Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

April 23, 2012

Why do I read? World Book Night 2012

Tonight is World Book Night, 2012 when a million books will be given away for free to spread the joy and love of reading. April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature. It is both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, as well as the death day of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist. It is in their honour that UNESCO appointed it the international day of the book and that we choose it to celebrate World Book Night. 

As one of 20,000 volunteers who are distributing copies of the specially selected 'World Book Night' books, I clearly love reading. But why? What do I read and why do I pick up those books and forget about everything else as I immerse myself in their wonderful stories?

For me, I read, quite simply, for pleasure. I read to immerse myself in lives, situations and events I haven't experienced - or possibly even considered - before. I read to broaden my perspective on life and to learn about parts of our history which I know nothing about. I also read to learn from the experts, and to improve my own writing. And despite having recently published my first novel on Kindle, I have to admit to being a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to good old-fashioned paper books and bookshops (which I'd much rather spend time in than a shoe shop).

Any glance at my bookshelves will tell you that I enjoy historical fiction (Phillipa Gregory, Sarah Waters, Tracy Chevalier and Rose Tremain featuring several times), and the classics (the Brontes and Jane Austin particularly). As an A' Level English Literature student, an appreciation of the Classics was drummed into me at an influential age - I didn't resist; I loved them! However, I'd also like to think that I have a broad range of tastes when it comes to literature, having read - and enjoyed in the last ten years or so - everything from Bridget Jones's Diary to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime to The Road and most recently, two brilliant new books The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Light Between Oceans.

Ultimately, I like the books I read to challenge me emotionally; I want to feel invested in the characters and to really care about what happens to them. I don't want to be terrified, but I enjoy the occasional paranormal influence. I don't want to be reaching for the dictionary every few words, but I do love the language used in books and I appreciate the way a book is written, as much as the story the words portray. I like to be surprised by a plot twist I didn't see coming (Sarah Water's 'Fingersmith' being a particularly memorable one) and I want to feel sad when I read the final page - purely because I have enjoyed the book so much, I don't want it to end.

Why do you read? Escapism? Entertainment? Education? 

For me, a love of reading is also one of the most important things you can teach your children. I read from a young age and I'm so proud when I hear my six year old reading to himself and his little brother. I know what an amazing world of books is out there just waiting for him to discover - and that's exciting.

I will be giving away my World Book Night books to the hardworking shopkeepers in the local community: butchers, florists, greengrocers, bakers, hairdressers and the pub landlord. Whether they are already avid readers, or not, I truly hope that they enjoy the book and that they will pass it onto someone else when they have finished with it, to continue to spread the joy of reading.

Below I have provided some information on the book I selected to give away tonight. For more information on World Book Night visit or follow the events on Twitter @WorldBookNight

Happy reading!

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again ...Working as a lady's companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers ...Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.


April 20, 2012

Great Ormond Street Hospital’s RBC Race for the Kids

Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity is organising a 5k family fun event on Sunday 24th June in Battersea Park, London. The RBC Race for the Kids is taking place to raise money for improvements to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Anyone can take part in RBC Race for the Kids, whether they want to run, jog, walk or roller skate! If you would like to register to take part, visit the sign up page. Registration costs £15 for adults and children over 16 yrs, £10 for children aged between 5 and 16 yrs and is free for the under 5s.

It is every parent's worst nightmare to learn that their child needs hospital care. The staff at children's hospitals do an incredible job in caring for their young patients and supporting the parents through very difficult times. All funds raised from this event will be used towards redeveloping vital parts of the hospital so that staff can care for more sick children. The money raised from the RBC Race for the Kids will help provide things like medical equipment, vital research into childhood illnesses, and beds for parents to stay in so they can be close to their children.

If you can't participate in the race yourself, please help to spread the word for this very worthy cause. You can also donate directly to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity.

Thank you.


April 15, 2012

Final extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home'. 15th April, 1912

To mark the centenary of the sinking of Titanic in the early hours of the morning on 15th April, 1912, the final extract from The Girl Who Came Home shows Maggie on the rescue ship Carpathia. She does not know what happened to the rest of the group she was travelling with.

Time stood still. There was nothing.

‘I’m so cold,’ someone said.

The sound of prayers and sobbing.

