Photo credit John Sheehy
April can be considered ‘Titanic Month’ for even though the famous liner sank to the sea floor 103 years ago, people’s fascination with the story shows no signs of diminishing. Titanic is the ultimate story that just keeps on giving: it is romance, and tragedy, there are heroes and villains, there is superstition and most of all the folly of man underestimating the power of nature.
This month a small town in the North West of Ireland took centre stage as its own connection to the Titanic disaster was recalled and a commemorative seat unveiled to its own maritime victim. Mohill is the home of Matthew Sadlier a 19 year old lad who set out for New York to start a new life for himself. Over a year ago a Committee was set up in the town involving the local youth group, Foroige. They were joined by some more experienced hands and they got to work preparing a plan to commemorate the life of young Matt Sadlier. They decided upon a commemorative seat to be located in a prominent position in the town and also set out to contact any living relatives of Matthew. The Committees work came to fruition in a wonderful weekend of events associated with the Titanic, the highlight of which was the unveiling of the memorial in a newly renovated plaza.
Who was Matthew Sadlier?
Matthew was born in 1892 to Matthew & Catherine Sadlier at their house at Clooncoe on the shores of beautiful Lough Rynn. The house was located on the famous Lough Rynn Estate, home of the Clements family, the Earls of Leitrim. The Sadliers were members of the Church of Ireland and Matthew was baptised at Farnaught Church on the 8th October, 1892. Matthews Civil Birth Record shows his birth was recorded just over two weeks later on the 26th October. The Civil Record gives his date of birth as the 8th October also, the same date as his baptism, something which seems extraordinary today. The informant is Dr Henry Pentland from Mohill who it says was present at the birth. This would suggest that Matthew may have been brought to the baptismal font on the same day as he came into this world. The fact that the Sadlier home is located so close to Farnaught Church means this would not have been a long journey but would have been, at the very least, be a great imposition on poor Catherine. Matthew Seniors occupation is recorded as an Agricultural Labourer. Catherine’s occupation is not given but as she was to bear Matthew Senior 9 children, 7 of whom would survive infancy, it is likely all Catherine’s time was taken up with child rearing and keeping house.
Matthew and Catherine did not always live at Lough Rynn. They married on the 25th February, 1881 at St. Marys Church of Ireland, Mohill. The church is reputedly built on the site of the original monastery, Maothail Manachain which was the precursor to the modern town of Mohill. The founder of the monastery was St. Manachan and his feast day is the 25th February, the same day that Catherine & Matthew Senior took their vows.
Matthew Senior and Catherine were both born in the same townland on small tenant farms just a mile west of the town of Mohill. Matthew Seniors father was Henry Sadlier, who was born circa 1810, but unfortunately the location is unknown. As well as farming his small holding Henry also for some time was a weaver. The fact that he was engaged in weaving might suggest that the family may have migrated to Leitrim from a more north eastern location where the linen trade was predominant. Henry Sadlier died on the 25th November, 1885 at the age of 75. He was buried in Mohill Church of Ireland Cemetery and we also know he died a widower, his wife having predeceased him. Present at his death was a Sarah McCombs.
Griffiths Valuation (1857) shows Henry as holding a tenancy on the Crofton Estate in the townland of Tamlaghtavally. His holding is just shy of 15 acres in size which would have been well above the average holding in the area at that time.
Sadlier Holding No’s 5,6 & 7 Tamlaghtvalley, Mohill, 1857.
Catherine Sadlier, the mother of tragic Matthew, was born to Thomas and Anna Duke, also in Tamlaghtavally, Mohill in 1852. She was baptised in St. Marys Church of Ireland on the 22nd December that year.
The 1901 Census will show Matthew Senior and Catherine Sadlier living in Clooncoe with their 7 surviving children Thomas (19), William (18), Jane A (16), Fanny (15), Henry (11), Kate (9) and young Matthew (8). 10 years later when the enumerators called again to the Sadlier household only Kate and Matthew remained at home. Catherine would go on to marry a William Boddy and live out her days in Mohill.
William the second eldest appears to have been the first of the Clooncoe family to cross the Atlantic circa 1904. The following year, the elder brother Thomas made the crossing, stating on the ship manifest that he was travelling to William at 49 Grove St., New York.
It is clear that young Matthew was intent on joining his siblings in America as soon as he possibly could. Matthew purchased a 3rd Class ticket (Ticket No. 367655 , £7 14s 7d) on the White Star Line to New York. It was a considerable sum of money at the time. Senan Maloney recounts some local lore about Matthews final days in Clooncoe;-
‘His parents didn’t wish him to leave , his mother being particularly attached to her youngest, having already see offspring William, Thomas and Fanny take the American boat. On the morning he was to leave, a cockerel came to the doorstep and crowed three times. His mother, seizing on superstition for her own ends, declared,‘That’s enough now!’ grabbing Matthews suitcase from his hand. It was unspoken knowledge that a cockcrow at the door meant sad news. Matthew patiently retrieved his case from his mother’s grasp, said farewells and went about his journey’[i]
Matthew made the long journey to Cork and then boarded the illustrious liner ‘Titanic’ embarking from Queenstown, Co. Cork on Thursday the 11th April, 1912.
