Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Discovering Our Heritage

Looking through my photos from Ireland, I couldn’t help but smile at the moment I spotted our photos from the Cork Heritage Museum. Known for its content that contains artifacts from the Titanic, mom and I opted to visit while in Cork. However, there is a little bit of a backstory, so let me start there first.
On the train from Belfast to Galway, mom and I sat across the aisle from a man. He lived in New Jersey but was full Irish. Seated across from him were two elderly women from England. Naturally, the three struck up a conversation and well, mom and I couldn’t help but do a bit of eavesdropping. Asking if the man had visited the new Titanic Exhibition in Belfast, he said that he had in fact visited the site.
Grinning at each other, mom and I thought the elderly women to be sweet and “chatty;” however, the next thing that came out of the man’s mouth had even my mom and me eager to hear more. Out of his bag, he pulled out black and white photos of his great uncle. Explaining that his great uncle, Jeremiah Burke, had been on the Titanic, he went on to say that his great uncle’s cousin was also aboard with him when the ship went down.  Before leaving, his mother had given him a bottle of Holy Water to take on his journey. When learning that the ship was sinking, he emptied the bottle and inserted a hand-written note. Corking the bottle, it went down with the ship – both he and his cousin perished in sinking. Years later, the bottle washed ashore in Cork and now sits within the Cork Heritage Center.
After hearing this story, mom and I both agreed that if we had time, it would be quite amazing to go and see this infamous bottle. When arriving in Cork, we looked at our schedule and discovered that unfortunately, there would be no time to see this part of Titanic history. However, all of that changed when we woke up one morning, got dressed, and walked to the bus station. Planning to travel to Kinsale to visit one of the large forts there, we quickly learned that 13 euros for a bus ticket, one way mind you, was a bit too much for a fort that we may not even see because of the rain.
“Hey, why don’t we see how much it would cost to go to Cobh,” mom said. Agreeing that it was a good idea, we hopped on the train and traveled to Cobh. Pulling into the station, the Heritage Center was just steps away. Paying the fee to enter, we readied our cameras and prepared to be transported back to 1912. Making our way through the museum, we passed by story after story of passengers and their belongings. Fascinated by all of the articles held within this tiny museum, we came to the notorious bottle.
“Goodbye All” is what the note read – a sorrowful message by a young man, only 19 years old, preparing to meet his fate in the cold waters below.

Looking at the pictures of Jeremiah Burke, we couldn’t believe we were actually seeing this bit of history. After grabbing a few photos, I turned to see my mother staring at a photo of a man. Just as quickly as I spotted her, she turned to look back at me.
“Who does this man remind you of,” she asked me. Within seconds, my eyes focused on the man in the photo and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The man my mother was fixated on looked just like my grandfather.  Walking towards the photo, we read the caption, saying it was Frank Browne, a famous photographer of the Titanic and its passengers. Browne was in seminary school at the time. While on the Titanic, he snapped photos of its passengers and the lives they led on board the ship. Wishing to continue on the ship’s journey, he was told by his mentor to disembark the ship immediately. Getting off in Queensland, Browne did not suffer the fate that so many did when the ship went down.
Staring at the photo, I was shocked at how similar this man looked to my mom’s father. Her maiden name is Brown and to know that when immigrants came over to the U.S., the “e” on his last name could have easily been dropped. His forehead, eyes, ears, and nose were all the same.  Standing there, mom almost began crying, completely in awe of what she was seeing. To think that we had come to Ireland and found our heritage, it was unbelievable. It was like everything fell into place just like it should – the decision to go to Ireland, the seat and compartment on that train, the story of the message in a bottle – it all led to this discovery.

Since seeing that photo, we have attempted to find out more about Frank Browne and how we may be related. Convinced that there is a relation, mom and I are determined to get to the bottom of this…who knows, it’s like they say…life has a funny way of presenting these types of things to us. I knew there was a reason I chose to go to Ireland!


Kristen Allbritton said...

I loved hearing all about Mom's and your stories in Ireland, but this is, by far, my favorite :). I can't believe how much Frank looks like Grandpa Brown and I just think there is so much yet to be discovered in this story! :)

Edna said...

I love reading about the Titanic and would love to visit the museum some day - I didn't know about it last time I was in Cobh. How cool that you happened to overhear that man's conversation, and then to stumble upon that photo!

Traveler24 said...

It was quite ironic. We were so grateful to have stumbled upon that story though. To be at the right place at the right time...prime example of how it can turn out for the best :)

Melissa B. said...

Wow that's really cool! Things like that don't happen every day.

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