In the bath? On a scribbled page in a notebook? On the back of a shopping receipt?
There are many places to start a book (I’ve used all of the above), but the true origins of THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME lie in a quiet corner in the west of Ireland, in a small town called Lahardane, in County Mayo.
It is from here, in the parish of Addergoole, that a group of fourteen men and women (friends and relatives) left their simple homes on April 10th, 1912, and made the fourteen hour trip to Queenstown, County Cork, to board RMS Titanic. Emigration was very much a part of rural Irish life in 1912 - some of the fourteen were travelling to join family members who’d already emigrated, and all of them left Ireland with the hope that they would find a better life in America. When I came across their records while researching Titanic, I knew that this was the Titanic story I wanted to tell: the story of a survivor and of a community left behind.
While my main character, Maggie Murphy, and the rest of my group are fictionalized, their creation was very much inspired by the history I learned about the original fourteen, of whom only three survived the sinking. The other eleven went down with the ship, including Catherine and Mary Bourke who got out of a lifeboat, refusing to leave John Bourke: Catherine’s husband and Mary’s brother. Of the eleven who were lost, only Mary Mangan’s body was identified, through a gold watch engraved with her name.
I recently visited Lahardane, to meet members of the Addergoole Titanic Society (surviving descendants of the fourteen and local historians). The pride in their parish’s Titanic heritage, and the passion to honour the memory of the fourteen, is abundantly clear. They remember the fourteen through an annual bell-ringing ceremony on April 15th and through the very beautiful Titanic Memorial Park, the walls of which were built with stones taken from the original homes of the fourteen. To stand in the place where their journey - and the story of THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME -truly began, was a very special experience, and one I will never forget.
As we reach the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, it is testament to the descendants of those who left their homes and families in search of a better life, that their story lives on so vividly. I have a feeling that Titanic still has many more stories to tell.
The Girl Who Came Home is available today in anticipation of the Titanic anniversary. Visit www.hazelgaynor.com to learn more about the author, her incredible book, and to order your copy. You may also find Hazel on Facebook and Twitter.