On Wednesday 10 October 2018 an official commemoration took place in Dún Laoghaire to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Leinster and to remember all of those who perished in the tragedy. The Leinster was originally built for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company to service its route across the Irish Sea, and had been pressed into service during the First World War. The Leinster departed from Carlisle Pier in Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown) just before 9am on Thursday, 10 October 1918en route to Holyhead in Wales. An estimated 771 passengers and crew were on board, comprising postal sorters, civilian passengers, military and medical personnel and the ship’s crew. Between 9.30am and 9.40am, the Leinster passed the Kish Light. Shortly afterwards, it was sunk by three torpedoes from the German submarine, UB-123, with the loss of over 580 lives. The military personnel killed were from a wide range of countries – Australia, Ireland, Britain, Canada, the United States and New Zealand – and many were later buried in Grangegorman Military Ceremony. Civilian dead were interred across the city in cemeteries such as Glasnevin. The sinking of the Leinster remains the single biggest maritime disaster ever recorded in the Irish Sea.
The programme comprised 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. Speaking in April, when the event was announced, Josepha Madigan TD, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, observed that ‘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…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. 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’.
The event took place at dlr Lexicon, Moran Park, Dún Laoghaire between 10.30am and 12.15pm. Download the official commemorative booklet for the event here.
From Century Ireland: Commemorating the sinking of the RMS Leinster, 1918-2018.