It was hard to breathe.

Another voice. ‘A ship.’

She was being lifted then, pulled. Her frozen hands tried to grasp a rope. A ladder? Was she back on Titanic? Was it a dream?

Her body wouldn’t move. She had no idea where she was. Where was Kathleen? Where was everyone?

‘Maggie,’ someone said. ‘Her name is Maggie Murphy. From Ireland. She had this small case with her.’

A bitter taste in her mouth. Hot coffee? Then brandy. Coughing. Spluttering.

She tried to open her eyes, but they were too sore from the salt and the cold.

She tried to speak. ‘I can’t see. Am I blind?’ The words came out as an indecipherable mumble.

‘It’s OK Maggie,’ someone replied. ‘You’re on the Carpathia. It came to rescue us. You’re going to be OK. You’re safe now.’

A blanket was wrapped around her. She let the tears fall.


For the next few days, Maggie barely noticed the sunset or sunrise; barely acknowledged the faint shafts of early morning light which reflected off a piece of metal through the window in front of her, sending light dancing across the deck. She stared dimly ahead, the sun almost irrelevant to her, unable to warm her, unable to illuminate the shadows of thirteen people which clouded her broken heart.

‘Where am I?’ she asked the person lying next to her.

‘The library,’ they replied. ‘There wasn’t room for us all in the cabins and those of us who were last to be rescued were placed in makeshift dorms, like this one.’

‘Which ship are we on?’ she enquired, still confused.

‘The Carpathia. They came to rescue us. Remember?’

She didn’t.


It wasn’t until the third day on the Carpathia that she found enough strength to sit on the deck. Still shaking under her blankets, a kind man with blue eyes, who said he was the doctor, told her that she wasn’t cold anymore but the shock of what she had been through had her nerves bouncing around all over the place. She was unable to cry any more tears. All she could feel was fear and a desolate loneliness.

She reflected on the journey she had taken from Ballysheen, almost able to hear the rumble of the carts as they’d set off, before a sort of stillness had fallen over them as the rutted tracks gave way to the softer sandy road at the edge of the village. She remembered how she’d watched the three carts ahead of the one she shared with her aunt and how she had wondered what thoughts were passing through everyone’s minds as they moved slowly through the landscape that had framed all of their lives. She had watched Peggy, in the cart ahead, speaking some words of comfort to Katie who was twisting a sodden handkerchief around and around her fingers. She remembered that they had stopped once for a driver to remove a stone which had become lodged in one of the horse’s hooves. She recalled how she had hoped that if she stared intently enough, listened hard enough and really concentrated on those sights and sounds and smells, she would impress the memories into her brain, ready to recall at will in the years to come, as the vast ocean and the passing of time attempted to erode them. It was these small, intimate details she recalled now as she sat, shaking and alone, although whether in dreams or in waking moments she wasn’t quite sure.

‘We arrive in New York tomorrow evening,’ she heard someone close by say. ‘And not a moment too soon. This ice is wreaking havoc with the minds of the poor unfortunates. They must be terrified it’s going to happen all over again.’

‘Excuse me sir,’ she whispered.

The man heard her and turned. ‘Yes Miss?’

‘What day is it today?’

‘It is Wednesday Miss. April 17th.’

‘Wednesday,’ she repeated. ‘Thank you.’

She closed her eyes then and slept.


The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel is available to download on the Amazon Kindle Store, priced 99p/99c. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free Kindle reading apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and other devices from the Kindle Store. Read previous extracts:

First extract

Second extract

Third extract

Fourth extract


April 14, 2012

Fourth extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home' - 14th April, 1912

Today's extract from The Girl Who Came Home is from the moment when Maggie, and others from the group she is travelling with, arrive on deck, an hour after Titanic's collision with the iceberg.

It was the stars she saw first as she clambered up on deck. The millions and millions of twinkling stars, illuminating the sky like the magical lands of her childhood imagination; the very same stars she used to look at in Ballysheen, captivated by their beauty and unfathomable distance.

The vast, empty space of the sky above her now seemed to make this ship, which she had gasped at in wonder and awe just a few days ago, feel suddenly very small and extremely fragile. At that moment, as the cacophony of noise and confusion on the deck engulfed her, she longed, more than anything in her entire life, to be back in her humble, stone cottage warming her fingers over the glow of the embers from the fire as Séamus sat by her side.

