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.