RMS Leinster sunk off Irish coast
Kingstown, 11 October 1918 - The mailboat RMS Leinster was torpedoed off the east coast of Ireland yesterday while travelling from Kingstown to Holyhead. It is already being described as ‘Ireland’s Lusitania’.
It took to 12 to 15 minutes to sink with a loss of over 500 lives.
The attack took place in broad daylight and on a vessel that was fully loaded, its passenger list comprising women, men and children.
The first torpedo is believed to have struck the post office quarters and the second, three minutes later, the engine room, giving rise to a deafening explosion. The ship’s two prominent funnels were blown high into the air while the steamer itself, as one crew member described it, ‘seemed to crumble into ashes’.
The vessel went under rapidly, its head submerging first beneath the water line. Fortunately, between the first and second blasts, the Leinster managed to transmit a wireless message to the harbour in Kingstown from where it had earlier departed.
All available vessels were dispatched to the scene, reaching the site within an hour and a half, as crowds assembled back at the harbour and along the Marine Road anxiously waiting for news.
For many, the news that came back brought pain, suffering and loss. Of the 22 members of the Post Office Sorting staff, for example, it is known already that only one has survived.
The first of the fortunate survivors were brought into the harbour in Kingstown at 1.30pm aboard a destroyer.
Some of the injured were taken away by ambulance. Those who could walk, made their way, bedraggled and weary, to the Marine Hotel. Hot drinks, and other refreshments as well as warm clothing were supplied to them to all.
About 109 survivors were on that first ship and more came ashore on subsequent ships, which also carried the bodies of the dead. One destroyer carried the bodies of 15 dead passengers of the Leinster.
Almost 200 survivors have been found, mostly clinging to upturned boats and floating bits of broken timber. ‘All would have been saved’, commented one of the officers who survived, ‘but for the second torpedo, which smashed her into matchwood’.
[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]