"My God, If I Could Only Forget": Eugene Daly

Titanic had two stopovers after leaving Southampton: the first in Cherbourg, France, on April 10, and the last in Queenstown, Ireland, on April 11. 

And as Titanic turned away from Ireland toward the open sea,  Eugene Daly played “Erin’s Lament” on his uilleann pipes.

Eugene was from Athlone, Co. Westmeath, Ireland, and was 29 years old when he boarded Titanic.

Per census records circa 1911, Eugene was living with his widowed mother and two siblings. Eugene, as the eldest son, was the unmarried head of household, and was noted as a wool “heaver”. In addition, he supplemented his income by taking jobs as a mechanic.

And of course, Eugene also belonged to the Clan Ulseach War Pipers’ Band and the Irish National Foresters Band, as well as hid local chapter of the Gaelic League.

But Eugene decided to break free and try out a new life for himself in the United States. So he saved for a few years and purchased steerage passage on Titanic. He boarded at Queenstown, in the company of his cousin Maggie and their friend, Bertha. Like all steerage accommodation, he had a shared cabin. Per Eugene’s accounts, he was bunked with two other lads in C23.

The days in steerage seem to have been pleasant and minimally structured. Lawrence Beesley, a survivor from Second Class, shared his observations. And he seems to have spotted Eugene among the jollity, although he mistook his nationality.

Looking down astern from the boat deck or from the B deck to the steerage quarter, I often noticed how the Third-Class passengers were enjoying every minute of the time; a most uproarious skipping game of the mixed-double type was the great favorite, while ‘in and out and roundabout’ went a Scotchman with his bagpipes playing...

Lawrence Beesley, as written in "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic." © First Mariner Books, 2000.

It appears that Eugene played often for his fellows. Even on the night of the sinking, he played his pipes at infamous dance/party held in Third Class.

When Titanic struck the iceberg later that night, Eugene was nearly thrown out of his bed. He dressed in his trousers and shoes and went out to the gangway, but was assured by a steward that nothing serious had occurred and that he should just go back to bed.

Eugene did just that, if only for a little while. But commotion made him go back up on deck, where he saw a lot of people panicked and running around. So he rushed down to steerage to retrieve Maggie and Bertha.

They came out with me, but a sailor told us there was no danger. He said the ship would float for hours. He also said to go back, and that if there was any danger he would call us.

The group went to the stern to procure lifejackets, and Eugene reported that he had a “scuffle” with a man for one, which ended up being given to Maggie.

There was a great deal of noise at this time and water was coming in. We knelt down and prayed in the gangway. Then the sailor said there was danger. We went to the deck but there were no boats going off. Then we went to the second cabin deck. A boat was being lowered there. It was being filled with women. Maggie and Bertha got in, and I got in. The officer called me to go back, but I got in. Life was sweet to me and I wanted to save myself. They told me to get out, but I didn’t stir. Then they got hold of me and pulled me out.

As cited in "On Board RMS Titanic," by George Behe. © The History Press, 2012.

After he saw Maggie and Bertha safely off, Eugene went to find another boat that would let him on. And that is when he bore partial witness to one of the Great Mysteries of Titanic: an officer shooting two male passengers, before committing suicide.

In May of 1912, Eugene reported to the Daily Sketch that he saw an officer shoot two passengers who were fighting to break through the crowd to board a lifeboat.

There was a terrible crowd standing about. The officer in charge pointed a revolver and waved his hand and said that if any man tried to get in he would shoot him on the spot… Two men tried to break through and he shot them both. I saw him shoot them. I saw them lying thereafter they were shot. One seemed to be dead. The other was trying to pull himself up at the side of the deck, but he could not… Afterward, there was another shot and I saw the officer himself lying on the deck. They told me he shot himself, but I did not see him.

As cited in "On Board RMS Titanic," by George Behe. © The History Press, 2012.

Unable to find a ready lifeboat and with water rushing the deck, Eugene clamored to a “sort of canvas craft,” which may have been Collapsible lifeboat A or B. He worked frantically with a group of other men to free it from “a wire stay which ran up to the mast.”

But when the canvas lifeboat was washed off the deck, there was no choice for Eugene Daly but to dive into the ocean. And so he did.

Eugene swam for the same lifeboat that he believed he had been attempting to cut loose. The boat he found was Collapsible B, which had floated away upside down as Titanic submerged. Eugene climbed on top of it; he estimated that over a dozen men followed. Together, they watched Titanic groan and vanish.

