Margaret (Maggie) Murphy was born in Fostragh, Killoe, Co Longford, Ireland on 17 March 1887 and baptised the same day.1
She was the daughter of Michael Murphy (b. 1841), a farmer, and Maria Lyons (b. 1845), who had married in the Ballinalee Roman Catholic Church in Granard, Co Longford on 24 October 1872.
One of twelve children born to her parents, with seven surviving into adulthood, Maggie's known siblings were: John (b. 8 June 1874), Anna Maria (b. 24 May 1875), Patrick (b. 10 October 1880), Bridget (b. 1881), Rose Ellen (b. 16 March 1884), Michael (b. 22 July 1889), Mary (b. 11 March 1892) and Kate (b. 6 October 1893). Her brother Michael died from quinsy aged eleven months on 24 June 1890 whilst sister Mary died from whooping cough aged two months on 12 December 1892. Another unidentified child was also lost in infancy.
Maggie and her family appear on the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses living at house 20 and house 29, respectively, in Fostragh. By the time of the latter record she and her sister Kate were still at home and without any stated profession. Her father would die from heart disease later that year on 28 June 1911.
Maggie had previously spent several years in the USA, perhaps from around 1905(2). She returned home sometime prior to 1911, perhaps to help nurse her father during his final illness, and whilst back in Ireland, made the acquaintance of Matthew O'Reilly (b. 27 October 1881)3 from nearby Cortober, Co Cavan and who had also emigrated around 1905 before returning home. Both their homes in Ireland were close by, but it is unclear if they had ever met before their respective returns from the USA. The couple fell in love, and a proposal was made on the shores of nearby Lough Gowna. They planned to marry and resettle together in the USA, but Matthew was forced to return to New York earlier than planned. Upon his return to New York, he set up home with a sister and worked as an undertaker. He was also a sexton at St Andrew’s Church in the city.
Around August 1911, an old neighbour from Fostragh returned to the village to pay a visit from his new home in Jersey City, New Jersey, John Kiernan. When the time came for Kiernan to leave, Maggie decided the accompany Kiernan and his younger brother Philip to America.
The thought of a much-longer separation from Matthew O’Reilly was overwhelming, but Margaret had promised her mother to remain in Ireland until such times as her fiancé was settled and financially sound, with her brother John forbidding her from going to the USA. Along with her younger sister Kate, she made clandestine plans to slip away at the same time as the Kiernan brothers, and for weeks the sisters built up their luggage in secrecy in their barn. They would join other siblings already in the USA: sister Annie lived in Brooklyn, and brother Patrick is believed to have lived in Philadelphia. It was to the latter city that Maggie and Kate were stated to be headed when they boarded the Titanic at Queenstown on 11 April 1912 as third-class passengers (joint ticket number 367230, which cost £15, 10s). The pair slipped away without the knowledge of their friends and family, as Maggie later related:
"The night before the little group in our village was to leave to go aboard the Titanic, together with several other young women and men, I slipped away from my home, carrying all the clothes I could, and went to the Kiernan home, where a farewell party was being held. At that time I had promised to wait at home, until Mr Kiernan would come to this country and make a place. Then I was going to join him. But the thoughts of being separated from him was too much for me and I decided to run away from home.
At the Kiernan home I was received kindly, as we were all neighbours. At the first opportunity I told Mr Kiernan of my purpose. He reluctantly agreed. He was twenty-five and I am nineteen... - Altoona Times, 2 May 1912
The interview, widely syndicated, incorrectly states that Margaret and John Kiernan were sweethearts, a myth that has continued to be perpetuated.
Whilst aboard the sisters shared a cabin on E-deck with two other Longford girls, Kate Gilnagh and Kate Mullin, and they were also acquainted with others from Longford, besides John Kiernan and his young brother Philip, including James Farrell and Thomas McCormack, the latter reportedly being a relative, possibly a second cousin. They possibly also associated with the McCoy siblings (Agnes, Alice and Bernard) and Ellen Corr, also from Longford, whilst aboard.
On the night of the sinking, Maggie later recalled crewmen blocking their way up to the upper decks and recalled seeing lifeboats leaving the ship only partially full. She also reported scuffles breaking out between some third-class men and crewmen determined to keep the steerage in their place whilst she saw women and children deep in prayer nearby. Lore has it that it was the intervention of Longford man James Farrell, who threatened to punch a crewman if he didn't let the women past to the boats, who became the women's saviour.
"Misses Margaret and Katie Murphy, natives of Fostora [sic], Drumard, Co. Longford, survivors of the Titanic wreck."
The Advocate, 27 April 1912
Maggie, her sister and the two Kates from Longford were rescued in lifeboat 16, alongside an interloper, Thomas McCormack (he claimed to have been picked up from the water and helped into the boat by the two sisters.). The Kiernan brothers and James Farrell were lost in the sinking.
She later gave several interviews, one of which stated:
Perhaps the most interesting story was that told by Miss Margaret Murphy, a typical colleen beauty, with even features, rosy cheeks and pure Irish blue eyes, who left her home in Fostra, County Longford without even the knowledge of her parents and relatives, on board the Titanic, with the intention of marrying here John Kiernan, a neighbour, who was in her party. When the critical moment of shipwreck came Kiernan gave up his life for her when he surrendered his lifebelt to her and saw her safely in a boat.
