Jim Curley has a small family link to the Titanic - his uncle married the niece of one of the 1,500-plus victims of the "unsinkable" ocean liner that didn't survive its first Atlantic Ocean crossing. Curley's distant relation by marriage, Mary Mangan, was one of 14 young people from the same area of Ireland who sailed on that doomed trip; 11 of those natives of "Ireland's Titanic village" died when the ship rammed an iceberg and quickly sank 102 years ago today.
But Curley, who lives in Long Beach Island's nautical-sounding town of Ship Bottom, knows that millions of people with no personal ties to the disaster still have an enduring fascination with history's most famous shipwreck.
So when he gives a talk about the Irish connection to the Titanic - as he will tonight in Absecon, at a meeting of South Jersey's Irish American Cultural Society - Curley can draw a crowd.
Walt Murphy, of Linwood, says the IACS has room for 100 people in its mostly monthly meetings at Absecon's American Legion Hall.
"On several occasions, we've had to turn people away," Murphy told a reporter, "so ask them to get there early, by about 7:15 (p.m.)"
And even though the evening is formally called a meeting for the group - which draws members from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties - everyone is welcome.
"It's open to the public, to people who have an interest in interest in Irish or Celtic history," Murphy said. The talk is free, too - even though the group pays its speakers.
Curley is definitely interested in Irish history, and is a member of a similar, Manahawkin-based Irish-American group called Amergael. He started doing public talks about the Ireland-Titanic connection - which centers around the County Mayo village of Lahardane - two years ago at his Long Beach Island branch of the Ocean County Library.
"The day I gave the talk was the 100th anniversary of the day they left Ireland," says Curley, who's editor of a trade publication for the box industry, but says he has also been published in general-interest publications, including The New York Times. More than 90 people showed up for his first talk, a standing-room only crowd.
"The story I tell is about these young people who are really looking forward to a new life," he says. "They get on this fabulous ship that has all the comforts they never had in their lives" - even though the Irish passengers were in steerage, the lowest-class accomodations - "and four days later, they're dead. They have a couple days of great joy," that then ends with tragedy.
Curley has visited Lahardane, and the surrounding Addergoole "civil parish" - which explains why the group dedicated to the incident's history is called the Addergoole Titanic Society.
He knows the area now hosts a memorial service every April 15 - although that tradition started relatively recently, after local relatives largely ignored the tragedy in public for more than 90 years after the sinking.
Curley recommends a book by a closer Titanic relative, Pauline Barrett, "The Addergoole Titanic Story," which was published shortly before the 100th anniversary in 2012. And there have been other books, a documentary film, "Waking The Titanic," and much more history about the "Addergoole 14."
Still, Murphy - an IACS member with an active interest in Irish and Irish-American history and a three-time visitor to Ireland - said he'd never heard of the country's "Titanic village" before a fellow member, Galloway Township's Dick Noble, suggested inviting Curley to speak.
"This is new to me," Murphy said, "and it's new to the club."
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