She looked around, turning her head wildly from side to side, standing on her tiptoes, peering over the heads of the masses of people swarming all around her. Where was Aunt Kathleen? She had to be here; had to be somewhere. ‘Kathleen!’ she screamed, shouting as loudly as she could. ‘Aunt Kathleen! It’s me! Maggie. I’m over here. Kathleen! Where are you?’ She’d never felt so far away from home, so utterly lost and terrified, in all her seventeen years of life.

‘Maggie, Maggie, over here.’ But it was Harry’s voice, not Kathleen’s, which brought her back into the moment. ‘We have to go up again,’ he shouted, trying to make himself heard above the noise of the panicked passengers and the continual hiss of steam from the funnels high above them. ‘There’s a few boats left on the upper deck.’

Maggie stood in a daze, unable to comprehend what she was seeing. All around her, people were running from one side of the ship to the other, some carrying deck chairs, others clutching onto rubber-rings which they’d found in the gift shop – everyone desperately searching for something which they might be able to hold onto in the water – something which might mean the difference between life and death.

Masses of bodies crowded around the boats which were the next to be lowered. Men were being held back, prevented from getting in, while women and children clambered in reluctantly, almost as frightened about the prospect of drifting endlessly through the freezing black night as they were about staying on the sinking ship. She watched with heart-wrenching helplessness as several women climbed back out of their lifeboats, unable - in the final moment - to leave without their husbands, fathers and brothers. She had never witnessed such a terrifying sight in all her life and stood frozen in fear.

Men called to women as they encouraged them to take to the lifeboats without them. ‘Be brave; no matter what happens, be brave and keep your hands in your pockets, it is very cold weather,’ she heard one man say to a woman, who Maggie presumed was his wife. Another woman was lifted, kicking and screaming into a boat. ‘Go Lottie!’ a man called after her. ‘For God's sake, be brave and go!’

She watched in horror as another woman, who clearly refused to leave her husband, lifted her young daughter and baby into a boat, entrusting them to the care of their nurse, before collapsing onto her knees on the deck, clinging to her husband’s ankles as the boat was lowered over the side. She could barely move as she watched these scenes of unimaginable grief unfolding in front of her, in every direction she looked, each scene more distressing and unbearable than the last.

‘There are no more boats on this deck,’ Harry shouted. ‘Follow me.’

He took the group towards another ladder then, which led up to the boat deck, the highest point on the ship. This ladder was already teeming with bodies; people of all age and class trying desperately to get up to the remaining boats as they felt the forward compartments of the ship sink further and further under the water. Large, burly men pushed past Maggie in an attempt to secure their own escape, or to help women and children who were with them get a foothold on the ladder. A Priest stood reciting prayers as a group huddled together at his feet, their heads bowed.

It was a desperate, frantic moment which frightened Maggie to her core. She knew that Harry, Maura and Jack Brennan, Eileen Brennan and young Michael Kelly were ahead of her. Behind her were Peggy, Katie and the rest of the girls with Pat insisting he follow the last of them up. Struggling with all her might against the surge of bodies behind her, she eventually got a foothold on the ladder and started to climb.

‘Oh, Jesus, my hat.’

She knew immediately it was Peggy’s voice and craning her neck around, saw her friend scrabbling about on the deck for her hat which had been knocked off her head. In the confusion, others climbed up ahead of her, forcing Katie and the others back.

‘Peggy,’ Maggie cried. ‘Peggy, leave it. We have to go. Katie….’

Pushed along by the momentum of the crowd behind her, Maggie had no choice but to keep climbing, emerging onto the boat deck terrified, shivering uncontrollably with the cold and separated from everyone from her group, other than the few who stood with her.

The emergency rockets being fired into the sky sent a bright red light across the ship which was now audibly creaking and groaning under the strain of the water flooding the lower compartments.

Maura Brennan stared wildly around at the unfamiliar faces emerging from the ladder behind them. ‘Maggie, where are the others? They were right behind us.’

‘They got pushed back. I don’t know. I don’t know where they are.’ Maggie’s fear developed into gasping tears then, the enormity of what was happening suddenly hitting her. ‘I don’t know where they are, and I don’t know where Aunt Kathleen is either.’


