Wave of emotion as relatives toss flowers into the sea for Leinster dead
The centenary of the sinking of RMS Leinster off the coast of Dublin has been marked by relatives in an emotional flower-laying ceremony at the site where more than 500 civilians, postal workers, soldiers and crew met their deaths.
Scores of descendants of those that died were brought to the area around four nautical miles from Dun Laoghaire at dawn yesterday to remember the dead, 100 years after the Leinster was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
The Leinster was one of four ships, each named after an Irish province, that provided a service between Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead in the years leading up to World War I.
Its main role was in carrying mail, with post office workers sorting letters as it sailed.
The military authorities ordered the company that owned the ships to keep space on each crossing for soldiers.
On the morning of October 10, 1918, there were around 500 soldiers on board, as well as 180 civilians, 22 postal sorters and 77 crew.
As with yesterday, the weather on that fateful day was quite good but rough seas were expected later, and the Leinster set sail just before 9am, passing the Kish light at around 9.40am.
It was then that the German submarine UB123 spotted it.
The captain managed to evade the first torpedo, but the second one hit at 9.50am.
It smashed into the hull at the sorting room, killing all but one of the postal workers.
As panic spread and people tried to get into life rafts and find lifebelts, a third torpedo hit, killing many more.
In the end 564 people died out of the 803 on board. More Irish people were killed in the sinking of the Leinster than on the Titanic or the Lusitania.
UB123 was lost in the North Sea a few days later. It is believed to have been stricken while travelling through an area protected with mines. Its entire crew was killed.
The Evening Herald was the first paper to report the sinking of the Leinster, having an early account of the attack in its evening edition that day.
The paper did not have the censor's official permission to print the story, and as a result its offices on Middle Abbey Street were raided and the printing press seized.
Before morning had broken yesterday, the relatives of the Leinster victims boarded the St Bridget cruise boat from the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire, many clutching bouquets of flowers and photographs of family members whose lives were snuffed out.
As a pink sun gradually edged up over the horizon, the LE Orla naval vessel and an RNLI lifeboat also arrived at the wreck site, sounding their horns as flowers were dropped into the rolling sea and the relatives shed tears and held each other.
Frances Fletcher described the event as "emotional but brilliant".
Her grandfather Henry Loughlin and his brothers Patrick and Michael survived the sinking, but their first cousin John Loughlin was killed.
"He was 45 and an able seaman, a stoker on the boat," Frances said. "He left a widow and eight children behind."
Frances's relatives Andy Mooney and Mary Castle travelled from the UK for the event.
"It was stunning to be there at the site this morning, it was very emotional," Frances told the Herald.
"My grandfather not only survived the sinking of the Leinster, but he was also on the Connaught when it was torpedoed in 1917.
"Understandably, my grandmother never wanted any of her children to go to sea after that."
Fourteen members of one family travelled from New Zealand to visit the wreck site yesterday.
Pam O'Reilly and her brother Brendan Robinson are the grandchildren of Drumcondra postal worker Joseph Robinson, who was 43 when he was killed on the Leinster.
Pam's son John and grandson Thomas helped make up the three generations that travelled to honour Joseph.
"The event did prove to be an emotional one. I thought of my widowed grandmother and all of her children," said Pam.
"Our family moved to New Zealand as a direct result. But we never stopped being Irish, and the memories and stories have been passed on through the family and that will continue.
"My grandmother was a great storyteller, and she used to say how she heard the banshee that day but thought it was for her mother who was dying at the time.
"Then the news came through about the Leinster."
Philip Tivy and his sons Warren and Gavin came from Youghal in Cork to remember Philip's grandparents Charlotte and Tom Foley, who both died on the Leinster.
"They were on their way to England to visit Charlotte's brother who was a soldier who had been injured in the war," said Philip.
"I was imagining them going out from Dun Laoghaire today.My mother never talked much about it. It was kind of swept under the carpet. Trying to picture it was difficult. It must have been a terrible scene."
The Royal Mail in the UK was also represented on board.
As part of the remembrance events, the bells of Dun Laoghaire were sounded at 9.50am, and the schools in Dun Laoghaire and post offices nationwide observed a minute's silence at 9.51am.