seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Launch of the SS Canberra

ss-canberraThe SS Canberra, an ocean liner in the P&O fleet which later operates on cruises, is launched in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 16, 1960. She is built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast at a cost of £17,000,000.

The ship is named on March 17, 1958, after the federal capital of Australia, Canberra. Her launch is sponsored by Dame Pattie Menzies, GBE, wife of the then Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies. She enters service in May 1961 and begins her maiden voyage in June.

At the end of 1972 she is withdrawn and refitted to carry 1,500 single class passengers on cruises. Unusually, this transition from an early life as a purpose built ocean liner to a long and successful career in cruising, occurs without any major external alterations, and with only minimal internal and mechanical changes over the years.

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invades the Falkland Islands, which initiates the Falklands War. At the time, SS Canberra is cruising in the Mediterranean Sea. The next day, her captain, Dennis Scott-Masson, receives a message asking his time of arrival at Gibraltar, which is not on his itinerary. When he calls at Gibraltar, he learns that the Ministry of Defence had requisitioned SS Canberra for use as a troopship. SS Canberra sails to Southampton, Hampshire where she is quickly refitted, sailing on April 9 for the South Atlantic.

SS Canberra anchors in San Carlos Water on May 21 as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. Although her size and white colour make her an unmissable target for the Argentine Air Force, the liner is not badly hit in the landings as the Argentine pilots tend to attack the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers instead of the supply and troop ships. After the war, Argentine pilots claim they were told not to hit SS Canberra, as they mistook her for a hospital ship.

SS Canberra then sails to South Georgia Island, where 3,000 troops are transferred from Queen Elizabeth 2. They are landed at San Carlos on June 2. When the war ends, SS Canberra is used as a cartel to repatriate captured Argentine soldiers, landing them at Puerto Madryn, before returning to Southampton to a rapturous welcome on July 11.

After a lengthy refit, SS Canberra returns to civilian service as a cruise ship. Her role in the Falklands War makes her very popular with the British public, and ticket sales after her return are elevated for many years as a result. Age and high running costs eventually catch up with her though, as she has much higher fuel consumption than most modern cruise ships. Although Premier Cruise Line makes a bid for the old ship, P&O had already decided that they do not want SS Canberra to operate under a different flag.

SS Canberra is withdrawn from P&O service in September 1997 and sold to ship breakers for scrapping on October 10, 1997, leaving for Gadani ship-breaking yard in Pakistan on October 31, 1997. Her deep draft means that she cannot be beached as far as most ships, and due to her solid construction the scrapping process takes nearly a year instead of the estimated three months, being totally scrapped by the end of 1998.

The SS Canberra appears in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever as the liner where Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd try to kill Bond. In 1997, singer/songwriter Gerard Kenny releases the single “Farewell Canberra” which is specially composed for the final voyage.


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish-Australian Novelist Thomas Michael Keneally

thomas-michael-keneallyThomas Michael Keneally, Irish-Australian novelist, playwright, and author of non-fiction, is born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on October 7, 1935.

The son of Edmund Thomas and Elsie Margaret (Coyle) Keneally, he grows up in Kempsey and is educated at St. Patrick’s College, Strathfield where, subsequently, a writing prize has been named after him. Keneally enters St. Patrick’s Seminary, Manly to train as a Catholic priest. Although he is ordained as a deacon while at the seminary, he leaves without being ordained into the priesthood. He works as a Sydney schoolteacher before his success as a novelist and is a lecturer at the University of New England from 1968–1970.

Keneally is known as “Mick” until 1964 but, upon the advice of his publisher to use his real first name, begins using the name Thomas when he starts publishing. He is most famous for writing Man Booker Prize winner Schindler’s Ark (1982) which is later republished as Schindler’s List, and is later adapted to Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List, which wins the Academy Award for Best Picture. Many of Keneally’s novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style.

Keneally also acts in a handful of films. He has a small role in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, based on his novel, and plays Father Marshall in the award-winning Fred Schepisi film The Devil’s Playground (1976).

Keneally is a strong advocate of an Australian republic, meaning the abolition of the Australian monarchy, and publishes a book, Our Republic, on the subject in 1993. Several of his Republican essays appear on the web site of the Australian Republican Movement.

Keneally is a keen supporter of rugby league football, in particular the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles club of the National Rugby League. In 2004 he gives the sixth annual Tom Brock Lecture and makes an appearance in the 2007 rugby league drama film The Final Winter.

In March 2009, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, gives an autographed copy of Keneally’s biography Lincoln to President Barack Obama as a state gift. Recently Keneally has been a featured writer in the critically acclaimed Australian drama Our Sunburnt Country.