seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Sinking of the RMS Leinster

RMS Leinster, a ship operated by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company and serving as the KingstownHolyhead mailboat, is torpedoed and sunk by the Imperial German Navy submarine SM UB-123, which is under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm, just outside Dublin Bay on October 10, 1918, while bound for Holyhead. The exact number of dead is unknown but researchers from the National Maritime Museum of Ireland believe it to be at least 564, making it the largest single loss of life in the Irish Sea.

In 1895, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company orders four steamers for Royal Mail service, named for four provinces of Ireland: RMS Leinster, RMS Connaught, RMS Munster, and RMS Ulster. The RMS Leinster is a 3,069-ton packet steamship with a service speed of 23 knots. The vessel, which is built at Cammell Laird‘s in Birkenhead, England, is driven by two independent four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines. During World War I, the twin-propellered ship is armed with one 12-pounder and two signal guns.

The ship’s log states that she carries 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 include more than 100 British civilians, 22 postal sorters and almost 500 military personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force. Also aboard are nurses from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Just before 10:00 AM as it is sailing east of the Kish Bank in a heavy swell, passengers see a torpedo approach from the port side and pass in front of the bow. A second torpedo follows shortly afterwards, and strikes the ship forward on the port side in the vicinity of the mail room. Captain Birch orders the ship to make a U-turn in an attempt to return to Kingstown as it begins to settle slowly by the bow. It sinks rapidly, however, after a third torpedo strikes her, causing a huge explosion.

Despite the heavy seas, the crew manages to launch several lifeboats and some passengers cling to life-rafts. The survivors are rescued by HMS Lively, HMS Mallard and HMS Seal. Among the civilian passengers lost in the sinking are socially prominent people such as Lady Alexandra Phyllis Hamilton, daughter of James Hamilton, 2nd 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. The first member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service to die on active duty, Josephine Carr, is among the dead, as are two prominent officials of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, James McCarron and Patrick Lynch.

Captain Birch who is wounded in the initial attack, drowns when his lifeboat is swamped in heavy seas and capsizes while attempting to transfer survivors to HMS Lively. Several of the military personnel who die are buried in Grangegorman Military Cemetery.

Survivors are brought to Kingstown harbour. Among them are Michael Joyce, an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Limerick City, and Captain Hutchinson Ingham Cone of the United States Navy, the former commander of the USS Dale (DD-4).

One of the rescue ships is 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.

At October 18, 1918 at 9:10 AM SM UB-125, outbound from Germany, picks up a radio message requesting advice on the best way to get through the North Sea minefield. The sender is Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm aboard SM UB-123. Extra mines have been added to the minefield since SM UB-123 had made her outward voyage from Germany. As SM UB-125 had just come through the minefield, Vater radios back with a suggested route. SM UB-123 acknowledges the message and is never heard from again.

The following day, ten days after the sinking of the RMS Leinster, SM UB-123 accidentally detonates a mine while trying to cross the North Sea and return to base in Imperial Germany. It is October 19, 1918. Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm, who has a wife and children, never returns to them. Thirty-five other German families are similarly bereaved. No bodies are ever found.

In 1991, the anchor of the RMS Leinster is raised by local divers. It is placed near Carlisle Pier and officially dedicated on January, 28, 1996.


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The Battle of Mount Street Bridge

mount-street-bridgeSome of the bloodiest fighting of the 1916 Easter Rising occurs one hundred years ago today during the Battle of Mount Street Bridge on Wednesday, April 26, 1916.

Some of the rebel positions in Dublin are isolated and are bombarded from a distance. They barely see a British soldier during the six days of the Rising. The fighting is much more bloody when the British assault Volunteer positions dominating the routes into the city. In such instances, street fighting, snipers, and sudden close range cross-fires are prevalent. This happens mainly at three locations, Mount Street Bridge, South Dublin Union/Marrowbone Lane, and North King Street.

At Mount Street, on the approach to the city centre from the port at Kingstown, now known as Dun Laoghaire, a Volunteer outpost manned by only 17 men under the command of Lieutenant Michael Malone and armed with rifles and hand guns, faces the frontal assault of a reinforcement column of British troops.

The reinforcement column meets its first resistance when it pauses at Carisbrook House. They respond to sniper fire by riddling the house, though it does not contain any Volunteers. The column, however, is thus alerted that Volunteers are in the area. They go no more than 500 yards further when they come under sustained fire from two Volunteers in 25 Northumberland Road. It takes five hours of sustained firing to dislodge the defenders. Ten British soldiers fall at the first volley. Volunteers in the other outposts nearby also begin picking off the attackers who are exposed to their fire.

Finally, the house is rushed and Volunteer Lieutenant Malone is shot dead. The other Volunteer in the house, Section Commander James Grace, succeeds in hiding himself behind a cooker and escapes the area several hours later. He is arrested a few days later.

While the British soldiers attack 25 Northumberland Road, they also move against the Schoolhouse and the Parochial Hall, which is located between 25 Northumberland Road and Clanwilliam House. The Parochial Hall is held by four men, P.J. Doyle in command, Joe Clarke, William Christian, and J. McGrath. The Volunteers continue a fierce firefight until flames drive them from their stations.

The fight at Clanwillaim House continues as British soldiers try in vain to cross Mount Street Bridge. When the house is eventually engulfed in flames and their ammunition spent, the surviving four Volunteers escape over the back wall. When the final charge comes, one officer throws a grenade at one of the remaining intact windows but it bounces back and explodes, killing him.

Up to 250 British soldiers are killed or wounded and their morale shattered by the gallant band of Volunteers around Mount Street and the British advance is delayed by a day. The fighting at Mount Street results in almost two thirds of British casualties in Easter week. Four Volunteers, Michael Malone, Dick Murphy, George Reynolds, and Patrick Doyle, lose their lives in the battle. Five others escape arrest, while four are captured, including Joe Clarke.

Clarke and his comrades from the other outposts are first brought to Ladd Lane Barracks, before joining the other captured Volunteers and those who surrender at the end of the week. Eventually, they are transported to British jails to serve their sentence or to be interned.