RMS Leinster

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Leinster RMS 1897.jpg
Postcard image of the RMS Leinster
Name: RMS Leinster
Owner: City of Dublin Steam Packet Company
Port of registry: Dublin, Ireland
Route: Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire)-Holyhead
Ordered: 1895
Builder: Laird Brothers of Birkenhead
Cost: £95,000
Yard number: 612
Launched: 12 September 1896
Completed: January 1897
Out of service: 10 October 1918
Fate: Torpedoed and sunk by German submarine UB-123 on 10 October 1918 while bound for Holyhead.
General characteristics
Class and type: Steamship
Tonnage: 2,646
Length: 378 ft
Beam: 75 ft
Height: 42 ft
Installed power: Single eight-cylinder triple-expansion steam engine
Propulsion: Twin propellers
Speed: 24 knots
  • During World War I:
  • one 12 pounder gun
  • two signal guns

RMS Leinster was an Irish ship operated by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. She served as the Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire)-Holyhead mailboat until she was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine UB-123 on 10 October 1918, while bound for Holyhead. She went down just outside Dublin Bay at a point 4 nautical miles (7.4 km) east of the Kish light. Over 500 people perished in the sinking – the greatest single loss of life in the Irish Sea.

The death toll, which is still the subject of ongoing research, stood at 564 six weeks before the centenary of the event,[1][2] out of a total on board currently estimated at about 779 ("about 180 civilians, 77 crew, some 500 soldiers and 22 postal workers"), which translates to about 72% of the souls on board.[2]


In 1895, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company ordered four steamers for Royal Mail service, named for four provinces of Ireland: RMS Leinster, RMS Connaught, RMS Munster, and RMS Ulster.[3] The Leinster was a 3,069-ton packet steamship with a service speed of 23 knots (43 km/h). The vessel, which was built at Laird's in Birkenhead, England, was driven by two independent four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines.[4] During the First World War, the twin-propellered ship was armed with one 12 pounder and two signal guns.


The ship's log states that she carried 77 crew and 694 passengers on her final voyage under the command of Captain William Birch. The ship had previously been attacked in the Irish Sea but the torpedoes missed their target. Those on board included more than one hundred British civilians, 22 postal sorters (working in the mail room) and almost 500 military personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force. Also aboard were nurses from Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Just before 10 a.m. as the Leinster was sailing east of the Kish Bank in a heavy swell, passengers saw a torpedo approach from the port side and pass in front of the bow. A second torpedo followed shortly afterwards, and it struck the ship forward on the port side in the vicinity of the mail room. Captain Birch ordered the ship to make a U-turn in an attempt to return to Kingstown as the ship began to settle slowly by the bow; however, the ship sank rapidly after a third torpedo struck the Leinster, causing a huge explosion.

Leinster's Anchor – Carlisle Pier, Dún Laoghaire, adjacent to the National Maritime Museum.

Despite the heavy seas, the crew managed to launch several lifeboats and some passengers clung to life-rafts. The survivors were rescued by HMS Lively, HMS Mallard and HMS Seal. Among the civilian passengers lost in the sinking were socially prominent people such as Lady Phyllis Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Abercorn, Robert Jocelyn Alexander, son of Irish composer Cecil Frances Alexander, Thomas Foley and his wife Charlotte Foley (née Barrett) who was the brother-in-law of the world-famous Irish tenor John McCormack, Lieut. Col. Charles Harold Blackbourne, veteran of the Boer War, Alfred White Curzon King, 15-year-old nephew to Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, and Maud Elizabeth Ward, personal secretary to Douglas Proby. The first member of the Women's Royal Naval Service to die on active duty, Josephine Carr, was among those killed, as were two prominent trade unionists, James McCarron and Patrick Lynch.[5] Among the less well known were 15-year-old Gerald Palmer, a boy with a physical disability, from "The Cripples Home" in Bray, Co. Wicklow, and Catherine Gould and five of her six children. A Limerick paper described them as "humble decent people". Captain Birch was also among those lost in the sinking. Wounded in the initial attack, he was drowned when his lifeboat became swamped in heavy seas and capsized while trying to transfer survivors to HMS Lively. Several of the military personnel who died are buried in Grangegorman Military Cemetery.[6]

Survivors were brought to Kingstown harbour. Among the survivors were Michael Joyce, member of parliament for Limerick, and Captain Hutchinson Ingham Cone, former commander of the USS Dale (DD-4). One of the rescue ships was the armed yacht and former fishery protection vessel HMY Helga. Stationed in Kingstown harbour at the time of the sinking, she had shelled Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin two years earlier. She was later bought and renamed the Muirchú by the Irish Free State government as one of its first fishery protection vessels.

90th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Leinster

The UB-123 was probably lost in a minefield in the North Sea on its way back to Germany, on or about 19 October 1918. The bodies of her commander Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm and his crew of two officers and thirty-three men were never recovered.[7]

Anchor of RMS Leinster, showing memorial plaques.
Anchor of RMS Leinster, showing memorial plaques.

2018 Centenary Commemoration

A full calendar of event for the 2018 commemoration are available on the Leinster 2018 website Full list of events click here

The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan T.D., today announced that an official commemoration will take place in Dún Laoghaire on Wednesday, 10th October 2018, to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Leinster and to remember all of those who perished in that tragedy. The programme will comprise a significant cultural element as well as a formal commemoration and wreath-laying ceremony, with participation by members of the Defence Forces. This is also the date on which the vessel will come under the protection of the National Monuments Acts, which covers all shipwrecks over 100 years old.

