Titanic: Why were so there so few Ulster passengers?

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The Titanic The Titanic on its arrival at Queenstown in County Cork, where Irish people hoping to emigrate to America boarded

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The rich legacy of the Titanic is showing no sign of fading, more than 100 years after the ship's sinking in 1912.

People in Belfast, the city in where the Titanic was designed and built, have just marked the 103rd anniversary of the maritime catastrophe, in which 1,512 passengers and crew lost their lives.

But for a disaster so closely connected to the city and to Ulster, only one of the third-class passengers aboard the ill-fated liner came from what was to become Northern Ireland.

County Down man Thomas Rowan Morrow, who boarded at Queenstown - now known as Cobh - in County Cork was that passenger.

And his third-class status left him at a disadvantage when the ship began to sink.

Only 75 of the 462 adult men in third-class survived as they were accommodated below deck in the bowels of the ship, with many unable to reach the lifeboats.


The body of the labourer from Drumlough, near Rathfriland, was never recovered.

But why was he the among only a handful of passengers from the nine counties of Ulster to set sail on the ship?

Pat O'Donnell, of the Ulster American Folk Park, which is currently holding an exhibition on emigrants aboard the Titanic, says northern passengers generally left from Moville in County Donegal.

Thomas Rowan Morrow Thomas Rowan Morrow, whose body was never recovered

"What brought [Thomas] all the way down to Queenstown we don't know, we'll never know the answer to that," she said.

"We were in contact with family members and they were able to tell us that he was going to his brother in Canada.

"His brother worked as a ranch-hand and we can only assume that Thomas was going to do the same."


Ms O'Donnell said the stories of the third-class passengers were one of the most fascinating aspects of the disaster.

"In 1912, 30,000 people left Ireland, and on 11 April that year 113 left as third-class passengers on Titanic."

"The story of Titanic is retold again and again to the audience of the day but the third-class passengers have been overlooked in many ways."

Dr Leon Litvack, a professor of Victorian studies at Queen's University in Belfast, said a good deal struck with an emigration agent could have been why Thomas chose to travel to Cork.

Titanic lifeboats Few third-class adult men survived as they were accommodated below deck in the bowels of the ship, with many unable to reach the lifeboats

"Thomas Morrow's brother was in Alberta and that's where he was travelling to," Dr Litvak said.

"So why choose to sail to New York rather than Hailfax? Maybe it was to see a bit of the world. But it's an imponderable.

"I can't identify a sound reason - other than the distance to travel - why more people from what became Northern Ireland weren't on board.

"It could have been personal choice, circumstance, or if an emigration agent was able to offer a person a better deal, a passenger would've taken that instead."


Stephen Cameron of the Belfast Titanic Society has written two books on the ship. He insisted the lack of local passengers did not dilute Belfast's connection with the liner.

"Absolutely not, especially when you remember that - apart from where she is at the moment - she was built here and spent the longest period of her time here," he said.

Map of the origins of third-class passengers on the Titanic This map shows where in Ireland the third-class passengers originated from. Those in black were lost, those in red were saved

Dr Litvack said that Northern Ireland tended not to remember the tragedy because of the lives lost, but instead because of the impact it had on the men who built the Titanic.

"It's not so much about the victims and survivors because Northern Ireland was not to blame in any way for the Titanic tragedy.

"It's about that feat of engineering, the lives that it touched here and the pride of the men who built her."

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