Catherine Sadlier had already lost 2 children out of the 9 she brought into this world. Another local tale recalled by Maloney tells of a man called Easterbrook who was cycling home at night on the long sylvan Avenue leading to Lough Rynn House. This man claimed he met the ghost of Matthew Sadlier’s sister who had predeceased him. The ghost’s hair was dripping wet as if it were submerged in water. With fright he lost his balance and when he regained his nerve the ghost was nowhere to be seen. Apparently when this apparition occurred word had not yet made it to Leitrim that the ‘Titanic’ was lost.
In an interesting postscript, on the 25th September 1922 Matthew Sadlier Senior leaves Mohill and headed for New York on board the ‘Cedric’ of the same White Star Line that owned the ‘Titanic’. He purchased his ticket through Thomas J. Gannon Agent in Mohill and boarded at Liverpool. His next of kin is stated to be his daughter Mrs William Body of Tawlaghtavalley, Mohill and he was travelling to his son Thomas Sadlier of Fairfield, Connecticut. Matthew Senior arrived in New York 2nd October 1922.
For Matthew Junior there is no burial plot but the sea, his body if ever found has never been identified. Thanks to the Matthew Sadlier Committee there is however a place to remember him and to contemplate the incredible tragedy he was destined to become part of. The memorial is just a few feet from the final resting place of his dear sister Kate, to whom he was so close too. When you see the beautifully crafted seat commemorating Matt Sadlier you cannot but think of the words of Patrick Kavanagh.
“O commemorate me where there is water,
Canal water, preferably, so stilly
Greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
Commemorate me thus beautifully”[ii]
[i] Senan Molony ‘The Irish onboard the Titanic’ Mercier Press (October 24, 2012)
[ii] Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin -Patrick Kavanagh © Estate of Katherine Kavanagh
I have always had a great interest in the American Civil War. As a boy I read plenty of material about the conflict. Lincoln was almost as big a character as his outsized memorial in Washington, from his humble origins, to his powerful oratory at Gettysburg, and finally his dramatic and tragic death. More is known in Ireland about the American Civil War than our own similar bloodletting 90 years ago. Part of the reason for this is how the american conflict is perpetuated in popular culture. In the mid 80’s we watched the ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ with a Confederate flag emblazoned on the roof of the iconic 1969 Dodge Charger, better known of course as the ‘General Lee’. One of the big TV hits at the time was a mini-series called ‘North and South’ starring a young Patrick Swayze. The saga tells the story of the enduring friendship between Orry Main born into a South Carolina planter – slaveowning family, and his friend George Hazard from a Pennsylvanian mill owning family. The pair had become best mates while attending West Point. Soon they find themselves and their families on opposite sides of the Civil War. One bi-product of watching the series was that I perfected my pronunciation of Charleston in a southern drawl, “Chawstunh”.
It was with great surprise that I later learned that my Grandfathers uncle had fought on the Union side. Recently arrived in the US he and his two sisters headed from New Orleans up the Mississippi to a riverside town in Illinois. It was an exciting time along the busiest river highway in the world. It was the world recreated in the fiction of Mark Twain, inhabited by characters like ‘Puddenhead Wilson’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’. In the summer of 1862 my great granduncle voluntarily joined the 84th Illinois Infantry. Why a recently arrived immigrant would join a fight which really wasn’t his fight is a mystery but thousands of young men like him did the same. In a few months the new recruits were fighting their way through Kentucky and into Tennessee. There my uncle came a cropper in the fields around the town of Murfreesboro on New Years Day, 1863. Luckily he survived and after a few months was back with his regiment in the hell fire of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Finally the Union broke into Georgia and split the Confederacy in half. My Great Granduncle wasn’t part of the infamous drive by Sherman to the sea. Instead his regiment headed back towards Tennessee via Huntsville, Alabama. There were some final battles but the end of the war and victory was in sight. My Great Granduncle returned to Illinois where he was to marry, raise a family and where he now lies resting in the cemetery at Keithsburg.
In reading about the American Civil Wat, I happened upon this sad tale recently. Civil War, as we well know in this country, can literally tear a family apart, pitting brother against brother or father against son as each rallies to the flag of the cause that captured his heart. As Lincoln said at the outset, “if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher”. There is no more dramatic evidence of this than the encounter that took place on the American Civil War battlefield at Malvern Hill July 1, 1862. Captain D. P. Conyngham was an officer in the Irish Brigade and described the incident shortly after the war:
“I had a Sergeant Driscoll, a brave man, and one of the best shots in the Brigade. When charging at Malvern Hill , a company was posted in a clump of trees, who kept up a fierce fire on us, and actually charged out on our advance. Their officer seemed to be a daring, reckless boy, and I said to Driscoll, ‘if that officer is not taken down, many of us will fall before we pass that clump.’
‘Leave that to me,’ said Driscoll; so he raised his rifle, and the moment the officer exposed himself again bang went Driscoll, and over went the officer, his company at once breaking away.
As we passed the place I said, ‘Driscoll, see if that officer is dead – he was a brave fellow.’
I stood looking on. Driscoll turned him over on his back. He opened his eyes for a moment, and faintly murmured ‘Father,’ and closed them forever.
I will forever recollect the frantic grief of Driscoll; it was harrowing to witness. He was his son, who had gone South before the war.
Ivan Terrible after killing his son
And what became of Driscoll afterwards? Well, we were ordered to charge, and I left him there; but, as we were closing in on the enemy, he rushed up, with his coat off, and, clutching his musket, charged right up at the enemy, calling on the men to follow. He soon fell, but jumped up again. We knew he was wounded. On he dashed, but he soon rolled over like a top. When we came up he was dead, riddled with bullets.”