Mr Thomas Henry Conlin1 was, according to US census records, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July 1880. Contemporary 1912 newspapers, however, state that he had been born in Ireland and had migrated to the US as a small child2. His parentage is unclear but he is known to have had a sister Mary who lived in Chicago, Illinois by April 1912. His true origins remain open to further research.
He may have been the Thomas Conlin, son of Irish migrants Thomas and Celia Conlin (both born circa 1847) shown on the 1880 census living in Pittsburgh. That Thomas Conlin, a newborn, was welcomed in Philadelphia and had three older siblings: John (b. 1874), Mary (b. 1876) and Joseph (b. 1877)(3). Whether this is the correct Thomas Conlin remains uncertain.
Thomas Conlin can be positively identified on the 1900 US census when he was shown living at 2429 North Lawrence Street, Philadelphia and he was described as an unmarried driver. His home was headed by his widowed uncle Edward Conlin (b. circa 1830), who was then listed as a driver.
Edward Conlin had come to the USA from his native Ireland in 1849 and married an American woman named Margaret, going on to raise a large family with her in Philadelphia. Widowed in April 1893, Edward Conlin is shown on the 1900 census living with, besides his nephew Thomas, three of his adult children: Rosanna (b. circa 1857), James (b. circa 1860) and Thomas (b. circa 1870), including a niece, the unmarried Rose Curry (b. circa 1875). Edward died on 25 June 1901 and he was buried with his wife in Philadelphia’s New Cathedral Cemetery.
Thomas Conlin remained with his cousins and when they appeared on the 1910 census they were living at 2238 North Fairhill Street, Philadelphia. His cousin Thomas, a bartender, was by then the head of the household and the younger Thomas was described as a printer. A devout Roman Catholic, he was active in the affairs of St Edward’s Church in Philadelphia and a staunch advocate of abstinence. He was reportedly engaged to be married to a woman by the name of Lena Keyes, whose identity remains unclear.
Thomas decided to make a journey back to his ancestral Ireland where he still had family in Arvagh, Co Cavan (also spelled Arva; in Irish Ármhach). Ármhach, meaning “Place of Slaughter,” or “Shooting,” is an historically and geographically significant town in Ireland as it not only sits on the borders with three counties (Cavan, Leitrim and Longford) but also three provinces (Ulster, Connacht and Leinster). Numerous historic battles were fought at this intersection and it is from this association that the town’s name arises.
Thomas’ uncle John Conlin (b. circa 1834), an illiterate farmer, lived with three of his grown children at Cormore in Drumhillagh, a townland of Arvagh. The elderly gentleman had been a widower since February 1909 when his wife Alice (née Crudden) passed away.
In December 1911 Thomas departed from Philadelphia board the Dominion of the American Line, described as a 31-year-old labourer he arrived in Liverpool on 14 December 1911. From there he travelled to Arvagh where he spent the winter with John and his family before booking passage to return to Philadelphia.
Described as a 31-year-old general labourer, Conlin boarded the Titanic at Queenstown as a third-class passenger (ticket number 21332 which cost £7, 14s, 8d). Whilst aboard he became acquainted with other Irish passengers, most notably the Murphy sisters Margaret and Kate who came from nearby Fostragh in Co Longford. It has been stated that during the evacuation he took off his greatcoat and gave it to the sisters to help keep them warm before they departed in a lifeboat.
Thomas Conlin was lost in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified. The Irish World (11 May 1912) said of him:
Thomas Conlin, Jr, thirty years old, of 2238 North Fairhill Street, this city, is counted among the victims of the Titanic disaster. He was seen on the ill-fated boat by survivors who knew him and was not among those rescued by the Carpathia.
He was born in Ireland, came to this country when very young and attended the St Edward’s School. He was a member of the parish total abstinence society, the B.V.M. Sodality and the Holy Name Society. He was an agent for a machine company and had gone to Ireland to visit his old home.
His uncle John in Ireland lived just a year following Thomas’ death; he died at his home on 22 May 1913 aged 79.