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Baby to be buried with mum, NINETY yrs after they perished on Titanic; DNA TESTS WILL CONFIRM IF THE DROWNED TODDLER WAS IRISH.

Byline: MAURICE FITZMAURICE

DNA tests to identify an unknown child drowned on the Titanic could prove the boy was Irish, it emerged yesterday.

Scientists are close to confirming that the two-year-old who died when the Belfast-built liner sank in 1912 was Eugene Rice whose mother was from Athlone, Co Westmeath.

And now his great, great cousin says he is certain the tests will come back positive.

Des Norton, who lives in England, said he has been told it is "99 per cent certain" the mystery child is Eugene.

The 29-year-old said: "I'm positive it will turn out to be him. I feel it in my bones.

"If so, we will push to have Eugene re-united with his mother Margaret and re-buried in the same grave.

"That would be a wonderful end to a mystery that has gone unsolved for so long."

Des's great, great aunt Margaret Rice was on the ship travelling to Canada when it hit an iceberg and went down off Newfoundland with the loss of 1,500 people.

She had set up home in Canada with her husband William who was a British soldier stationed in Athlone.

The pair emigrated to Canada in 1901 and had five children.

But when William was killed in a work accident Margaret, whose maiden name was Norton, returned to Ireland.

However, in April 1912 she boarded the doomed ship at Queenstown - now Cobh - to set off again in search of a new life.

Days after the ship hit an iceberg the body of Margaret, 39, was pulled from the sea along with an unidentified child, now believed to be her youngest son Eugene.

She was buried in a Catholic grave, while the child was buried alone in a non- denominational graveyard. Her other four children were never found.

Clues to uncover the boy's identity came after Titanic expert Dr Alan Ruffman took DNA samples taken from an aunt of Des's still living in Athlone

He compared them with the body exhumed in Nova Scotia, Canada, in May.

He said: "It was always thought this child was the son of a Swedish woman.

"But last year Dr Ruffman placed an advert in a newspaper in Ireland near to where my family live in Co Westmeath, appealing for relatives of Margaret to contact him.

"My aunt, Patsy Norton, responded and after correspondence with Dr Ruffman she sent him her DNA sample.

"He said he was certain the child was Eugene and the body was exhumed for tests. Dr Ruffman is now even more certain the child is our relative."

Further tests and searches are now being conducted and Dr Ruffman, who is writing a book on the Titanic, will contact the family as soon as it is proved the child is Eugene.

Des added: "It will be absolutely amazing if we are told that this child, who has never been identified in almost 90 years, was a member of our family.

"I only discovered our connection with the sinking earlier this year. A few of my relatives knew about Margaret's death but it was never really spoken about until now.

"The tests have been done and Dr Ruffman said he is 99 per cent positive the body is that of Eugene. But we are now waiting for one final result to confirm the tests are conclusive."

CAPTION(S):

RELATIVE: Des Norton; FAMILY ALBUM: Margaret holds son Eugene on her knee; DOOMED: Des is confident the body of the toddler is his great, great cousin Eugene who drowned when the Titanic sank
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 10, 2001
Words:588
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