This diary belongs to Ellie O' Donoghue aged 16

6th of July 1911

Today is my sixteenth birthday. This beautiful diary was a present from Mary-Alice. The blank pages were so alluring I couldn't wait to write on them. Sorcha gave me a pretty shawl which she made herself; it's an ocean blue that flows through my fingers so softly you would think it was silk but it is toasty and warm.

I don't know how I would have survive this place if it wasn't for Mary-Alice and Sorcha; I probably would have ended up like Myrtle O'Donovan, cold, bitter and just an existence in Kinsale Orphanage.

Mary-Alice O'Neill is seventeen and the eldest at the orphanage; she has lived there since she was born as her mother died giving birth. She looked after me when I arrived when I was four years old. She has the kindest blue eyes that you can't even get a glimpse of the suffering we endure every day.

Sorcha Ní Bheiligh is fifteen and the only one out of the three of us that was properly taken care of by her family, but that also makes losing them more heart breaking. Her parents died in a fire when she was three years old. She lived with her grandmother who died a year later. I still remember the day she arrived. Her blonde hair hiding her tear streaked face. At first everyone thought she was a mute but then we figured out she just didn't understand any English. She would babble away in Gaeilge for hours on end.

The three of us became inseparable and none of us felt lonely again. We made sure we got something on our birthdays. Of course my birthday or anyone's birthday was never fun. My day was made up of washing floors, and doing my sums under the sharp eye of Sr. Philomena. None of the nuns are particularly nice here; Sr. Patricia especially is a nasty piece of work. She is constantly goading Mary-Alice about having to leave in a couple of weeks.

When a girl turns eighteen the orphanage sees them as old enough to take care of themselves and they throw them out with not as much as a good luck. Mary-Alice has spent many sleepless nights in a state of worry about the 19th of August; she is terrified of ending up on the streets. No one wants to end up alone on the streets; with no roof over their head and no security against thieves and drunken miscreants.

We are making the most of the time we have left together; Sorcha snuck into the kitchens, somehow managed not to be caught by Sr. Patricia and presented a small muffin with an extravagant Breithlá Shona Duit*. We ran to our room and threw ourselves onto my bed; we made a tent out of my thin blanket and ate our feast. We were just double checking that we had removed all the crumbs from the sheets when Myrtle came in. You always knew it was about five minutes from lights out, so we got ready for bed still giggling from Sorcha's achievements. Myrtle looked very disgruntled at our constant giggling and seemed ready to explode when Mother Minerva came in and told us to blow out our candles.

So yes I did light my candle again and yes Myrtle is glaring at me but these pages are so blank, boring and almost begging to be filled in but I suppose it is not worth Myrtle ratting me out to the nuns.

24th of July 1911

The most wonderful opportunity has arisen. We had gone on an outing around the town and I heard a group of people talking excitedly around a poster of a ship. One had said that "even God won't be able to sink this ship". I waited in the shadows until the group started to disperse. The ship was called the Titanic; from a mere poster of this boat I believe it is the most beautiful object I have ever set my eyes on. She will set sail on her maiden voyage on the 20th of March 1912.

Oh I wish I was eighteen so I could board that ship; of course I could always run away, but then I'll be leaving Sorcha alone with only Myrtle for company. But will I ever get this opportunity again? I will have to think more on this matter later.

But look at me being so self-centred when Mary-Alice herself has been given the greatest of hopes, I'm positively ashamed of myself. Before we left the orphanage this morning, we snuck in into Mother Minerva's office to get back the book she had confiscated from Sorcha. The room is ghastly, all dark and mouldy, the only window was draped heavily with a filthy red curtain. As we set to work trying to find Sorcha's book we came across a box with Mary's name on it. We know we shouldn't have looked but we couldn't help but take a glimpse inside. That is all we had time for anyway, as right at the moment we had pried the box opened, we heard Mother Minerva and Sr. Patricia in the hall. I reached my hand in and grabbed the first thing my fingers brushed against. We hid behind the curtain as the two nuns stepped into the room. I don't know how long we stood there listening to the nonsense the two rattled away to each other but then Sr. Patricia started talking about Mary. She was absolutely awful. She sat down in front of Mother Minerva's desk and looked completely gleeful.

"Only two weeks now and we will have one less insolent creature in this place."

"Another poor soul will probably take her place within a few months."

"Yes well, she will be gone, she is always up to no good and she is always so . . . happy, I am sure there is something seriously wrong with her."

I wanted to jump out then and there, Mary-Alice O'Niell is the kindest, sanest, and most levelled- headed person I know. How dare Sr. Patricia talk about her like that, I was just about to say this to her but Mother Minerva was speaking again.

"She was one of the calmest though; it may seem even crazier than usual"

"Then it will be a lashing for those who act up, nothing changes just because one leaves us."

"Of course we do not want a single slip in conduct."

"Definitely not."

The conversation then moved onto general subjects and much less interesting topics. They left before it was time for us to be getting ready to leave buíochas le dia.

What I had managed to snatch was a letter from a Pádraig Downing to Mary-Alice's mother. We read and reread the letter all the way into town. From what we could gather, Pádraig is Mary's Uncle who lives in Cornamona; she has decided to set out for his home when she leaves the orphanage in two weeks' time. I hope the best for her, I really do, I haven't seen her this happy all summer, it is like her fears of living on the streets have all but vanished. There is a new light in her eyes and her smile has grown. It was the best outing we had in a long time; even Myrtle screaming like the banshee could not ruin our good mood.

19th of August 1911

Today is Mary-Alice's birthday, but for the first time since I have known her, I didn't get to tell her to have a happy birthday. She had left the orphanage hours before, at the time no one but the nuns were awake no one but the nuns were awake. Last night I stayed awake well into the early hours, listening to the sniffs coming from Mary's bed and the sobs coming from Sorcha's. We had planned to give Mary her present this morning, it was a new cream coloured shawl with her name embroidered on it; but now it lies on her pillow after spending the night in the small box under my bed.

Both Myrtle and Sr. Patricia were positively gleeful; I have come very close to throttling one of them, but the prospect of a lashing when I am already feeling so weak from the suffocating depressing atmosphere that surrounds the orphanage is unbearable to even think about.

Sorcha is in an even worse state; she is constantly breaking down in wild sobs. She got a lashing for being so loud and now she is locked in the punishment room and will not be left out until lights out.

Already the younger girls are turning to me for comfort. That used to be Mary-Alice's job, she was the eldest; now I am, I have to be the strong one, the mother hen, the one who is the good influence and who takes care of them. I want everything to go back to the way they were only one day ago. I want Mary-Alice back.


*Breithlá Shona Duit - Happy Birthday