Relatives of victims and survivors of the Dun Laoghaire – Holyhead mail boat Leinster were joined on yesterday evening by the Mayor of Holyhead Cllr Ann Kennedy, Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Tom Murphy, and representatives of the Australian and Canadian Government to launch ‘The Last Voyage of the Leinster’.
The book is a very human account of the loss of the Leinster and those who sailed on her when she was torpedoed in 1918 just outside Dublin Bay.
More Irish lives were lost when the Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead Mail Boat sunk in 1918 than on the Titanic in 1912 or the Lusitania in 1915. Most of the 540 plus lives lost on the Leinster were Irish while on the Titanic the number of Irish deaths totaled 78 and on the Lusitania 140.
This book ‘The Last Voyage of the Leinster’ captures the human aspects of the loss of the Leinster to so many families not only Irish but also Welsh, English, Scottish, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders and American who were unlucky to have been traveling on that day, almost a century ago. The Leinster, which was armed and also carrying soldiers returning to the war, was sunk in a wartime act, just a month before the end of World war 1, by the German U Boat 123.
The book brings together the British and German Ambassadors to Ireland who provided messages of peace and goodwill to the descendants of all those who were on the ship when it sunk and also direct their words to the families of those who were bereaved a few days later when the U Boat 123 hit a mine and sunk with the loss of all aboard.
There is a major emphasis in this book on the postal sorters aboard who were the first to die when the first torpedo to strike the ship hit the postal sorting office with the death of all but one of the postmen present. The crew and ordinary passengers, including many nurses returning to training courses and work in British hospitals, are given great appreciations written mainly by descendants.
As the book states “Family stories handed down through generations is arguably a better means of establishing the truth, especially as families have no agenda other than remembering their dead”.
The contrasting backgrounds of people aboard the ship are explored in great detail. The lives of British Army Officer, Captain Robert Lee, son of the Department Stores businessman and Unionist Edward Lee who died on the ship contrasts with that of another victim, Joseph Blake, one of the postal sorters.
Blake had three sons and five daughters. One son had previously died of his wounds having played an active part in the 1916 Rising, another son went on to be an IRA leader and his five daughters were in Cumann na mBán. Josephs descendants include Liam Whelan, one of the “Busby babes” and died in the Manchester United aircraft crash in 1958, while another is Aidan Gillen, the actor, best known for portraying Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in HBO series Game of Thrones. These parts of the Mail Boat Leinster story have never been previously published.
“The Last Voyage of the Leinster” hardback Coffee Table Book retails at €15 and is available in Easons, Dubray Books (Dun Laoghaire), Hewittes newsagents in Monkstown and News and Gifts newsagents at Killiney Shopping Centre.