Young & Irish: Two Pennies and The Titanic
By Mary Kate Campbell
It was the tale heard around the world, when on April 15, 1912, the “unsinkable” ship had sunk after colliding with an iceberg the previous night. The Titanic remains infamous today, partly due to James Cameron’s 1997 film.
While Cameron’s portrayal is an “inspired by” movie, the nonfictional stories surrounding the Titanic ground its history as an impactful, devastating loss to many innocent, ordinary lives. To Thomas Millar, the Titanic was an ambitious and exciting new project in his career. He was a laborer in the Belfast shipyard of Workman, Clark & Co., but that did not satisfy his thirst for success. He worked long hours during the day, and studied late into the night to perfect his skills. When a job at Harland & Wolff for cutting edge shipbuilding opened up, he jumped at the opportunity.
In 1911, Millar brought his two young sons, Tommy and Ruddick, to the Harland & Wolff shipyard for a look at the ship he was working on, where he was a part of the team building and installing the engines. According to four year-old Ruddick, the ship was a tall, frightening metal mountain, and too big to be a boat.
Millar also had a yearning for travel outside of Ireland. And after his time at Harland & Wolff, he began working as an assistant deck engineer with the White Star line, signing on as a Titanic crewmember in 1912.
In April of 1912 in Belfast, Millar said goodbye to Tommy and Ruddick before setting sail. As a going away gift, Thomas gave each boy a new penny and said, “don’t spend this until I see you again.” Unfortunately that day never came, as Millar died in the early morning hours of April 15thin the North Atlantic Ocean.
Susie Millar, the great granddaughter of Thomas Millar and program director of the Belfast Titanic Tours, wrote a book entitled, The Two Pennies—A True Story from the Titanic. She presents the story in a moving and touching way in the form of diary entries penned by her family members. Not only does the book talk about the 1912 tragedy, but also it depicts a first-hand account of life in late 19thCentury Belfast.
Tommy spent his penny, but his younger brother Ruddick never did. His penny has remained in the family and is now in the care of Susie.
Mary Kate Campbell is Cleveland State University alumna with a BBA in Finance and will be attending law school in the fall of 2019. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing, playing volleyball, and travelling.