Gone to the USA
‘Gone to the USA' reads the faded copper-script entry, hand-written by the now long-dead Master McDermott opposite the name of yet another young emigrant from the west of Ireland. This poignant reference is contained in the recently discovered school register for Massbrook National School in the parish of Addergoole in County Mayo covering the period 1894 - 1970.
Annie McGowan was six years old when her name was entered on the Massbrook school register on the 20 November 1899. She lived with her mother and father and six siblings on a small farm in the townland of Terryduff. However Annie was unique among her school-mates. Even at that tender age she was already well travelled, having been born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA on 5 July 1893. Annie was baptised on the 9 July in St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Church, Dunmore, Pennsylvania, USA. Her godparents were Catherine McGowan, her aunt who perished on Titanic and Michael Hennegan.
Her parents John and Mary had emigrated some years earlier from a famine ravaged Ireland. They survived the difficult passage to America and settled in Scranton, then a booming town. Somehow, despite the cost and hardship involved, the McGowan family returned to Ireland in 1899, to run John's father's farm when he was no longer able to manage it himself.
The 1901 census of Ireland shows the McGowan family living with the grandfather, Anthony McGowan, who was then 71 years of age. Ten years later, the 1911 census shows her father, John, as head of the household, Anthony having died some years earlier. Also mentioned are the mother, Maria and six other children, including her brother, Anthony who was also born in the USA. Annie was the eldest; the 1911 census gives her age last birthday as 16 years.
The children at Massbrook would have received a good all round education from their teachers, Michael McDermott from Knockfornaught and Annie McHale from Aughalonteen. They were well versed in the 3 R's, (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) and probably a grounding in English, and some history and geography. However, in those turbulent years following the ‘Great Famine', Ireland was deeply affected by the social changes of the industrial revolution and the agrarian upheavals fomented by rack-rent absentee landlords and the struggle of the Land League. There were few career options for the children at such a school. Master McDermott and Miss McHale knew full well that they were preparing many of their pupils for emigration.
Perusal of both the boys' and girls' registers for Massbrook School shows that emigration was commonplace. There are several more entries that bear witness to the flight from the land in that period. However, what makes this entry so unique is that Annie McGowan emigrated as a third class passenger on the maiden voyage of the ill fated RMS Titanic which struck an iceberg and sank on the morning of 15 April 1912. Over 1500 people died. Just 700 survived. Annie, only 17 years of age, was one of the few third class passengers to survive and make it successfully to America. Though severely traumatized by the sinking and the loss of 11 of her fellow emigrants from Addergoole, and though completely destitute on arrival in New York, she somehow survived and with the assistance of the Red Cross, she eventually settled in Chicago.
Though the memories of Annie's second Atlantic crossing stayed with her until she died aged 95 years, in 1990, she rarely spoke of them. It was only in 1984 that she gave an interview to her great-grand-daughter for a newspaper article. Read more from the Chicago magazine 2004.
Few people outside of her family knew her connection to one of maritime's greatest tragedies until the Chicago Sun-Times of 12th March 2008 carried this front page headline.
"St Pat's queen honors great-granny's courage: Titanic Survivor. Pageant winner entered on "big whim" to celebrate her family heritage."
The pageant was the gala event to select the Rose entrant to represent Chicago in Tralee, Ireland in August 2008, in the International Rose of Tralee Festival. The great-granny was Addergoole's Annie McGowan and the Queen, or Rose, was Annie's own great-grandchild, who was inspired to enter the competition to honour her great grand-mother's courage and heritage. Truly, an inspirational emigration tale!
Perhaps the Massbrook School register entry should read: "Annie McGowan - Gone to USA, Titanic Survivor and great-grandmother of a future beauty queen"