Patrick O'Keeffe was born at Little Michael Street in Waterford City, Co Waterford, Ireland on 11 July 1890.1,2
He was the son of John O'Keeffe (b. 24 October 1872), a quarry labourer, and Catherine Fitzgerald (b. 15 October 1871), Waterford natives who had married in St Patrick's Church on 27 October 1887 and who were both underage at the time of their union; John O'Keeffe had just turned 15 and his bride, who was with child, just 16 but both stated they were of full age to be wed.
Patrick had eight known siblings: John (b. 23 February 1888), James (b. 1 January 1893), Ellen (b. 13 November 1897), Susan (b. 2 August 1902), Mary (b. 1 May 1900), Mary (b. 28 October 1903), Arthur (b. 21 August 1905) and Edward (b. 12 August 1907).
He and his family appear on the 1901 census living at 6 Little Michael Street in Waterford and a young Pat received his primary education at the Sisters of Charity School for Boys and Girls and his secondary education at De La Salle.
In 1910 young Pat decided to strike out for the USA and would travel with two uncles, Patsy and Arthur. Before they left Pat's father commissioned a family portrait.
The O'Keeffe family in 1910 with Patrick standing at right
Waterford News and Star, 15 March 2002)
Patrick departed from Queenstown on 28 August 1910 aboard the Celtic, arriving in New York on 4 September. There he stayed with relatives and garnered work as a labourer and porter. Not long after his departure his mother passed away from a liver complaint.
In his absence the O'Keeffe family appear on the 1911 census as residents of 9 Kizby's Lane, Waterford. His father was later remarried to Johanna Brown and they made their home at 2 Spring Garden Alley in Waterford.
Pat returned to Ireland for a month's holiday in 1912 and was originally supposed to have returned home aboard the Baltic; his brother persuaded him to stay an extra week so they could spend Easter together as a family and his bookings were transferred to Titanic.
For his return to the USA Patrick boarded the Titanic at Queenstown as a third class passenger (ticket number 368402 which cost £7, 15s). Before boarding he sent a postcard to his father where he expressed his sorrow that he was leaving Ireland again; indeed, his distress at leaving was so great that he had a premonition that the ship would sink and tried in vain to sell his ticket in Queenstown before he eventually embarked, only doing so because he feared if he returned to Waterford that he would be a laughing stock for having such qualms.
On the night of the sinking Patrick ascended to the upper decks and presumably remained board the ship during her final throes and jumped overboard with two English men, Victor Sunderland and Edward Dorkings. A strong swimmer, he found himself in the water and managed to pull himself aboard the capsized collapsible B and later assisted two other men aboard, describing them both as a Southampton-man and a Guernsey Islander.
Upon reaching New York aboard Carpathia O'Keeffe was described as a 21-year-old porter and was destined to the home of his cousin John Phelan at West 38th Street, New York. He spent time in St Vincent's Hospital for convalescence having sustained heavy bruising, rendering him unable to work for several weeks. He later received a grant from the American Red Cross for $102 and soon after wrote to his father of his experiences:
I write you these few line to let you know I am safe and feeling fine. Do not worry for me, for I am all right and going to start work in the morning at twelve dollars a week (not bad for a shipwrecked man). Dear father, I am sure you felt downhearted when you heard the Titanic was lost. I dreamt myself she was going down before I left Queenstown, and I thought to sell my passage not for £7, but then I thought if I went back to Waterford again the boys would be laughing at me. I lost everything I had on the Titanic but, thank God, my life was spared.
Hoping yourself and all the children are well, as I am myself at present.
Your loving son,
In New York Patrick later worked as a window dresser in a department store and later as an elevator operator in an office building, rising to a supervisory position which he maintained for the rest of his life. With the outbreak of WWI Pat, still a British subject, opted to cross the border into Canada to see out his military duty there rather than be conscripted into the US Army and be forced to cross the ocean again, something he never wanted to do following his experiences aboard Titanic, an incident he never even cared to discuss. Such were his reservations of ever crossing the ocean that O'Keeffe never set foot on Irish soil again, despite his longings for his homeland.
Back in Ireland the political maps were shifting; a war of independence led to the partition of the country but a civil war erupted in the newly-formed Irish Free State (modern-day Republic of Ireland) between those forces opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and those who supported it. Pat's family sided with the latter and his brother James, formerly a dock labourer, joined the National Army in a non-combatant role. However, he was caught in an ambush in Rochestown, Co Kilkenny and died from bullet wounds on 15 August 1922.
During peacetime Patrick O'Keeffe returned to New York and began a relationship with Anna Nolan (b. 25 May 1905), a native New Yorker born to Irish parents. The couple were wed in Jersey City, New Jersey on 19 September 1923 and had two children: Margaret Veronica (b. 26 June 1924) and Edward (b. 4 December 1925) but they later divorced. The separation was short-lived and they were re-wed on 8 February 1936.
Patrick became a US citizen in March 1936 and his address was then listed as 973 Columbus Avenue, New York City. The family had also lived at 120 West 109th Street, Manhattan.
Patrick died on 16 December 1939 aged 49 and he was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
His widow Anna later remarried to Andrew Vincent Bartlett (1896-1978) before her death in October 1968. His daughter Margaret never married and was later an executive with the Revlon Corporation; she died in 1988 following complications from surgery. His son later served in the Navy during WWII and then worked as an insurance man. He married Patricia Huson and raised a family.