Just before 9 o'clock on the morning of Thursday, 10th October 1918, the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Leinster began its final voyage from Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown) to Holyhead in Wales. The ship was owned and operated by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. An estimate of about 779 passengers and crew were on board, comprising postal sorters, civilian passengers, military and medical personnel and the ship’s crew.[2] Between 09.30 am and 09.40 am, the RMS Leinster passed the Kish Light. Shortly afterwards, it was sunk by three torpedoes, fired by German submarine, UB-123. What unfolded was the worst maritime disaster in the Irish Sea, with over 500 lives lost.

Speaking today, Minister Madigan said:

“On 10th October 2018, we will remember all of those who lost their lives one hundred years ago, when the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Leinster was sunk off the Kish Bank by German submarine UB-123. This tragedy took place one month and one day before the signing of the Armistice that ended the fighting in World War I and it remains the greatest maritime disaster ever to have occurred in the Irish Sea.

Over 500 people perished, including members of the ship's crew, postal sorters, civilian passengers and military, medical and support personnel involved in the war effort. Families and communities on both sides of the Irish Sea and as far afield as America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, were devastated by this tragedy. We will also remember the 35 members of the crew of UB-123, who themselves were killed one week later. An immense humanitarian response was mobilised following the tragedy and we will acknowledge the care and kindness shown by the rescue services, nursing and medical personnel”.

The Minister added:

“I commend the efforts of all of those who have, for many years, worked so hard to ensure that the stories of all of those who were on board the RMS Leinster when she embarked upon her final journey are not forgotten. Their stories have, for too long, been hidden and unspoken. As we mark the centenary of this tragedy, we have developed an appreciation of the complex narratives around Ireland's involvement in World War I and a mature understanding of the context of that time.

In particular, I wish to acknowledge the efforts of the late owner of the RMS Leinster, Mr Des Brannigan, who was committed to protecting the ship and was one of the founders of the National Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire. I would also like to sincerely thank Dún Laoghaire - Rathdown County Council, the family members of those affected by this tragedy, and the many other stakeholders who are working with my Department as we develop an inclusive, respectful and fitting ceremony in remembrance of all of those who died”.

2008 Commemoration

In 2008, ninety years after its sinking, a commemorative stamp was issued by An Post, recalling particularly the Post Office's 21 staff who died in the tragedy.[8] The sinking of the vessel is further recalled in the postal museum of the General Post Office, in Dublin's O'Connell Street.

See also


  1. ^ Donal Byrne (10 October 2018). "Events to mark centenary of RMS Leinster sinking". RTE. Retrieved 10 October 2018. Today marks the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Leinster, which resulted in the deaths of 564 people in the single-largest loss of life on the Irish Sea.
  2. ^ a b c Donal Byrne (10 October 2018). "The Sinking of RMS Leinster and SS Dundalk". RTE. Retrieved 10 October 2018. On that morning the Leinster carried about 180 civilians, 77 crew, some 500 British soldiers and 22 postal workers. ... One hundred years on, the records of how many were on the Leinster are still being probed and the death toll updated. As of six weeks ago, the figure stands at 564.
  3. ^ "RMS Leinster Log". Maritime. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  4. ^ "The Irish Mail Service". The Engineer. London: The Engineer. LXXXIII: 280. 18 September 1896. Retrieved 29 November 2017. (registration required)
  5. ^ C. Desmond Greaves, The Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, p.221
  6. ^ "Grangegorman Military Cemetery". 28 February 2011. Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-02.
  7. ^ Roy Stokes Death in the Irish Sea: The Sinking of RMS Leinster and Philip Lecane Torpedoed! The RMS Leinster Disaster
  8. ^ "Minister Hanafin launches RMS Leinster anniversary stamp". An Post. 30 May 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2010.

7. http://www.leinster2018.com/events

Further reading

  • Bourke, Edward J. Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast: 1105–1993, published by the author, Dublin 1994.
  • de Courcy Ireland, John "Ireland and the Irish in Maritime History", Glendale Press, Dublin 1986.
  • Higgins, John (Jack) The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster Recalled; article in the Postal Worker (Vol 14, No 11, November 1936), the official publication of the Post Office Workers Union, written by the only survivor from the ship's mailroom.
  • Lecane, Philip Torpedoed!: The R.M.S. Leinster Disaster, Published by Periscope Publishing Ltd, Cornwall TR18 2AW, Softback, ISBN 1-904381-29-4 [www.periscopepublishing.com]. Published in Ireland, hardback, ISBN 1-904381-30-8
  • Stokes, Roy Death in the Irish Sea: The Sinking of RMS Leinster, Collins Press, Cork 1998. ISBN 1-898256-52-7
  • Liffiton, John L. The Last Passenger Liner Sunk in the Great War. article in the Medals Society of Ireland Journal (No. 49, September 1999).

External links

  • RMS Leinster "Home Site"
  • The sinking of RMS Leinster
  • An American eyewitness account
  • Dun Laoghaire Business Association
  • Dun Laoghaire Harbour
  • Irish Ships – article by Roy Stokes
  • Clare casualties of war
  • Communication Workers Union
  • Diving information
  • video of 90th anniversary
  • Irish Wrecks Online
  • List of Casualties

Coordinates: 53°18′53″N 5°47′43″W / 53.3147°N 5.7952°W / 53.3147; -5.7952

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