Miss Margaret Bedelia Devaney was born in Kilmacowen, Co Sligo, Ireland on 4 June 1891.1
Hailing from a Roman Catholic family, she was the daughter of James Devaney (b. 1848), a farmer, and Margaret McDonagh (b. 1852), both Sligo natives who had married on 2 November 1882.
One of a total of nine children, eight surviving infancy, Margaret's known siblings were: Michael (b. circa 1883), Patrick (b. 8 March 1885), James (b. 11 August 1886), Andrew (b. 13 April 1889), John (b. circa 1890), Mary Ellen (b. 11 August 1894) and Thomas William (b. 19 March 1896).
Margaret appears on the 1901 census living at house 14 in Kilmacowen and a decade later at house 11 in the same vicinity. On the latter record she is described as a milliner whilst her brothers James and Andrew were jobbing as clerks.
Margaret already had several siblings in America and she decided to join them there; her brother Michael, a stable groom in New York, sent her the fare. Described as an unmarried domestic, Margaret boarded Titanic at Queenstown as a third class passenger (ticket number 330958, £7, 17s, 7d) and whilst aboard she shared a cabin with two other Sligo girls, Mary Burns and Kate Hargadon.
On the night of the sinking the three girls were reportedly in bed and it was Henry Hart, also of Sligo, who came by to their cabin to alert them. They all went up to the aft well deck to investigate before returning to their cabin to retrieve lifejackets.
Margaret, the only survivor from the three girls, gives two different versions as to what became of her friends on the night of the sinking. In one, printed in the Irish World on 4 May 1912, Miss Devaney related:
We were all on deck, not thinking it was serious, when the boy comes along and said " You girls had better get into a boat." Then he held out his hand, saying " I hope we'll meet again."... I got into the boat, but Mary Burns and Kitty Hargadon held back, thinking it was safer to remain on the ship, I never saw them again...
In another version Margaret related that Kate Hargadon was afflicted with seasickness and fear and could not face climbing a ladder to the higher decks; she remained in communal third class areas, perhaps the aft well deck, and was tended to by Mary Burns who chose to remain with her. Whatever happened will forever remain a mystery.
Margaret managed to secure a place in one of the last lifeboats, collapsible C, and recalled having to push that craft away from the side of the ship during lowering, the list to port causing her to swing too close to the side of the ship for safety. Margaret loaned her pocketknife to a seaman who had difficulties releasing the falls.
Aboard the Carpathia a surviving crewman presented Margaret with a metal flag that had been taken off one of the lifeboats; she kept this, her penknife and her third class ticket for the rest of her life.
Upon reaching New York Margaret gave her contact as her sister Mary at 861 6th Avenue, New York. She was met by her brother Michael coming off Carpathia.
In New York, Margaret soon found employment as a housemaid. In 1919 she was married to plumber John Joseph O'Neill (b. 3 May 1895), an Irish American, and the couple had four surviving children: Matthew (1922-1982), Kathryn (1924-2010), Helen (1926-2012) and John (1927-1996).
The 1930 and 1940 census records show Margaret and her family living at 182 Pearsall Avenue in Jersey City. In the late 1960s she moved to Clifton, Passaic, New Jersey.
In later years Margaret gave frequent interviews about Titanic; as interest in the topic soared in the 1950s she became more in demand and during this time got to be acquainted with several other Titanic survivors. In 1958 she was a special guest at a screening of A Night to Remember in New York. In the 1960s she became an honorary member of the Titanic Enthusiasts of America (later the Titanic Historical Society). She was made a widow in 1960.
Margaret Devaney O'Neill died in Clifton, New Jersey on 12 June 1974. She was buried in Holy Name Cemetery, Jersey City.
Her last surviving child Helen (Mrs George Landsberg) worked as a secretary and was married and had five daughters. She died in West Paterson, New Jersey on 1 December 2012 aged 86.