Cunard steamships, Christmas 1913

In the Christmas Daily Freeman (covered in our last post) published exactly 105 years ago today, among the ads for festive goods there is a small unassuming advertisement for the Cunard shipping company.

It details the ships that traversed the Atlantic at the time, and includes the ill-fated RMS Lusitania, which was to be torpedoed by a German U-Boat two years later with the loss of 1,200 lives.

A British propaganda copy of a German Lusitania medallion. The British authorities maintained the medal was minted to celebrate the sinking, but in fact it was a German admonishment to the British government for allowing the vessel to carry war materiel (artillery shell components). It shows a skeleton, representing death, selling tickets at a booth with a “Cunard” sign. Along the top of the medal is “Geschaft Uber Alles” or “Business Above All”. At left a man reads a newspaper with a headline in German which translates as “U-Boat danger”. Behind stands the German ambassador, Count Johann-Heinrich von Bernstorff, raising a finger representing the German warning that was placed in a large number of U.S. newspapers beside the Cunard advertisement.


The British authorities’ description of the medal.

But what became of the other ships mentioned in the advert? Their stories are not quite as tragic as the Lusitania’s, but fascinating nevertheless. They were all requisitioned for war service, and here are their stories:


RMS Campania

RMS Campania

The RMS Campania was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding in Scotland, and was launched on the 8th of September 1892. She entered service in 1893, and at the time was the fastest ship afloat.

She was taken out of service in November 1914 and, just prior to her being scrapped, she was bought by the Admiralty to be fitted out as an armed cruiser to carry seaplanes. These planes had floats and could be lowered into and retrieved from the water by a crane.

Her interior was removed to accommodate up to 14 aircraft. She was also equipped with eight 4.7 inch guns.

The conversion was completed in 1915, and after sea trials, she served at Scapa Flow and in the North Sea. After a short period, the first funnel was removed and a flight deck was added to the front of the ship to enable aircraft to take off directly without having to be lowered into the sea. She also served as an Observation Balloon ship. The now renamed HMS Campania served with the Admiralty right up until 5th November 1918 when she was involved in an accident in the Firth of Forth during high winds. Campania hit the bow of the battleship Royal Oak and then dragged along the hull of the MMS Glorious.

She began to sink, and a boiler explosion sent her to the bottom. There were no casualties.


The last moments of the Campania


RMS Carmania

RMS Carmania

RMS Carmania’s maiden voyage was from Liverpool to New York on the 2nd December 1905, which she completed in 7 days, 9 hours.

Like the RMS Campania, she was converted to an armed merchant cruiser for war service and equipped with eight 4.7-inch guns. She sailed to Bermuda and served in the Battle of Trindad, where she suffered extensive damage and crew casualties. After repairs in Gibraltar, she patrolled the Atlantic off Portugal and later, in 1916, she served in Gallipoli campaign.

From March 1916 she was used as a troop ship. She survived the war, and in 1919, she was refitted for passenger liner service. She was scrapped in 1932.


RMS Andania


RMS Andania


RMS Andania was a passenger and cargo ship built in Scotland by Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company.

She was launched on the 22nd of March 1913, and made her maiden voyage on 14 July 1913 from Liverpool to Montreal.

In August 1914 she was also requisitioned as a troopship. For a few weeks in 1915 the Andania was moored on the Thames and used to accommodate German Prisoners of War.

In the summer of 1915 she sailed to Gallipoli, transporting the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers to Cape Helles for the landings at Suvla Bay.

While the war was still in progress, she returned to passenger service on the transatlantic Liverpool-New York route. On the 26th of January 1918 she sailed with six other liners with 40 passengers and a crew of around 200. One day into the voyage, the ship was hit by a torpedo from German U Boat U-46 off Rathlin Island. Attempts were made to tow the ship but it sank after a few hours. The passengers survived, but seven crew perished in the sinking.


RMS Alaunia

RMS Alaunia


RMS Alaunia was built in 1913 at Greenock Dockyard. Launched on 9 June 1913, she made her maiden voyage on the 27th of December that year. During WW1, HMS Alaunia was the first Cunard ship to transport Canadian troops. Like the Andania, she was sent to Gallipoli, and later the same year carried troops to Bombay.

She later returned to the North Atlantic and carried troops from Canada and America in 1916.

On the 19th of October 1916, en route from London to New York, she struck a mine in the English Channel. After attempts to beach the ship and tow her to shore with tugs, her captain finally gave the order to abandon ship. Two crew members lost their lives.




Christmas 1913

Among our collection of archival material to be digitised is a copy of the Weekly Freeman (Christmas Number) dated the 13th of November 1913.


It is a fascinating insight into Christmases of yesteryear, and proof (if any were needed) that the Festive Season must have been every bit as stressful then as it is nowadays, with advertisements on every page to buy yuletide necessities and presents.