The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel is available to download on the Amazon Kindle Store, priced 99p. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free Kindle reading apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and other devices from the Kindle Store. Read previous extracts here, here and here.


April 13, 2012

Third extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home'. 13th April, 1912.

Today's extract from The Girl Who Came Home shares more of Maggie's reflections of life on board the ship and the thoughts of Catherine Kenny in New York, who is looking forward to the arrival of her sister, Katie; one of the group of 14 travelling from County Mayo.

Private Journal of Maggie Murphy

April 13th 1912. Day 3 at sea.

….the general recreation room is for steerage passengers to use for reading or playing cards or a bit of dancing. It’s a big room with a piano for us to play whenever we like. Some French fella plays most of the time, he’s very good. He likes to play some of the ragtime music I’ve heard a little. I think John O’Dea back home would have mighty craic with that piano, it would put the small yoke he plays in D’Arcy’s pub to shame! The man with the Uilleann pipes plays a fair bit too. He’s very good and gets a good old sing song going among us Irish – there’s plenty of us, I’d say we take up at least half of the steerage if not more.

…today Peggy and me played with some of the young ones. One woman has seven children with her and is travelling all alone, God love her. I think she might be Italian or something, none of us can understand a word she says, but she’s nice and her kids are nice. I played with the baby a lot. He likes to drop things and watch you pick them up again. Maura Brennan was talking with a family from a place called Wiltshire in England. The mam and da are taking their five little ones to join relatives in Philadelphia. The youngest is just two year old and the eldest is turned sixteen. She’s a nice girl, Elsie is her name. She told me about her home and it sounds a bit like ours with the fields and the lake.

….Ellen Joyce has found another woman who is to be married when they arrive in America so they are all talk about wedding gowns and veils and admire each other’s rings all the time. There are four other newly-wed couples in our section of the ship who are headed out on honeymoon and Maura has been talking with another woman who’ll be having a baby soon. It’s quite a social gathering altogether! Peggy and Katie have taken to fanciful talk again about what they’ll do when they are in America and what the fancy homes they will live in will look like.

…it’s nice to walk on the deck in the sunshine and breathe in the fresh, sea air, although it is chilly up so high and with the ship going along at such a rate of knots there’s a fierce breeze all the time. Pat fancies himself as a bit of a crew member giving us daily reports of speed and iceberg warnings. These are posted every day outside the dining room and we let him tell us the latest news. He enjoys it!

New York, 13th April, 1912

Before she finished up for the day, and sensing that her employer was in more jovial mood than usual, Catherine Kenny decided to ask Mrs Walker-Brown’s opinion about a suitable birthday gift for her sister, Katie. ‘I’m thinking it would be nice to buy her something small from Macy’s,’ she explained. ‘This being her first time in New York, and it being the largest department store in the world. But I was wondering, since you have such impeccable taste yourself, what you might suggest as a nice gift for her.’

Clearly flattered, Emily Walker-Brown suggested gloves. ‘No lady should be without a decent pair and Macy’s has a wonderful selection of the finest styles. You are aware, of course, that Isidor and Ida Straus are travelling on Titanic also.’ Catherine looked blankly at her, having no idea who Isidor and Ida Straus were. ‘The owner of Macy’s department store, and his wife!’ Emily Walker-Brown continued, condescendingly. ‘So, I think, considering that your sister will have celebrated her birthday aboard the very same ship which the owner of the store is sailing on himself, a gift from Macy’s would be entirely appropriate. Entirely appropriate indeed. Yes, I should settle on gloves.’

Catherine resisted the temptation to inform her employer that she was sure Katie couldn’t care less whether the owner of Macy’s was sailing on Titanic or not, and thanked her for her advice before requesting permission to leave for the day. It was given.

Despite her exhaustion, Catherine set out in the direction of 151 West, 34th Street. A short while later, she emerged from the store, delighted with her purchase of a pair of white, cotton gloves, elegantly presented in the traditional Macy’s packaging; a white box with a red star in the centre.


