People on board
Margaret Cooke was born on 19 March 1885 in the townland of Marlhill in the parish of Ardfinnan, Co Tipperary. She was the third of thirteen children born to Walter Cooke, a Labourer, and his wife Margaret Kiely. In 1893 the family moved to the village of Ardfinnan where Walter worked as a labourer in the local Woollen Mills. Situated on the River Suir, Ardfinnan Woollen Mills, established in 1869, was one of the foremost makers of tweed in Ireland at the time and the only Irish Mill completing all stages from locally sheared wool to final garment.
In 1901 a son James was working in the mill with his father while Margaret had a position as Parlour Maid to Maria Hutchinson, a seventy-two year old widow living in Cahir House in the centre of Cahir town. Maria died in 1910 and in 1911 Margaret Cooke was working in the MacDonnell household in Newhall, Ennis, Co Clare, with her sister Hannah, Margaret as Parlour Maid and Hannah as Cook.
Newhall was a large eighteenth century house, overlooking Killone Lake, owned by the MacDonnell family since 1764 and partly redesigned by Francis Bindon. Charles Randal MacDonnell, J.P. and Barrister-at-Law inherited the house in 1883 and married Mary Eva Stewart née Stacpoole, from nearby Edenvale, in 1896. When the Cooke sisters were at Newhall the household consisted of the parents, five daughters and six servants, including a governess, numerous cats and, reputedly, a mermaid in the lake.
The MacDonnells left Newhall about 1915 and were living on Ailesbury Road in Dublin in 1918, where Margaret Cooke continued to be employed by the family as Parlour Maid. It is not known if her sister Hannah had also moved to Dublin. The Cork Examiner reported that Margaret was engaged to be married, the event to take place on the 15th of October in England. Having bought her trousseau, she was travelling on RMS Leinster on the 10th. Unfortunately, the newspaper gave no details of her intended husband. Margaret survived the explosions and was rescued from the water and brought to hospital in Kingstown. Apparently she talked freely in the hospital about her experience, but, having suffered from exposure, she passed away within four hours. Charles MacDonnell certified the body, although the death certificate was not issued until 29 October.
Margaret’s remains were brought by train to Cahir, with the cortege then continuing to Whitechurch for the burial. A very large gathering of sympathisers were present. A Vote of Sympathy was later passed at a meeting of the Ardfinnan branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.