Hodgins Butchers (By Appointment to Queen Victoria) for instance, was willing to supply all your Christmas dinner needs including calves’ heads and feet!:



Many of the shops being advertised are very familiar to us today. Hickey’s had an early form of “online shopping” by post, with goods promptly delivered to your door.


Brown Thomas’s ad is a masterclass in understatement…


McQuillan’s tools is still trading today in Capel Street, but power tools were noticeably absent in 1913!


Last but not least, Hamilton Long pharmacy. Still a fixture today in O’Connell Street with similar lines on sale.




The RMS Leinster tragedy. 100 Years Ago Today.

The Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) Mailboat was a lifeline between Dublin and the rest of the United Kingdom. As well as postal cargo, it carried civilians, much as car ferries do today. On the fateful morning of the 10th of October 1918, at 9 in the morning, the R.M.S. Leinster set sail as usual with a full crew; postal workers, civilian passengers and 300 British Army troops returning from home leave across the Irish Sea. 700 people were aboard in total.


The RMS Leinster under steam. She is painted in wartime “Dazzle” camouflage to break up her outline when viewed from a distance.

Passengers were oblivious to the presence of a German U Boat, UB123, lying in wait nearby and ready to ambush. While the ship was passing 7 miles E.S.E. of Kish Light vessel, Robert Ramm, captain of the German submarine, ordered a torpedo to be fired at the Leinster. Having missed its target, another was fired. This one struck the Leinster and prompted her captain,  William Birch, to turn back towards Kingstown. A third torpedo was launched from UB123, this time with catastrophic results. Within eight minutes the Leinster sank and 501 people lost their lives. This was the highest-ever loss of life in the Irish Sea.

Reaction to the sinking was swift. American president Woodrow Wilson, on hearing of the sinking, was furious:

“At the very time that the German government approaches the government of the United States with proposals of peace, its submarines are engaged in sinking passenger ships at sea”

UB123 was herself doomed to become a casualty of war; On the 18th of October 1918, while returning to Germany, she struck a mine in the North Sea. All hands were lost.

After the sinking of the Leinster, Reinhard Scheer, Admiral of the German High Seas Fleet, issued a communication stopping Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare which classed civilian passenger-carrying vessels as legitimate targets.

The communication read: “To all U-boats: Commence return from patrol at once. Because of ongoing negotiations any hostile actions against merchant vessels prohibited. Returning U- boats are allowed to attack warships only in daylight. End of message. Admiral”

One of the Leinster’s anchors was recovered and now lies at the side of Dun Laoghaire harbour near the Victoria monument, as a memorial to the dead. It was dedicated as a memorial on the 28th of January 1996.

The sinking of the Leinster resulted in the award of an Albert Medal for Bravery to Stoker William Maher, then a 33 year old father of eight. He dived repeatedly into the icy seas to rescue three people including 13-year-old Dorothy Toppin who many years later was to present an inscribed silver watch to William Maher in gratitude for saving her life.


Watch given by Dorothy Toppin to William Maher


William Maher’s Albert Medal – obverse


Side view

RMS Leinster_Courtsey of INFOMAR

The remains of the RMS Leinster today. Acoustic imaging courtesy of the Marine Institute.



‘Changed utterly’ : 1918 – Ireland’s path to war

To mark the centenary of 1918 South Dublin Libraries is hosting an exhibition in the County Library, Tallaght. The exhibition ‘Changed Utterly’ : 1918 – Ireland’s path to war’ shows how the events of 1918 in Ireland fed a rapidly changing public opinion and laid the ground for the war of independence the following year. The exhibition can be viewed in Tallaght Library until the end of November and the panels are reproduced here for your information.


‘December 1918: Ireland divided or united?’

Next Friday 21st. Sept. is Culture Night. Come and join us at County Library, Tallaght for a lecture at 7.00pm by Dr. Brian Hanley. Brian is an award winning author and historian who has written and lectured extensively on the Irish revolutionary period 1916-23. The lecture title is ‘December 1918: Ireland divided or united?’ and it compliments our Decade of Centenaries exhibition – ‘Changed utterly – 1918 Ireland’s path to War’ which can be viewed in the library. Come early to view the exhibition and share some light refreshments.

The Tallaght Motor Racing Circuit 1935 – 1948

This photographic exhibition on display in County Library Tallaght during August evokes memories of a time when Main Street, Tallaght resounded to the roar of racing car engines. The Tallaght circuit ran from Main Street, Tallaght to Templeogue bridge then along Firhouse Road to Oldbawn and back to Main Street. The races were major events on the Irish sporting calendar. They were covered on live radio and attended by Government Ministers.


Political Struggles of Irish Nationalists and African Americans in the Great War

Historian Cecelia Hartsell will give a talk at Ballyroan Library next Tuesday 15th May at 6:30 pm, on the parallel experience of Irish Nationalists and African Americans in World War One.
This promises to be a fascinating event.
Book your free place now here. Directions to Ballyroan Library can be found here.