The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

People on board

Henrieta Kirwan

KIRWAN, Henrietta

Henrietta Cecelia Kirwan was born in Dalgin, Dunmore, in the parish of Addergoole in County Galway on 18 July 1874. She was the fifth of eight children born to Denis J Kirwan and Mary Louisa Bermingham. The Kirwans were an old Galway Catholic family and the Berminghams had been the largest landowners in the area since the early eighteenth century. In 1863 Denis Kirwan bought the Dalgin estate from Michael Bermingham, and in 1866 he married Michael’s sister. Their marriage was solemnised twice, first in the Protestant Church and then in the Catholic Chapel. All of the children were raised as Catholic. Denis Kirwan was a Justice of the Peace, and a Land Agent, as were three of his sons.

The second eldest son, Michael, died suddenly in 1903 and Denis J himself died of influenza in 1906. Two sons and two daughters were at home in Dalgin with their widowed mother in the 1911 census, though Henrietta was not among them, nor has she been found in either the Irish or UK census. Mary Louisa died in September 1918 and it was while returning to England from her mother’s funeral that Henrietta found herself on RMS Leinster on 10 October. To date nothing is known of Henrietta’s life in England.

Henrietta travelled on the boat with a twenty-one year old neighbour, Elizabeth Costello, daughter of the local doctor. Elizabeth survived the sinking and gave an account of the events to the Tuam Herald. They were in their cabin after breakfast when the first torpedo struck and everyone hurried up on deck. There, both Henrietta and Elizabeth buckled on lifebelts and then Henrietta “rushed forward to a boat which was being lowered”. That was the last that Elizabeth saw of her companion.

Henrietta’s body was recovered and brought by train to Miltown station and then to the parish church. The Western People reported that “the hearse in readiness [was] dispensed with in accordance with the special desire of the young men of the district to carry the coffin on their shoulders”, and that the “immense proportions of the funeral cortege testified” to her popularity, and undoubtedly to that of the family. Among those present was the wife of the Protestant Bishop of Tuam. Henrietta’s remains were interred in Addergoole cemetery.


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