Mr. Patrick O’Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell, 35, was an Irish national and United States citizen traveling aboard the Lusitania on business and to visit friends in England. He survived the Lusitania sinking and was rescued by the Bluebell. Patrick was originally from Meenacross, Dungloe, County Donegal, Ireland. He was born on 15 March 1880, one of nine children of Neil and Annie O'Donnell in a Roman Catholic household. His siblings were Edward, James, Denis, Dominick, Anthony, Rose, Anne, and Neil. Patrick was either the youngest or second youngest of the family. Patrick had been a farmhand, but emigrated to the United States in April 1910 aboard the Furnessia. He stayed with his sister Mary of Avenue A, Bayonne, New Jersey. He and Anthony made a return trip to Ireland and then returned to New York on 22 September 1912 on board the Columbia. By that time, both brothers had become commercial travelers. In 1913, Patrick became a naturalized United States citizen. As of 1915, Patrick was employed as a furrier and his address was in West Hoboken, New Jersey. He was traveling aboard Lusitania to visit friends and buy furs in the London market. Up until the day of the Lusitania disaster, Patrick described the voyage as pleasant and without fear of danger. He had "never seen a happier lot of people." He did not know about the German warning to sink the ship. The following is his account of the Lusitania sinking from the Lincoln Daily Star of 26 November 1915, from Lindel Buckley's Donegal Genealogy Resources:
At 2:15 on the afternoon of May 7, when the first sitting of lunch was over, I went to the top deck with a pair of marine glasses to look for scenes in the county of Cork. I swept the seas for sign of a ship, but could see none. Suddenly I heard a great bang against the boat; it was the torpedo from the German submarine. I ran to the starboard side, where the ship had been struck, about thirty or forty feet, and I could see the torpedo on the ship's side on the water line, just below the funnels. The steel plates of the ship flew up into the air, she trembled from stem to stern, and a great deluge of water flooded up. The sky seemed to get black, and the boat turned almost completely around so that she headed out to sea for the coast of England, instead of toward Ireland. The people crowded the starboard side, crying, "What has happened?" Mothers were looking for their children, men were calling for wives and sweethearts. Some leaped over the railing and into the sea. I felt that there was no danger, and that the ship would not sink anyhow, and to get away from the crowd of people, ran across the little bridge into the salon. Here I found some life belts, put one on, and handed out the others. Captain Turner was standing on the bridge giving his orders coolly, and he said that there was no danger of the boat sinking. The lifeboats, filled with seventy or eighty people, were being lowered. The first struck the water and split wide open, the people going down. The second turned upside down, spilling out those in it. Altogether about eight or nine life boats were launched safely. The list of the ship was so great that the boats on the side where the hole was were either underneath or touching the water. About ten minutes after the first shock a second torpedo struck us. This knocked me across the top deck, and I had to crawl on hands and knees to get back. The water rushed over the bows, and the ship straightened on an even keel. Then it splashed straight forward; I saw it was going to sink, and I dived overboard.
In another account, O'Donnell related how he saw Captain Turner, standing on the bridge and wearing a lifebelt as the ship sank from underneath him. He also saw several stewards rushing from the deck with blood gushing from their ears and mouth.
I swam about forty yards from the ship, when a great force drew me backward and down. Gasping for air, I went down. I could see the bodies of women and children around me, and my hands grasped the matted hair of some as they floated by. When the ship struck bottom the water threw me to the surface, and I could see life boats in a circle about a mile away. I looked for the Lusitania and couldn't believe that she was gone. There was nothing but a great swirl of water, I came to the surface near a company of about seventy people, who had evidently been cast adrift by a sunken life boat. They were grasping each other and forcing one another down and I dived to get away. I came up near a raft with four men on it. They pulled me aboard and we helped fifteen more on it. But there was a hole in the bottom, the raft kept turning over and over and one by one they dropped into the sea until I alone was left. I thought my time had come and I wondered if I would ever live to tell the story, but I was glad that I was the only one of my family to go. Suddenly the raft left me and I swam to a mass of deck chairs. Here I clung until the torpedo boat came by and pulled me aboard. They asked me if I had seen a submarine and then put me on a life boat. We were taken aboard a mine sweeper named "The Blue Bells of Scotland," [Bluebell] and were escorted by a number of warships that had come up to find the submarine, were taken to Queenstown. In the lifeboat with me were Captain Turner of the Lusitania and the master at arms, also named Turner. We landed at Queenstown about 12:30 that night, and I was carried ashore in a [sic] blankets, my teeth chattering, my arms and legs numb from the cold and a terrible shock to me from the exposure.
O'Donnell had been in the water for over three hours and suffered from slight bruises and severe shock. He was taken to the Sailor's Home in Queenstown. The doctors believed that O'Donnell only had two hours to live and said that he would die a "raving maniac." One doctor pledged to save him because O'Donnell was an Irishman, and O'Donnell was saved.
They wanted to take me to Spike Island, but I asked the doctor to let me die on land. I have a hatred of Spike Island because that is where they used to put the Irish prisoners. I borrowed money and clothes to get back, leaving Liverpool with a passport from Ambassador Page in the middle of October. When I reached America and was met by my friends, I was so overcome I couldn't speak.
He returned to New York on 16 October 1915 from Liverpool aboard the St. Paul. O'Donnell was unable to work for more than twelve months following his injuries and has never resumed his previous business of furrier. In 1920, O'Donnell married and afterwards assisted his wife, who owned a hotel. In Patrick's case in the Mixed Claims Commission against Germany, he claimed $2,170 in lost property and further compensation for lingering health effects from the sinking. One English and three American physicians verified that since the sinking, O'Donnell had been suffering from chronic bronchitis and impaired hearing. The commission awarded Patrick O’Donnell $15,000.00 for his health impairments and an additional  $2,170.00 for property lost in the Lusitania sinking.

Related pages

Patrick O'Donnell at the Mixed Claims Commission
Contributors: Lindel Buckley, Ireland Senan Molony, Ireland References: Buckley, Lindel. "1901 Census Sheskinarone, Templecrone, Co Donegal." Donegal Genealogy Resources. Web. Accessed 21 May 2013. <>. "Donegal Man's Experiences." Daily Express, 10 May 1915, page 5. "The Captain's Escape." Irish Times, 10 May 1915, page 8. "Adrift At Sea for Eight Hours." Lincoln Daily Star, Friday, 26 November 1915. Docket 260. Mixed Claims Commission. Page 438. Molony, Senan. Lusitania: An Irish Tragedy. Mercier Press, 2004. Pages 65-66.

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