IT was a night to remember in Abbeyleix Heritage House on Sunday, when the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic was commemorated in a colourful mix of personal recollection and historical fact.
Organised by the Abbeyleix Business Community and Abbeyleix Heritage House, the event attracted a 70-strong crowd of history buffs and culture vultures. Described by heritage committee member Stella Ring, who organised the evening along with Brian Maher and Tom Cox, as “a night of words and music”, the event was designed to celebrate Abbeyleix’s connection to the infamous ‘unsinkable ship’.
“Everyone knows someone who was on the Titanic,” Stella said, pointing out that there’s even a headstone in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Abbeyleix to William Henry Gillespie. Gillespie was was on board the ship on his way to America at the behest of the DeVescis, owners of the local factory which made carpets for the Titanic. The only other Laois native to go down with the ship was Michael McEvoy, a 19-year-old from Ballacolla.
It was with personal family testimonies that Sunday’s event really came to life. Labour candidate Jim O’Brien told a story about his relatives who were passengers on the ill-fated maiden voyage, while an informative history of the old carpet factory was delivered by Tom DeVesci, whose family established this successful business which designed carpets not just for the Titanic but its sister ship, SS Olympic. Abbeyleix’s historical link to the Titanic was further highlighted by Fiona Clooney (relative of Hollywood star, George), whose great grand-aunt Sarah worked in the carpet factory.
Also present on the night was Midlands 103’s Kevin Lalor-Fitzpatrick, while musical contributions were made by The Voice star Joseph Kavanagh, members of Spink Comhaltas, and string quartet Vltava. MC was Brian Maher, who stepped up at the last minute when Tom Cox of Heritage House unfortunately had to pull out due to a family bereavement.