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Who is to blame for the RMS Leinster disaster?
Some of the victims of the RMS Leinster disaster: L-R Owen Ward, Clare McNally, Charles Archer, Maude Marsham Rae and Tom Connolly

Who is to blame for the RMS Leinster disaster?

Dublin, 23 October 1918 - The reaction to the attack on the mail ship RMS Leinster has been one of outrage and the people of Ireland are looking for someone to blame.

The jury at the inquest of one of the Leinster victims at the Kingstown Coroner’s Court appeared to place responsibility on the Admiralty for not providing an escort for the mail boats, particularly as the Chairman of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company had requested such support as far back as three years ago. The refusal of the Admiralty to grant such an escort has been described by the Irish Independent as a ‘foolhardy policy’ that has now resulted in the loss of close on 500 lives.

But the real blame for the Leinster disaster, according to Irish press opinion, rests with Germany.

The Irish Independent has accused the Germans of committing one of the ‘foulest crimes against humanity: ‘The Lusitania was the first of her hideous landmarks in this war; the Leinster, we hope and pray, will be among the last. Both crimes were committed in Irish waters; from both of the stricken vessels the murdered bodies of men, women, and children were landed on Irish soil.’

German authorities have issued a statement regretting the loss of innocent life, but stressing the difficulty of distinguishing between ships used for war and for civilian purposes.

For the staunchly unionist Belfast Newsletter, the disaster has afforded an opportunity to tarnish the Sinn Féin reputation; an editorial in the days after the tragedy wondered if the Sinn Féiners will share the view of ‘their German friends’ that it was an ‘ordinary act of war’ and whether they will continue to look to them for deliverance from British rule.

[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.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.