Miss Mary Bedelia Burns
Mary Bedelia Burns was born in Kilmacowen, Co Sligo, Ireland on 15 September 1896.1
Hailing from a Roman Catholic family, she was the eldest child of Thomas Burns (b. 8 October 1868), a farmer, and Annie Kemmit (b. circa 1870) who had married on 20 February 1895.
She had seven siblings by 1912: Michael Joseph (b. 19 March 1900), Annie Mary (b. 30 October 1901), Margaret Ellen (b. 19 June 1903), Elizabeth "Lizzie" Josephine (b. 14 March 1905), Catherine (b. 26 November 1906), Gertrude Patricia (b. 1 March 1909) and Thomas (b. 24 January 1911).
The family appears on the 1901 census living at house 20, Kilmacowen; by the time of the latter record the family were living at house 15, Kilmacowen and Mary, the eldest child, was still a schoolgirl.
Although supposedly financially comfortable enough to have travelled second class, Mary boarded the Titanic at Queenstown as a third-class passenger (ticket number 330963 which cost £7, 17s, 7d) with two acquaintances from her locality, Margaret Devaney and Kate Hargadon, apparently choosing to travel in steerage to be with her friends.
Mary was emigrating to the USA where she hoped to get employment as a housemaid for a well-to-do family. She was travelling to the home of her paternal aunt Mary, Mrs Peter Sheridan, who had migrated as a young woman and married to a Scottish-born typewriter ribbon finisher in 1899. The Sheridan family made their home at 942 Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.
Whilst aboard the Titanic Mary and her friends became acquainted with another Sligo-born man, Henry Hart.
Margaret Devaney, the only survivor among the three girls, gives two different versions as to what became of her friends. 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 of events 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.
Mary Burns died in the sinking and her body, if recovered, was never identified.
Confusion arose as to her fate as the name Burns appeared on the lists of survivors, it later becoming clear that the surviving Burns was first-class passenger Elizabeth Margaret Burns. Nevertheless, Mary’s aunt Mary Sheridan hastened to Manhattan in the hope that she was safe and well, searching hospitals in vain for her young niece.
Following the disaster Mary’s parents received £25 from the Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund.
Her father and mother later welcomed another two daughters; the first arrived on 13 June 1913 and was named in honour of Mary, Mary Delia Veronica. Another daughter arrived two years later on 24 February 1915, Norah Teresa.
Mary’s mother Annie died from heart failure and senility in a Sligo hospital on 31 March 1949; her father died of similar ailments on 2 March 1952 in Aughamore, Co Sligo.
Mary is remembered on a memorial plaque in Sligo Cemetery, Cemetery Road, Co Sligo and on a plaque by a family grave at Kilmacowen graveyard in Ballisodare, Co Sligo.
Memorial at Sligo Cemetery
(Courtesy of Trevor Baxter)