Miss Margaret (Maggie) Murphy was born in Fostragh, Killoe, Co Longford, Ireland on 17 March 1887.1
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. 1884), Michael (b. 22 July 1889), Mary (b. 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 and whilst back in Ireland made the acquaintance of Matthew O'Reilly (b. 27 October 1881)3 from Cortober, Co Cavan and who had also emigrated around 1905 before returning home. Both their homes in Ireland were close by but they had never met before their respective returns from the USA. In what was possibly unrequited love, O'Reilly returned to America, he perhaps thinking he would never see his beloved Maggie again. He took up residence in New York where he worked as an undertaker.
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. John and Maggie fell in love and hoped one day to marry once Kiernan had fully established a home back in America. When the time came for Kiernan to leave, Margaret had promised her mother to remain in Ireland until such times as her fiancé was settled and financially sound, but the thought of separation was out of the question so she, along with her younger sister Kate, made clandestine plans to slip away at the same time and 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 headed to and 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
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. 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
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.
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
It may be assumed that during her honeymoon Maggie visited her aged widowed mother, from whom she had slipped away during the night just over a year earlier. 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.
Maggie was widowed, coincidentally, on 15 April 1939 and she never remarried and apparently spoke little about her Titanic experiences. She died whilst visiting family in Slate Hill, Orange, New York on 29 September 1957 and was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.