PORTLAND, Maine — Visitors at the Maine Irish Heritage Center Saturday were treated to a sampling of everything good that happened aboard the RMS Titanic on April 14, 1912.
Irish soda bread, stew by the ladleful and prayers all happened on the ill-fated voyage 100 years ago and again Saturday evening during a centennial remembrance that sought to recall the hours leading up to one of the world’s worst sea disasters.
Fortunately for the attendees, the Maine Irish Heritage Center doesn’t sink. It was with solemn reflection that they went word-for-word through the same Easter prayers the Titanic’s passengers did during their final hours afloat. Those prayers must have echoed in the bowels of the great steel ship, much as they did Saturday in the center’s Portland headquarters:
“We commend to thy almighty protection, our merchant service and navy, and all who serve therein, and who travel on the seas, for whose preservation on the great deep our prayers are desired,” they read in both the past and present. “Guard them, we beseech thee, from the dangers of the sea, from sickness, from the violence of enemies, and from every evil to which they may be exposed.”
A few hours later, the Titanic and most of her 2,223 passengers were gone.
St. Joseph’s College English professor Karen Marks Lemke has studied the Titanic since 1986, when she interviewed one of its survivors and wrote about it for, among others, the Bangor Daily News. She said Saturday’s event was spot-on to the historical record.
“This room even looks a little like the pictures I’ve seen of the ship’s third-class quarters,” said Lemke, who gave a presentation on the Titanic at the Maine Irish Heritage Center in January. Pat McBride, a member of the center’s board of directors, said a 150-person turnout at Lemke’s talk was part of what spurred the centennial remembrance Saturday.
“That’s when we knew there is a lot of interest out there,” said McBride, surveying another turnout of more than 100.
After Irish beef stew all around and seconds for those who wanted it, Father Jeffrey Monroe of the St. Margaret and St. Augustine churches in Old Orchard Beach and South Portland Police Chaplain David Brennan traced the ship’s history from design to the iceberg. Both men have personal reasons to be interested in the subject.
Monroe, who formerly worked at sea, had a rusted chunk of Titanic iron given to him by a member of the wreck’s salvage team. Joined with a photo of the “unsinkable” ship and framed behind glass, the shard was front-and-center for Saturday’s event.
For Brennan, the connection came to light as a child when he learned his grandmother had been among the survivors. She wasn’t the type to talk about it, said Brennan, until one day when some family members were discussing it and she corrected them.
“Being nine years old, I said, ‘Well how do you know?’” he said. “She looked at me dead in the eye and said, ‘I was there.’ My grandmother was not given to flights of fancy. The way she said it and the way she was staring dead at me, I knew she was there.”
Brennan’s grandmother and her brother were on the deck when the ship hit the iceberg, she told him. They tried to retrieve their things from their rooms, but a panicked flood of passengers surged against them.
“As one of the lifeboats was being lowered, my grandmother’s brother picked her up and threw her into it,” said Brennan. “There were entire families that went down and there were children who lost their parents. My grandmother lost her brother. There wasn’t a tearful reunion. He went down with the ship.”