March is Irish Month at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge. With the Irish being spotlighted this month, it’s the perfect family activity for St. Patrick’s Day. The Titanic Museum truly makes learning fun! During this annual event the museum is paying tribute to the Irish, celebrating the men, women, and country that constructed the Titanic. The museum was kind enough to give me a behind-the-scenes look at Irish Month, and I’m here to report what I learned. So, here are 3 amazing things you’ll get to experience first-hand when you visit the museum this month.
1. Learn the story of the Addergoole 14
The museum pays special tribute to the Irish passengers who hailed from the village of Addergoole. At the time of the Titanic’s construction, the town only had a population of 98 people. Everyone in the town lived in only 22 houses, with 5 to 10 person families crammed into tiny houses. There was absolutely no work in Ireland at that time, forcing many to emigrate to find it. In fact, during this time, nearly everyone in Ireland had a relative living abroad. Only 100 miles away from Addergoole, in Belfast, the Titanic’s construction was underway.
Of the 98 people that lived in Addergoole, 14 boarded the Titanic in hopes of immigrating to the United States. During the first few days of the voyage, the Irish passengers in Third Class enjoyed comforts most had never known.
The Titanic was where most of the Irish passengers experienced electricity for the first time. It was the first time they had access to a toilet or sink, the first time they had silverware and linens, and the first time they had a bed to themselves. They were served three hot meals a day, eating more a day than they would typically have access to in an entire month. Third Class may have been less refined than the other classes, but they most definitely had the most fun, holding nightly parties complete with signature Irish whiskey.
When the ship struck the iceberg, the shudder was so slight that many didn’t even feel it. The Third Class passengers were told not to worry, but soon it became clear that the ship’s demise was imminent. By the time the former residents of Addergoole got to the deck, there were only three lifeboats left. In the chaos the group became separated. By the end of the tragedy, only three of the Addergoole 14 had survived. This tragedy struck the village of Addergoole very hard, and for decades no one in the town would even speak of the Titanic.
It’s only been in recent years that the residents have embraced the tragedy, and beginning in 1985 they began telling the stories of the Addergoole and other Irish victims of the tragedy. Every year on April 1st at 2:00 am, the exact time the ship struck the iceberg, the villagers hold a solemn Mass remembering the Addergoole victims, with local schoolchildren bringing forward 14 lanterns representing the Addergoole 14. In the original Mass, although all of the votive candles were lit for the start, only 14 remained lit at the end.
2. Amazing Artifacts
The Titanic Museum Attraction is home to fascinating and exclusive artifacts recovered from the actual wreckage of the Titanic. This includes everyday objects such as silverware, clothing, and classes, and an entire collection donated by the family of Molly Brown.
Molly Brown, known as ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ following her escape of the ship, was an American socialite and philanthropist. She is best known for pushing the crew of Lifeboat No. 6 to return to the debris of the Titanic to search for survivors. Fans of the film Titanic will remember Cathy Bates portrayal of Molly Brown.
The truly amazing thing about all of the artifacts are the stories attached to each and every one of them. One of Molly Brown’s artifacts is the Egyptian Talisman that the Unsinkable Molly Brown had in her pocket during her escape of the Titanic. Molly Brown At that time, it was in vogue for American and Europeans to visit Egypt, and during their travels they would collect and take home ancient Egyptian artifacts as souvenirs. Molly Brown brought an Egyptian Talisman with her onto the ship, and found it in her pocket after she and the other survivors were rescued.
3. Hear Real-life stories of the Irish Passengers
During Irish Month, the Titanic staff includes several people dressed in full period costume that tell the real-life stories of the people that lived the tragedy of Titanic. This is a powerful way to learn history first-hand and truly puts a face to the tragedy. One story in particular that I heard during my time was the story of John Kiernen.
John Kiernen was born in County Cork, Ireland and immigrated to New Jersey to find work. He secured a job as a bartender, and after a few years he returned to Ireland to talk to his family about the possibility of immigrating to the United States. He managed to convince his brother, Phillip, to make the journey to America. They booked passage on the new luxury liner, the Titanic. Two women, Katherine and Margaret Murphy, asked John and his brother to secure them tickets to the Titanic, hoping to escape from their family. The brothers succeeded, and the group departed on the Titanic when it left Queenstown.
The first days were like being in paradise to them, but then the ship struck the iceberg. During the group’s escape from the lower levels, they were stymied by numerous obstacles, including the locked gates separating the classes, fights, and flooded hallways. John industriously built a ladder using deck chairs to escape, but lost his brother in the process. After getting the Murphy sisters on the lifeboats, John turned back, insisting, “If I don’t go back for my brother, my mother will kill me.” To find out whether or not the Murphy sisters and Kiernen brothers survived the sinking, you’ll have to visit the museum and ask for yourself.
The Titanic Museum Attraction is a truly unique and educational experience that brings history to life for you and your family. If you have Irish heritage, or are just a lover of history, this museum is the place for you. Irish Month continues throughout the month of March, so be sure to come out and see the event while you still can.