Hanora "Nora" O'Leary was born in Kingwilliamstown (modern-day Ballydesmond), Co Cork, Ireland on 10 June 1895.
Hailing from a Roman Catholic family, she was the daughter John O'Leary (b. 1851), a farmer, and Johanna Healy (b. 1856) who had married around 1876.
One of ten children, seven of whom survived, Nora's known siblings were: Daniel (b. 1877), Katie (b. 1885), Denis (b. 1886), Martin (b. 1887), John (b. 1890), Jeremiah (b. 1892) and Margaret (b. 1898).
She and her family appear on the 1901 census living at house 8 in Glencollins Upper, Kingwilliamstown. By the time of the 1911 census, when they were residents of house 4 in Glencollins Upper, only Nora and her brothers Daniel and Martin were still at home, she apparently having already left school but with no stated profession. Several of her siblings had already emigrated to the USA.
Aged just 16, Nora boarded the Titanic at Queenstown (ticket number 330919 which cost £7, 16s, 7d) intent on joining her sister Katie at 137 West 11th Street, New York City. She was travelling in a group from the Kingwilliamstown area led by Daniel Buckley, and consisting of Hannah Riordan, Bridget Bradley, Patrick O'Connell, Patrick O'Connor and Michael Linehan.
At the time of the collision Nora was asleep in her cabin but was awakened by the impact. Feeling uneasy, she and her cabin mates dressed and headed to the open decks. Pleas for information from crewmen fell on deaf ears but she and her friends managed to make their way to the upper decks and, from that vantage point, claimed to see the lights of a ship far in the distance. Nora is believed to have been saved aboard lifeboat 13 with Hannah Riordan and Bridget Bradley, a lifeboat she reported to have had quite a number of Irish passengers aboard. Whilst in the boat, many began to recite the Rosary.
Following her rescue by Carpathia and eventual arrival in New York, she was met at the pier by her sister Katie.
Nora spent almost a decade in New York working as a domestic. She appeared on the 1920 census as a maid to an engineer and his family on Central Avenue in Hempstead, Nassau, New York but would return home to Ireland the following year.
The Ireland that Nora had left was a much different place to the one she returned to. At the time of her departure in 1912 the Home Rule Bill was being readied, an Act that would give Ireland independence from Britain. The Act, whilst satisfying the wants of the majority, a largely Nationalist-Catholic population, angered Ireland's British-Unionist Protestant minority, mainly concentrated in the north-east of Ulster, pushing the country to the verge of an ethno-political civil war. The Easter Rising, a failed rebellion in 1916, sowed the seeds of what was to become the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921), a guerrilla warfare between the British State and the forces of the Irish Republican Army and when Nora set foot on Irish soil again the hostilities were still ongoing. She was married on 17 April 1922 to a veteran of this conflict, Thomas Timothy Herlihy (b. 1892), a farmer and a captain in the IRA's 4th Cork Brigade.
Nora and Thomas went on to have five children, four daughters and one son: Hannah, Sheila, Kathleen, Nora and Timothy.
Nora spent the remainder of her life in Ballydesmond and became a widow in 1968. She reportedly discouraged discussion about the Titanic in her later years.
Nora passed away on 18 May 1975 aged 79 and she and her husband are buried in a family plot in Ballydesmond Cemetery, just a few feet from her fellow Titanic survivor Daniel Buckley. Her headstone reads:
THOMAS T. G. COMPANY CAPTAIN OF CORK,
NO 4 BRIGADE OLD I.R.A.
DIED 23rd NOV. 1968
HIS WIFE NORA (NEE O'LEARY)
SURVIVOR OF TITANIC DISASTER OF APRIL 1912
DIED 18TH MAY 1975
REST IN PEACE
Robert L. Bracken
Michael A. Findlay
Noel Ray (1999) List of Passengers who Boarded RMS Titanic at Queenstown, April 11, 1912. The Irish Titanic Historical Society