The Leinster Disaster

The radio news this morning reminded me that  solemn commemorations were taking place today to mark the centenary of the greatest maritime disaster ever to occur in the Irish Sea.


A little before 9am on 10th October, the Leinster serving as the Royal Mail Ship RMS Leinster, set out from Dún Laoghaire (then named Kingstown), which is about 8 miles south of Dublin, en route to Holyhead, with an estimated 771 people on board. About an hour into her journey, a few miles from the Kish Lighthouse, the Leinster was struck by three torpedoes from German submarine UB-123 and sank. At least 500 people lost their lives in this disaster, and some estimates put the death toll as high as 591. It wasn’t particularly cold that day but the Irish Sea was still rough after a storm had passed through. The survivors of the sinking were largely those who made it into lifeboats, but many of the people who had to attempt to cling to floating wreckage could not hold on until help arrived and were drowned.

To complete this horrible illustration of the tragedy of war, nine days later on 19th October 1918, the U-boat UB-123 struck a mine in the North Sea and went down with all hands.

You can read a fuller account of the Leinster disaster here.

5 Responses to “The Leinster Disaster”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    This is a bit pedantic, but I was surprised that three torpedos from a ‘fan’ fired by the submarine apparently hit a ship less than 400 feet long. The fuller accounts make clear that only one torpedo of the initial fan hit her, and that the U-boat then torpedoed her again as the damage appeared non-fatal to the ship.

    One also remembers the Lusitania off the south coast of Ireland…

    • telescoper Says:

      There being no escort vessel, or destroyers on patrol in the area, the captain of the U-boat obviously felt it was safe enough to reload and have another go. I believe the first torpedo struck the area where the post was being sorted.

    • telescoper Says:

      Over a thousand perished when the Lusitania was sunk in 1915, but technically that wasn’t in the Irish Sea.

  2. Bryn Jones Says:

    Here are some details of the commemorations on the eastern side of the Irish Sea.

    I recall as a child in Holyhead the sinking of the Leinster being mentioned with sadness.

    This post by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, which I received in my e-mail inbox this morning, took a more uplifting look at the Leinster and the First World War: its role in rescuing survivors of another sinking several months earlier.

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