Miss Murphy related in that interview that:
"When he heard the Titanic was doomed we all left our berths and rushed on deck. I saw boat after boat loaded with passengers while I stood trembling at the side of Mr Kiernan. He tried to cheer me, and the truth of the matter is I never thought for a moment that the steamship was going down. When both of us realised that it was, Mr Kiernan took a lifebelt off himself and assisted me in one of the last lifeboats to leave the steamship. We kissed each other goodbye and he promised to see me soon..." - The Sun (Baltimore), 29 April 1912
Years later Maggie stated that she spent her time in the lifeboat praying to St Anthony, asking that if she were saved that she would donate $20 in his name to the poor fund in the church.
Upon landing in New York the Margaret was described as a 21-year-old domestic and the sisters gave their next of kin as their brother John back in Ireland whilst their destination was given as to the home of their sister Bridget Toomey at in Manhattan. Greeted by their siblings at the Cunard Pier, another face in the crowd awaiting her was Matthew O'Reilly. He was unaware of Margaret's intentions to come back to the USA and was only alerted to the fact when he saw that of Maggie's and her sister Kate's names in a list of survivors.
"...He was at the pier to meet them when they came off the Carpathia and from that night laid siege to the heart of the fair colleen." - The Evening World, 16 July 1913
Following recuperation in St Vincent's Hospital Maggie and Kate accompanied Matthew O'Reilly and his sister to their home at 17 City Hall Place, New York and whilst there a portrait of the pair was taken and later printed in The Advocate, an Irish-American newspaper, on 27 April 1912.
In following months, Maggie was forced upon to take to the newspapers to set the record straight regarding the relationship between herself and John Kiernan:
DID NOT ELOPE
Miss Maggie J. Murphy at present of Wms’ Bridge, New York, and late of Fostra, Aughnacliffe, one of the Irish girls saved from the Titanic, writes to us to ask us to correct a statement made in the Yellow (tabloid) press in New York to the effect that on her trip on the ill-fated ship she was eloping with John Kiernan, one of the two brothers drowned in the disaster.
As a modest, respectable Irish girl, Miss Murphy rightly complains of the cruelty and injustice both to her and the poor young fellow who drowned of the typical American media invention. We have much pleasure in giving her flat contradiction and assuring her that the people at home did not believe any such Yankee yarn. —Unidentified newspaper, 3 August 1912
Just over a year later in July 1913 Maggie and Matthew were married and the nuptials were reported in the New York media:
TITANIC SURVIVOR WED
Margaret Murphy Bride of Church Sexton, with sister, Also survivor, as Bridesmaid Margaret Murphy, one of the survivors of the Titanic disaster, was married in St Andrew's Church, in Duane Street, yesterday, with her sister Katherine, also a Titanic survivor, as her bridesmaid. She became of the bride of Matthew O'Reilly, sexton of St Andrews.
A wooing which began when O'Reilly met Miss Murphy on the night the steamship Carpathia arrived with those whose lives were saved in the wreck, resulted in the wedding yesterday. The Rev Patrick Masterson, cousin of O'Reilly, performed the ceremony and was the celebrant at a nuptial mass.
Many friend of the couple attended the wedding. A wedding breakfast was served in O'Reilly's old home, No. 17 City Hall place, following the ceremony. Hundreds of persons followed the bridal party to one of the Chelsea piers, where they boarded the steamship Coronia, bound for Europe. They will pass three months in County Cavan, Ireland, of which they are both natives (sic). - New York Press, 17 July 1913
On her honeymoon, Maggie and her new husband used the opportunity to build bridges with her mother and other family, from whom she had slipped away during the night just over a year earlier. Far from being angry, it is an understatement to say that her family were just very pleased that she was alive and well. Maria Murphy rallied for years to come and passed away in Fostragh on 29 April 1929.
Margaret and Matthew settled in Manhattan and had three children: Margaret (1917-1959, later Mrs John Edward Leniston), Anna Marie (1919-2004, later Mrs Peter McCabe) and Matthew (1921-1998). The family appear on the 1920 and 1930 censuses as residents of 575 Third Avenue, New York where Matthew still earned a living as an undertaker. True to her word from years earlier, when she and her family were financially comfortable, she donated $20 to the poor fund whilst at church one day.
Maggie and Matthew enjoyed a happy marriage; their time together was cut short when Matthew was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away, coincidentally, on 15 April 1939. Maggie never remarried and, over her life, only seldom spoke about the Titanic.
Margaret Murphy O’Reilly died whilst visiting her daughter Anna in Slate Hill, Orange, New York on 29 September 1957 and was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.
Maggie's last child, Anne, died on July 1,2004.
Margaret and Matt O'Reilly were married on July 16, 1913. Matt, Margaret and three children are all buried in the family plot in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, NY
Hello Joanne My name is P J Berry from longford Ireland and I am a grand newphew of Matthew o Reilly My mother was MARY ANNE O REILLY from Cortober co Cavan the old O Reilly homestead. I have attended the TITANIC MEMORIAL in Longford yesterday in honour of Margaret Murphy
this is very sad but at least she surivied i always wanted to see the boat rip people of titanic and people that survived