R.M.S Titanic

Katie Kenny looked at her dinner plate, admiring the White Star Line emblem in the centre of the plain, white plate; a red, swallowtail flag with a white star in the centre. The same, by now familiar, detailing appeared on her coffee mug and soup bowl. It was little things like this which continually surprised and delighted her; the logo of the ship’s owners stamped onto every knife, fork and spoon, the woven blankets on their beds – red with white detailing and the distinctive White Star Line star and lettering in the centre. It was a level of attention to the absolute last detail which she had not encountered before, and had certainly not expected on a steerage ticket.

She thought of her family back in Ireland, her Mam and Da and her brother William, and wondered how it must have felt to watch them all leave a few mornings ago – such a sight they must have been clattering out of Ballysheen. She thought of her sister Catherine, waiting for her in New York and wondered how she would look after all these years of city living. She had heard that it can turn your face pale, what with sitting indoors a lot of the time and the fumes from the motor cars making you cough. Katie’s stomach flipped slightly at the thought of seeing her sister in just a matter of days.


The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel is available to download on the Amazon Kindle Store, priced 99p. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free Kindle reading apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and other devices from the Kindle Store. Read previous extracts here and here.


April 12, 2012

Second extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home'. 12th April, 1912

Today's extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home' shares some of Maggie's thoughts and observations about life on board Titanic during the second day at sea, and also reflections of those left back at home in Ireland.

Private Journal of Maggie Murphy

April 12th, 1912. Day 2 at sea.

… I think about Séamus a lot and hope his Da is getting better. I took the packet of letters from my coat pocket today and read the first one. It was so nicely written and the words were so kind it made me cry. He says he has written one letter for each of the fourteen months of our courtship together in Ballysheen – the first letter is called ‘January’ and he has written about his memories of the first night we danced at the Brennans’ wedding. He says he thought me lovelier than all of the stars that shone in the sky that night. I wish he was here with me now. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain to him what this ship is like – maybe he will sail on it himself one day if he can ever come to America to join me.

……Peggy is complaining that the vibrations from the engines kept her awake last night. I think it’s quite a nice noise - a sort of humming sound like a big swarm of bees have set up a hive in the boiler room. Katie says Peggy should stop thinking about that English steward we met yesterday – she thinks it’s more likely him which is keeping Peggy awake at night and not the engines at all!

….I was lost earlier today! I’d been for some fresh air on the promenade deck and couldn’t find my way back to our cabin. I think I went down the wrong stairwell and ended up on D deck instead of E deck. Luckily there are always plenty of crew members around and I asked someone where I was. He walked me personally back to E deck and all the way down the crew passageway which he told me is called ‘Scotland Road’ to the place where our cabin is. I was glad to be back there. I gave myself quite a fright being separated from everyone like that. I think I’ll ask someone to come with me for fresh air next time.

…..the meals on board are very nice. We are already used to the call from the bugler who signals that we can make our way to the dining saloon where we sit at tables covered with white linen tablecloths! Today we had smoked herrings for breakfast, brawn for lunch and corned beef and cabbage for dinner. I think I’ll be needing some new clothes in America if I keep eating at this rate. To think that there’s a whole army of crewmen peeling our forty ton of spuds and carrots and boiling our forty thousand eggs while we sit on our backsides! Tea and biscuits are served in the afternoon. Katie says they have the biscuits laid out in such neat rows on the plates it would nearly stop you taking one so as not to break up the pattern.

…we are all in good spirits, even though it feels like we are a very long way from home now. We’re always talking of the people we’ve left behind though – one of us will remember something somebody said or a time they made us laugh and we try to get the time of day right in our heads, so as to imagine what they are doing while we steam further away from them across the ocean.

County Mayo, Ireland

Dusk was settling over the rugged landscape, casting long shadows and shrouding the mountains in a blanket of mute darkness as Mary d’Arcy and eight other women walked slowly to the Holy Well on the edge of the village. They were a sombre group, making their short pilgrimage to pray for the safe passage of the fourteen who had left their homes just a day ago. To these eight women; some of them mothers, some of them sisters and some of them grandmothers of the departed, it already seemed as though their loved ones had been gone for many, many months, rather than a few short hours.

