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Monday, 28 March 2011


Of all the amazing tales told about the Titanic, there is one little story I always find fascinating even though it tells us absolutely nothing about the details of the tragic sinking on that cold night in April 1912.
It is not the fact that the great liner was designed and had the space to carry 48 lifeboats but only 16 were actually included to fulfil the letter of the law. It was not the fact that in spite of ice warnings the ship's speed was not reduced. If it had been, then fewer watertight compartments would have been flooded, and the ship would have remained afloat much longer, and possibly been salvaged.
Not even the fact that after the order was given for women and children to go first, all of the children from the 1st. and 2nd. class were saved but most of the children in the 3rd class were drowned. (All 5 of 1st class children saved, all 24 of 2nd. class children saved but only 23 of the 76 in 3rd. class saved, 60% of these were lost). Or that all of the rocket signals fired by members of the Titanic crew were misunderstood by sailors on a ship not far away.
No. It was none of these. It was the story of Jerome Bourke from Cork.
Jerome Bourke was a young enthusiastic lad from Glanmire near Cork City. He planned to go to America in the Spring of 1912 following two of his sisters who had gone to the USA some time before.
One of the last known photographs of the Titanic
Another sister of his, Nora was very friendly with the checker at the ticket office and he suggested that Jerome could travel on the new liner 'Titanic' which would be calling at Queenstown a few weeks later. Jerome's dreams were coming true.
Before his departure, a neighbour, Mrs 0'Connell, came to the Bourke house with some holy water. Jerome's mother filled some of this water into a small bottle so that Jerome could take it with him. His sister Nora had been on a trip to Lourdes the year before and she brought this special bottle back with her.
On the morning of April 11th Jerome said good bye to his family and with his few possessions, including the bottle, he embarked on the new liner at Cobh. That evening he had his last view of the Cork Coast as the ship sailed silently past the Daunt Rock and out to sea.
The ship hit the iceberg on the night of the Sunday 14th of April at about 10.40 pm and within an hour many lifeboats were filled and lowered to the water. It was 2.20 am on the Monday morning when the ship actually went down and most of the passengers died from exposure in the ice-cold water while floating about wearing their life jackets.
Like everybody else, the Bourke's learned of the tragedy of the sinking. They feared for the worst and every day for about three weeks people called at the house to see if they had any news of Jerome. By early May they got the dreaded news and they mourned for Jerome, and all the other people whose lives and hopes and dreams were dashed by this tragic happening.
Over a year later in early Summer of 1915, a man walking with his dog along the shore, half way down the river in Cork harbour (near Dunkettle), found this unusual bottle which appeared to have come in with the tide. On removing the cork he found a rolled up piece of paper containing a message written with pencil.

Jerome Bourke's note
Did this bottle come all the way back to Cork harbour and end up on the the shore near Dunkettle. There are a number of possibilities as to how the bottle came to be on a shore only a few miles from the Bourke's home in Glanmire.
1. The bottle may have been thrown there recently by some other person.
- But Jerome had the bottle with him on the Titanic when leaving Cobh.
2. Jerome may have thrown the bottle into the sea as the ship left Cork harbour.
- But why write the 13th April when it was only the 11th when leaving Cork ?
The last known photograph of the Titanic
Since the date on the note was the 13th, we can reasonably accept that the message was written on the Saturday, the day before the Titanic hit the iceberg. There is also the slight possibility that Jerome wrote this note on the Sunday night after the accident, but made a mistake when writing the date. The note was rolled up and inserted into the bottle and the cork then firmly pushed down into the neck of the bottle which was then thrown into the sea. The little bottle stayed afloat and the current carried it back again towards the Irish coast, a journey of nearly 3000 miles. It is a coincidence that it should be carried back in through Cork harbour and end up in the Parish where Jerome was born, - even if it did take nearly 14 months before it was found.
Not having Jerome's remains or his grave to visit, Jerome's Mother and family were very thankful to have something tangible to remind them of Jerome after such a tragic end to a trip to America.
The above story was related by John Bourke (nephew) and by Brid 0'Flynn (his grand-niece) on an the Nationwide Programme broadcast on RTE a few years ago.

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