Slainte: Flash Fiction– “Queenstown”

Moira clutched her mother’s hand as they weaved through ropes and piles of steamer trunks on the dock, wrinkling her nose at the scent of fish and brackish water. Men and women stood in groups, while porters pushed urgently through the crowd with luggage and bags, and seagulls wheeled and cried overhead. A young paperboy, about her size, called out his wares, a pile of fresh newsprint over his arm. Steam hissed at irregular intervals, and acrid coal-fired engines thrummed a steady beat Moira could feel deep in her chest.

“Will they have green grass in America then, Mum?”

Her mother glanced down at her but answered in that voice that said she wasn’t really listening. “Of a certainty, Moira. They have everything that’s green ‘n’ good in America. Not to mention yer Dad’s there waitin’ for us.”

Moira nodded, but a stab in her tummy that wasn’t breakfast porridge sent tears to her eyes. She squeezed Mum’s hand tighter.

“There it is,” said Mum.

Moira looked through the crowd, and her heart fell into her new high button shoes when she saw the ugly little boat. “Is that what is taking us to America?”

Her mother laughed, a clear trill that caused the men nearest them to look over at her. “Lord no, little Moira. That’s only the tender. Our ship is too great to moor here in Queenstown, so they’re sending us out on this boat called the America. Y’see?”

Moira nodded, but she didn’t really see at all why they’d had to leave Cork and Grandmum and Auntie Dierdre and her Cousins Louisa and Molly. She bit her lip, knowing Mum wouldn’t like it if she cried.

After a very long time indeed, Mum and Moira went aboard the ugly boat and it pulled away from the pier, but Moira eyes were droopy and the chuff-chuff of the tender’s steam engine soon lulled her to sleep.

“Wake up, sleepy girl. We’re comin’ up on the ship.” Mum picked her up and pointed into the distance. “There she is, sweetest! That’s our ship! That’s the ship that will take us to New York City and yer Dad.”

It truly was the most enormous ship Moira had ever seen, making all the others in in Cork Harbor seem like toys from her cousins’ toy box. For the first time since Mum had told her they were going to America, excitement bubbled up in Moira’s chest. She hugged her Mum close. As they passed by the stern, Moira read out loud the letters picked out in white on the black hull: T-I-T-A-N-I-C.

* * *

113 passengers embarked on the Titanic at Queenstown (now called Cobh), Ireland on 11 April 1912, many of them Irish immigrants with Third Class tickets. The Titanic itself had been built in Belfast, and its designer Thomas Andrews was an Irishman. Two thirds of the steerage passengers perished after the Titanic struck an iceberg on 14 April. In all only 712 of the 2,225 passengers and crew survived.

A picture of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland looking from the Cathedral out into Cork Harbor.

Irish immigration facts: Between 1846 and 1900 approximately 2,873,000 Irish came to America. Almost as many Irish women as men immigrated. Unlike other national groups, many women of Ireland came by themselves to live here.

For more information on the Irish on the Titanic, see The Irish on the Titanic post by Edward T. O’Donnell.

For pictures of the Titanic on its maiden (and only!) voyage, see TitanicPhotographs.

Did any of your relatives make the boat trip to America? Another what if of history…if the Titanic had had only 500 more feet of warning, it could have missed the iceberg entirely.