There was something of a tentative silence hanging over the women who, on any other day, could be heard exchanging friendly banter as they went about their work and daily chores in the village, laughing at a shared joke or a snippet of juicy gossip as they enjoyed a drop of porter in the ale houses. Theirs was not normally a quiet existence, but at that moment it was very much so. Only the haunting sound of a barn owl’s screech broke the silence around them. Approaching the well, they attended to their familiar rituals and said their own private prayers before kneeling on the hard ground, and taking their rosary beads in their hands, began, as one, to recite their Hail Marys.

To a distant observer such as Séamus Doyle, who watched now from the window of his father’s small farmhouse, this was a particularly moving sight, serene in its setting and mesmerising in its solemnity. How touched Maggie and the others in the group would be, he thought, to know how deeply their departure was felt in this small community; how heartened they would be to see this declaration of absolute faith being made in their honour. But they could not know, would not see.


The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel is available to download on the Amazon Kindle Store, priced 99p. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free Kindle reading apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and other devices from the Kindle Store.


April 11, 2012

First extract from 'The Girl Who Came Home'

On this day, 11th April, in 1912, Titanic departed from it's final embarkation point; Queenstown, in County Cork, Ireland. She set sail across the Atlantic Ocean, heading for New York. It was in Queenstown where the characters in my novel The Girl Who Came Home boarded Titanic. For the next five days, I will share an extract from the novel to provide a sense of life on board Titanic and both during and after the tragic sinking.

Today's extract is from the private journal of Maggie Murphy, my female protagonist. Maggie is a seventeen-year-old girl who is travelling on Titanic with 13 others from her small parish in County Mayo, Ireland. Unable to travel with them, Seamus, the man Maggie loves with all her heart, has had to stay behind in Mayo. She is carrying a packet of letters from him in her coat pocket.

Private journal of Maggie Murphy

RMS Titanic, 11th April, 1912. Day 1 at sea.

With the ‘Ireland’ in front of ours, the two tender boats left the wharf then, chugging back along the waterfront of Queenstown, passing the White Star Wharf again. We each blessed ourselves with the sign of the cross as we sailed past the Cathedral, and a tall man standing just near to me began to play ‘A Nation Once Again’ on his Uilleann pipes. He played well and the gathered passengers sang along and clapped when he finished. He smiled at me and played ‘Spancil Hill’ then, a sadder tune which made some people cry. I didn’t look at any of our group, afraid that I would take to weeping again if I did.

As we moved further away from the wharf, the boat became quieter. The men shuffled their feet and the women cuddled their children into them or stared into the distance. Everyone had their own private thoughts at that moment; mine were of Séamus and the time we had danced at Maura and Jack Brennans’ wedding. I wondered if he was thinking of me at all.

The boats then turned a bend in the channel, and that was when we saw her.

All that could be heard were gasps. The piper stopped his playing altogether.

Not one person spoke, stunned into silence by the towering mass of this ship which was anchored in the waters before us. I have never, and doubt that I will ever again, witness a sight so astonishing.

Some of our group, who have travelled on steam liners before, seemed less impressed than the rest of us who have rarely seen a row boat on Loch Conn, but I even heard Aunt Kathleen comment on how large and magnificent the ship appeared.

As our now tiny tender ‘America’ pulled alongside the wall of steel, a door opened in the side of the ship and a gangway was lowered. At the top of the gangway were the ticket inspectors and the doctors who carried out the health inspections. Slowly, we started to make our way up the gangplank, not one of us able to stop ourselves from craning our necks to take in the height of the decks and masts soaring high, high into the clouds above. I didn’t want to look down; didn’t want to see the swell of the ocean under my feet.

There was a delay in the inspection line ahead and I heard another passenger tell their friend that a girl up ahead had a rash and was being refused entry. Then I saw who the person was. It was the Mayo girl I had spoken to on the wharf; the girl who was going to join her brothers. As she walked back down the gangway, sobbing, I heard a crew member explain to her that she would have to travel on another ship when her rash was healed. ‘The Celtic sails tomorrow miss and the Oceanic next week. A few days won’t make much of a difference.’ I wanted to call to her but didn’t even know her name. My heart was so sorry for her and I hope she can board the Celtic tomorrow.

We waited more anxiously then for our own inspections, wondering what would happen if one of us was to be turned away. The doctors examined our eyes and our hair and checked our faces and hands. All fourteen of us passed with a clean bill of health and finally, one by one, we stepped onto the deck of the ship which would take us to America.

