The sinking of the Mail Boat RMS Leinster in Dublin Bay on October 10, 1918 in a German U-Boat attack saw the loss of 550 lives and is the subject of a new book.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the principal means of transporting individuals and goods between Ireland and Britain was the Mail Boat service which operated between Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead.
Up to the “Great war” of 1914 to 1918 there were four ships used on the route, each named after an Irish province; Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht. The ships were operated by a private company called The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. The carriage of mail between both countries was the central role of the service with postal workers sorting mail as the ship travelled. Carrying passengers between both port towns was another very important commercial activity. This created employment at times of dire poverty throughout Ireland and in the Holyhead area of North Wales.
When Britain declared war in 1914, the military authorities decided that all ships must be utilised for the war effort. As the island of Ireland was still under British rule the four mail boats were considered as part of the war effort. Following the German-French war of 1870, Germany retained lands which had previously been part of France and unsurprisingly this caused constant irritation to the French. The French were regularly encouraged by British Government Ministers to continue demanding back their lands. Nevertheless, the German empire had not become involved in any conflict in the years following 1870, and indeed this was true right up to 1914, which was in stark contrast to the constant campaigns and wars involving the British Army and Navy. “Britannia Ruled the Waves” in those years and they used that power to restrict movement of shipping and therefore worldwide trade.
The German economy, thanks to advancements in technology, was seeking new outlets for their goods world-wide. Britain, by ruling the waves, curtailed these exporting efforts by Germany. Continued control of the sea restricted the German trade development along with various regional conflicts around the world, including the French-German tensions, led to Britain declaring war in 1914. The cause of “Catholic Belgium” was used as a reason for the declaration of war, but British Government ministers later admitted that they would have declared war in any case.
For Britain the main reason for war was control of the seas and therefore world trade. With the outbreak of war, the British war office took control of all shipping in these islands. The City of Dublin Steam Package Company was ordered to make its ships available for carrying troops. The Leinster Mail Boat was ordered to retain 500 spaces on all of its sailings for soldiers, while sister ships were given other war time tasks. On a number of occasions, paying passengers revolted when they were refused permission to board the Leinster Mail Boat due to the number of soldiers travelling.
Because of the speed of the Mail Boat Leinster, the authorities believed that it could out-run any German attack. However, they did not allow for the speed of a torpedo. The ship was armed but a protection balloon type observation unit, which operated out of Malahide Castle, was unavailable at the time of the attack. In recent times there had been a number of ships sunk by the German U Boats and the Mail Boat Leinster itself had a narrow escape while departing Holyhead. Nevertheless, there was no special protection vessel accompanying the Mail Boat Leinster on her final voyage.
At a few minutes before 9.00a.m. on 10 October 1918, just one month befor