WAKING THE TITANIC

ELECTRIC SKY - as SALES All rights, World

Documentary - Completed 2012

This extraordinary docu-drama reveals a new and intimate perspective of the Titanic tragedy: a local story, focusing not on the glory and fate of the doomed ship, but the ordinary lives and fragile hopes of the community that lost more of its population that fateful April night than any other.

    • Year of production
    • 2012
    • Genres
    • Documentary, Historical
    • Countries
    • IRELAND
    • Languages
    • ENGLISH
    • Duration
    • 52 mn
    • Synopsis
    • The story of RMS Titanic has been told in grand style many times: the monumental ‘unsinkable’ ship, the scarcely-believable hubris of its owners and the dreadful events of 1912.
      WAKING THE TITANIC is something new – a living history told on a small, but no less poignant human scale. This extraordinary docu-drama reveals a new and intimate perspective of the Titanic tragedy: a local story, focusing not on the glory and fate of the doomed ship, but the ordinary lives and fragile hopes of the community that lost more of its population that fateful April night than any other.
      Between 1850 and 1920 over 3 million people – half the entire population – emigrated from Ireland. Even after the ravages of the Famine, life for the poorest Irish people was harsh, beset by disease and short-lived. The harvest of 1910 was so poor, most believed that the horrendous blight of 1847 had returned.
      For the poor of Addergoole in county Mayo – like many communities in the west of Ireland - America was a last desperate hope. Emigration, and the sending home of remittance money to keep older family members alive, was practically a rite of passage.
      Meanwhile, 200 miles north in the Harland and Wolfe shipyards in Belfast, work on the greatest ship in the world nears completion.
      In 1912, Catherine McGowan - a local girl who had emigrated some years previously and made a great success of her life - returned to Addergoole a fine wardrobe of clothes, wonderful stories of life in the land of opportunity and a generous offer to help buy fares for anyone who wished to return with her. For many, the offer was too good to resist.
      And so fourteen young people - ranging in age from 17 to 32 -
      set about making plans to emigrate. Through stylised re-enactments, the docudrama recreates a joyous trip to the next town to buy a new hat for the voyage ‘because the ladies of America are well-dressed’; the wedding of a young couple prior to the voyage; the young shop girl measuring a child’s finger with a piece of string so she could send a ring back to her from the States; the brother reading his sister’s tealeaves, and warning her not to get on the boat; a fare sent from America that was spent on a new cow, thereby saving a life, and the day that fourteen excited people left the only world they knew in search of a dream.
      Focusing on the drama of anticipation and the thrill of the eventual voyage from Cobh, the story of the Addergoole 14 is told using accounts handed down to family members from the people of the time and interviews with the descendents of those who survived.
      On board Titanic, the Addergoole party traveled third-class (never referred to as ‘steerage’) with full access to most of the ship. Compared with the life they left behind, they traveled in unbelievable luxury. Used to one-room cottages, they had beds to themselves, sharing cabins with just three other people. Normally hungry from dawn till dusk, they were served meals three times a day by waiters. There was running water, fresh fruit, flush toilets and electric lighting – none of which they had ever seen before.
      These are new perspectives, not just of the conditions on board, but the events of April 12th 1912 itself. The grand daughter of Delia McDermott recalls her grandmother’s account of the moment Titanic collided with the iceberg. ‘We barely felt a shudder,’ she said. ‘Those who noticed went up on deck but even the sight of the wall of ice so close to the ship didn’t bother them. Some even used the shards to cool their drinks.’
      And yet, as the full significance of the impact began to dawn, the courage and generosity of the Addergoole party – like so many others on board that endured and perished together – shows through in heart-breaking detail. When her husband John is refused entry to a lifeboat, Catherine Bourke gives up her place to join him in the water. Annie McGowan leaves her place to retrieve her precious new hat from the cabin, barely making it off the ship alive. Pat Canavan, having explored every inch of the ship since departure, leads a group of lost passengers to the lifeboats, but loses his own life in the process.
      In the days following the disaster, whose survivors bypass Ellis Island and are taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in New York, Delia McDermott’s grand daughter recalls her grandmother’s account of being roused to sign a waiver, absolving White Star Lines from all responsibility, later waking to find twenty-five dollars pinned to her lapel. Captain Smith – she insists – did not go down with his ship but was seen in one of the lifeboats.
      This is no mere retelling of the Titanic story. This is a unique account of hope and the loss suffered by the people of a tiny west of Ireland village whose sons and daughters went in search of a better life only to be subsumed by the tragic destiny of the world’s greatest ship.
      Even now, with the last survivors of that time passed away, the bereft community they left behind has only recently begun to commemorate the loss with a torchlit ceremony and the ringing of the church bell, such was the pain of the collective folk memory. Across the Altantic, the story also abides – embodied in the lives of 96 direct descendents of the survivors – whose voices provide both the core and the epilogue to this tale.
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