As we boarded, I noticed a priest leaving the boat. He had a camera in his hands. I thought it strange that he was getting off here – surely there were less expensive ways to travel from Southampton to Cork? He continued to take pictures as he walked down the gangplank and as he stepped aboard the tender we had just left. He seemed interested in the long line of us waiting for our health inspections and in the mailbags being loaded onto Titanic and unloaded from her onto the tender. He must have sensed me staring at him anyway, because he turned at the bottom of the gangway and caught my eye. ‘She is a magnificent ship miss,’ he said to me. ‘God bless you and keep you safe.’

Ellen Joyce told me later that she’d actually seen a man hiding among the mailbags to be taken back to Queenstown – a stoker or a boiler man she said, judging by his dress and the muck on his face. She claims she saw him walking off Titanic and covering himself with the grey mailbags. ‘I saw him and he saw me,’ she said as we waited in line. ‘He had the fear of God in his eyes – he looked like a man who was running away from something. Maybe he was in trouble.’ When I watched the tender chug back to the quayside, I wondered what the man was running from and hoped that it was for good reason he didn’t want to sail to New York.

The passengers who had already boarded in England and France watched us from the decks above, and from benches and seating areas scattered around the deck we stood on. We were the new arrivals. I felt as though we had arrived late to a grand party. These people had already been aboard for a day and looked comfortable in their surroundings. An old lady smiled at me as we followed a steward who was to show us to our cabins. I smiled back and swapped my case into my right hand, the left growing tired of the weight. The steward noticed.

‘Let me take that for you miss,’ he said, taking the case from me. ‘You’ve probably carried that case far enough already.’

I smiled, relieved to have the bulky case out of my hands and no longer banging against my shins which were black and blue by now from heaving it across half of Ireland. He had a kind face and I noticed the shiny new crew member badge on his arm. Number 23, whatever that meant.

Our cabins are quite fine. Ours is number 115. There are four beds; two bunk beds. Me and Peggy have the two top bunks and Aunt Kathleen and Katie have the two bottom ones. They all have proper mattresses and are as comfortable as any bed I have ever slept in. There is a hand wash basin in the cabin itself with two White Star Line hand towels hanging from a silver hook on either side. There is even a bar of White Star Line soap for us to use! We have placed our cases under the bottom bunks but I have kept the packet of letters from Séamus in my coat pocket and my coat is folded up at the foot of my own bed.

When we were settled, the steward, Harry is his name, showed us where the life jackets were kept and took us up to see one of the sixteen lifeboats. Pat said the lifeboat was almost as big as the tender we had just left and how could anyone imagine that a ship could be built which was big enough to hold sixteen of them? Pat is like a child walking around this ship, he has the poor steward’s ear half bent off by asking so many questions about it!

We set sail at 1.30pm according to Ellen’s gleaming, gold watch which she takes out to tell the time at every possible opportunity. The thrust of the engines sent a shudder through my bones and a steady vibration through the wooden benches we were sitting on in the General Room. Realising we were setting sail, we all rushed back out to the deck, eager to catch a last glimpse of Ireland.

Our excitement faded then and we stood for a long while at the white railings at the stern of the ship, silently watching our homeland fade from view, each crashing wave taking us further away from everyone we loved and everything we knew.

The man with the Uilleann pipes stood next to me for a good while, but neither of us spoke.

She’s a mighty fine land,’ he said eventually, ‘you should be very proud to have known her, wherever life might take you.’

I turned to him. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Yes, I am. Very proud indeed.’ I remember feeling for the precious packet of letters in my coat pocket, still bound by their packaging and string. Grasping them and my rosary beads, I said a silent prayer.

Titanic followed the coastline of Ireland for the rest of the afternoon, past Old Kinsale Head and on, following the cliffs and the mountains. We returned to our cabins now and again, coming back up to the deck occasionally to catch a last glimpse of our country. The sun was setting as the boat turned to head out across the ocean and we were silent once again as Ireland’s coastline faded into the sea mist and was obscured from view.

The Girl Who Came Home - A Titanic Novel is available to download on the Amazon Kindle Store, priced 99p. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download free Kindle reading apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and other devices from the Kindle Store.

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