The sinking of HMS Leinster
Hundreds of the unfortunate victims died in the worst ever Irish maritime disaster and it occurred in the final month of the war. Again, there were Clare people among the casualty lists.
The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company operated four ships on the mail and passenger service between Dun Laoighre and Holyhead. They were called Royal Mail Steamers (RMS) and were named after the four provinces, Connacht, Ulster, Munster and Leinster. At the outbreak of the war, the Connacht was requisitioned as a troop carrier. She was torpedoed returning from France and sunk with the loss of three of her crew.
A 12-pound gun was mounted on each of the other three ships, they were repainted in camouflage and they continued to operate on the Irish Sea. They were fast ships for their time and basically relied on speed for their safety. They had many escapes during the war and the Leinster itself escaped when the torpedoes fired at her on December 1917 missed her completely. Then just one month before the cessation of hostilities, the Leinster, with 771 people on board, was torpedoed and sunk with a loss of 529 souls.
On October 10, 1918 at 9am, she sailed from Dun Laoighre. Barely one hour into the journey, the German submarine UB 123 attacked. The first torpedo struck the room where the mail was being sorted. One of the sailors later reported that when the torpedo exploded, its force travelled through the ship and blew a second hole on the other side. Nevertheless, the causalities were mainly confined to the mailroom staff and even though the ship was sinking, the captain was able to turn round and face back to shore. The lifeboats were launched and SOS messages were sent. Almost immediately, however, all hope vanished when a second torpedo struck practically blowing the ship to pieces. Thirteen minutes after the first torpedo hit the ship, the Leinster had sunk. Within an hour, other ships began arriving at the scene and helped in saving over 200 people.
The casualties included some from Clare. Three nurses from Newmarket, the O’Grady sisters, Margaret and May, and Nellie Hogan, were returning from a holiday at home as were two Davoren sisters from Ennis, Nora and Delia. The Davorens had been meant to return two days earlier but had unfortunately missed their train. James Hynes, a shopkeeper from Tulla, was travelling with his daughter, Claire to Manchester and they were also lost. The other Clare victims were Private John Coyne from Tuamgraney, who was returning to duty, and the Head Constable of the Ennis RIC barracks, Owen Ward, who was travelling to England on police business.
In later years, one the anchors of the Leinster was raised from the seabed and placed on Dun Laoighre pier as a memorial to those who perished.
Ireland’s worst ever maritime disaster in which there were a number of Clare casualties happened when the RMS Leinster was sunk by a German submarine on October 10, 1918 – 91 years ago this week.