Eugene Daly survived the night balancing on the back of Collapsible B, alongside many other men, including Second Officer Charles Lightoller, 17-year-old Jack Thayer, Colonel Archibald Gracie, and Junior Marconi Officer Harold Bride. He often credited his survival to the heavy coat he wore, and he held onto his “lucky coat” for the rest of his life.

Eugene's daughter, Marion Joyce, wrote the following about her dad's lucky coat.

On that fateful night aboard the RMS Titanic, he put on his shoes and his trousers and, a heavy block overcoat with an Astrakhan fur collar. He still had it on when picked up by the Carpathia - that coat and his watch and rosary were treasured relics of his survival.

Many a cold night in my childhood in Ireland, that coat would be thrown over us in bed to keep us warm. We called it "the Titanic." It had a greenish tinge to it, maybe from the sea water, but it still had heaviness and warmth in it.

When Eugene was brought on board Carpathia, he blacked out and was carried to the cabin of a passenger named Dr. Frank Blackmarr, who worked to revive Eugene with hot drinks and unspecified “stimulants.” And then Dr. Blackmarr transcribed Eugene’s account, word for word.

[NOTED BY DR. BLACKMARR: Here this man fell back on his pillow crying and sobbing and moaning, saying: ‘My God if I could only forget!’ After a bit, he proceeded.]

My God, if I could only forget those women’s cries. I reached a collapsible boat that was fastened to the deck by two rings. It could not be moved. During that brief time that I worked on cutting one of those ropes, the collapsible was crowded with people hanging upon the edges. The Titanic gave a lurch downwards and we were in the water up to our hips.

She rose again slightly, and I succeeded in cutting the second rope which held her stern. Another lurch threw this boat and myself off and away from the ship into the water. I fell upon one of the oars and fell into a mass of people. Everything I touched seemed to be women’s hair. Children crying, women screaming, and their hair in their face. My God, if I could only forget those hands and faces that I touched!

As I looked over my shoulder, as I was still hanging [on] to this oar, I could see the enormous funnels of the Titanic being submerged in the water. These poor people that covered the water were sucked down in those funnels, each of which was twenty-five feet in diameter, like flies.

Eugene was hospitalized along with other survivors at St. Vincent’s in New York, and from there, he sent the following letter to his mother.

Dear Mother, got here safe. Had a narrow escape but please God, I am all right, also Maggie. I think the disaster caused you to fret, but things could have been worse than what they were.

As cited in "On Board RMS Titanic," by George Behe. © The History Press, 2012.

Soon thereafter, he filed a claim with White Star for the loss of his beloved pipes, and was compensated $50. He was very pleased with the sum, thinking it more than that pipes had been worth.

Eugene was celebrated as a hero, especially back home in Ireland. "The Westmeath Independent" commented that "the courage credited to Eugene Daly in the foregoing will not surprise his fellow townsmen, who knew him as a man of principle and pluck. In the present deplorable disaster, he appears to have upheld the traditions of the Gael."

He went on to become a machinist for the Otis Elevator Company, and that led him to meet his future wife: the sister of his coworker Jimmy, an English woman named Lillian who owned silk mills in the neighboring state of Connecticut. They married in 1917, and the couple appears to have begun life in New York but eventually moved back to Ireland. Quite by accident and due to his trauma, according to Eugene's daughter.

In 1921, they got a cable from home to say that Eugene's mother was dying. So my Mom booked passage right away and they sailed for home.

...As soon as the ship was a few hours out Eugene lost all sense of security. He was in an extreme state of panic. He couldn't eat or sleep. He walked the decks the whole voyage, and my Mom paid a steward to look out for him.

Once they arrived in Ireland, Eugene refused to sail again. He did not return to the United States until he was widowed in 1961--and only then because flight was a travel option.

In his later years, Eugene was noted as a devout parishioner and quite musical, although he was also described as “very loud.” But people seem to have forgiven him this, as he was probably somewhat deafened from years of working in the mills.

Eugene Daly died on Halloween, 1965, in New York City. He was 82 years old.

In recent years, a curious artifact was salvaged from the wreck site: an instrument with undeniable similarities to uilleann pipes.


Behe, George. "On Board RMS Titanic: Memories of the Maiden Voyage." The History Press, 2012.

Beesley, Lawrence. "The Loss of the S.S. Titanic: By One of the Survivors." First Mariner Books edition, 2000. Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912.






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