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.