Irish Ships and Shipping 

Sinking of the RMS Leinster and the loss of 501 lives



The sinking of the Royal Mail Steamer Leinster, a short distance from Dublin Bay in an operational area known as 'Square-72', occurred during a period when events in Ireland and throughout the world were climaxing with the end to a terrible conflict.
The Irish Rebellion was two years old and Home Rule was in the balance. The end of the First World War was imminent, yet the German submarine fleet was still desperately trying to salvage some honour by continuing savage assaults on shipping. The conscription of Irish citizens had been threatened almost daily, and in an effort to defeat the advancing German Army and Navy, that giant of a nation - the USA - finally joined hands across the water with their Allies in 1917. 

This joint effort against a common enemy forged new European-American friendships which  survive to this day. It is also the account of a government's reckless abandonment in its refusal to protect the travelling public and a commercial shipping company's vessels at a time when it could easily have done so.


The sinking of the Leinster remains to this day the greatest disaster to befall Irish citizens travelling in Irish waters. This remarkable episode, although remembered from time to time on various maritime occasions, has not received the recognition due to it. Only very recently did the owner of the Leinster's remains, Desmond Brannigan and several sub aqua divers from the locality of Dun Laoghaire harbour rectify this lapse of memory.
With financial assistance from Stena Sealink, Irish Lights and others later mentioned, they raised one of the wreck's anchors. Mounted opposite the Carlisle Pier, it is a fitting reminder of the many local people who served and travelled aboard the mail steamers and, in particular, to the 500 or more who lost their lives while travelling on the Leinster. The violence and the unusually high death toll associated with this tragedy is still not comprehended and is in dark contrast with the many pleasant and tranquil Victorian depictions of the Mail Boats exhibited throughout Dun Laoghaire's hotels, pubs and banks.
Ireland was a country whose conscience was in conflict. On the one hand, it despised the British occupation, but on the other, many who were not fighting in foreign parts in defence of the Realm could be found working all the hours God could send, fitting and repairing the British Fleet, producing munitions and generally supporting the War Effort.
Although submarine attacks in the Irish Sea were not unheard of, their casualties were generally perceived to be small. This complacency within Ireland was shattered when it received the unbelievable news of the sinking of the mail boat Leinster by a German submarine on 10 October, 1918. When the bodies began to come ashore, Ireland gasped at the scale of the disaster that was revealed.
To many it came as a complete surprise, but to the seamen on the route and the Ministry Of Defence, it had been inevitable. Indeed, it had been almost a miracle that these mail steamers had escaped until then. The protection of the mail boats was the responsibility of Flag Captain Gordon Campbell VC who commanded the Irish Sea Flotilla and, although not his only worry, he expressed the view that the loss of a mail steamer would be considered a national disaster.

The loss of the Leinster also marked the demise of its owners, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Co., which had been in the steam packet business since 1823.
This ship was the second in its quartet of famous mail steamers to be lost in the War and was the final nail in a coffin that made trading unsustainable. Despite extremely difficult and sometimes discriminatory operating parameters, this company produced excellent vessels that served Dublin and the cross-channel ferry service well. Shortly after the end of the War, and probably because of it, this company which had pioneered technical innovations in all of its vessels and upheld the highest standards in a very popular service, faded into obscurity.
Although in relative terms, this tragedy was far greater than that of the much publicised Titanic and Lusitania, it has received comparatively little publicity. 

We are tempted to remember this War in terms of our grandparents and the stories they passed on to us as children. But they were the survivors. Those who died in terrible conditions in godforsaken places were no more than boys and 
they were killed in their millions.

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