie to find their quarters. Daniel and Patrick were berthed in the bow with the other single men and Bertha and Maggie were given accommodations in the stern area of the ship with the other single women. The voyage was relaxing but largely uneventful, with most of their time spent in the third class general room aft on Titanic’s C deck.
Maggie and Bertha had retired early Sunday evening, April 14, and were asleep when Titanic had her fateful brush with the iceberg. Having a cabin so deep within the ship, they felt the collision much more vividly than the first and second class passengers with accommodations on higher decks. They were actually jolted awake by the collision and roused from their sleep by the commotion in the hallway outside their cabin. Confused and frightened, Maggie and Bertha were soon joined by Daniel and Patrick who hustled them to the third class promenade area where they managed to climb to the boat deck with many other steerage passengers, after having been held back by crewmen for a period of time. Having ascended to the boat deck at the stern of Titanic, Maggie and her friends found Father Thomas R. D. Byles, an English priest from Ongar, Essex, ministering to and consoling many of Titanic’s steerage passengers, reciting prayers and trying to calm them as attempts were being made to place the women and children in the last of the lifeboats, notably numbers 13, 14, 15 and 16. Daniel and Patrick fought to place Maggie and Bertha into lifeboat 15 shortly before it descended from the boat deck. After narrowly avoiding crushing boat 13, which had become entangled under it as it descended from the boat deck, the overcrowded lifeboat hit the water and barely stayed afloat that long cold night. They never saw Daniel and Patrick again.
Following her rescue from the freezing Atlantic by the Carpathia, Maggie was removed to St. Vincent’s Hospital for a few days recovery from her ordeal. She then went to live with her married sister, Mary Horgan, in Manhattan. After working as a domestic in New York City for a year, Maggie met a Swiss-Irishman named Alphonsus Hardt, who had been born in New York City of a Swiss father and an Irish mother. After a short romance, the couple were married in St. Bernard’s Catholic Church on West Fourteenth Street on December 28, 1913 and lived nearby in a tenement at 30 West Nineteenth Street in Manhattan. Al Hardt worked hard as a longshoreman on the docks to support Maggie and a son, Alfred, born in 1915. Maggie suffered two monumental tragedies during the 1920’s. Her beloved son, Alfred – her only natural child – drowned tragically about 1925 and her husband, Alphonsus, died suddenly in September of 1928 at age 50. Maggie was again alone and went back to work as a domestic. A few years later, she was introduced to Thomas O’Shea, whose mother was a cousin of Patrick Ryan from Toomdeely townland near Askeaton in Ireland. They were married shortly after. Tragedy again struck Maggie when Mary Madigan Horgan, her only sister and relative in America, died suddenly. Maggie was devastated at the loss of her sister, but took on a maternal role in the raising of Mary’s two teenaged children during the 1930’s. She evidently led a very normal and uneventful life with husband, Thomas O’Shea, until his untimely death at the age of 48 in June of 1951. Maggie, at age 60, was alone once more.
She survived by domestic household work and whatever other menial work she could find as a laundress, seamstress or day laborer. After years of toil for her basic survival, Maggie Madigan died on December 14, 1968 at the age of 78. She had lost everything dear to her in life – two husbands, her only son, her beloved sister. As inauspicious as she had been in life, so she is in death – buried with her two husbands in a single unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens.
I wish to acknowledge Ellen Madigan Lenihan, late of Askeaton, County Limerick, Ireland and daughter of Simon Madigan, Maggie’s brother, who is the family source for most of Maggie’s story. Though she never met her Aunt Maggie, she told me that she felt a closeness to her through her letters home. Though Maggie never returned to Ireland after leaving her homeland on the Titanic in 1912, she faithfully kept in touch through numerous letters over the years.
Maggie Madigan must join the list of Titanic survivors whose lives were never fulfilled. The optimism and hopes of a cheerful Irish colleen in 1912 never blossomed in America as anticipated, but instead seem to have been doomed during every phase of her life.
Text © Robert L. Bracken 2004. All rights reserved.
This item first appeared in Voyage. Journal of the Titanic International Society.