Maritime Roads

December 19th, 1940- Lightship tender Isolda sunk by a German aircraft off the Wexford coast. Image courtesy of Cormac Lowth.

David Carroll

Dublin remembers her honourable seafaring past in her modern highways

“To the men of the Mercantile Marine who faced all the perils of the ocean to bring us essential supplies the nation is profoundly grateful.”
Taoiseach Éamon de Valera in a broadcast, May 1945.

In Ireland, after independence in 1921, when it came to shipping policy there was no state encouragement to develop the mercantile marine. Dr John de Courcy Ireland, a distinguished maritime historian said: “The ruling politicians of this country turned their backs to the sea.”
The British domination of Irish shipping continued as before independence, with British companies operating across the Irish Sea, which employed many Irish people but whose ships were registered in British ports. Most ‘Irish’ ships flew under the red ensign of the British merchant fleet and sailed under British Board of Trade regulations.
More notably, the newly founded Irish Free State was totally dependent on British companies for the importation of essential bulk cargoes of wheat, maize, timber, fertilisers and coal. The number of Irish ships kept declining and there were only fifty-six Irish ships at the outbreak of World War II, when Ireland declared neutrality. None of these vessels was ocean-going; all were designed for short sea journeys.
By January 1941, the drastic supply situation in Ireland forced Seán Lemass, Minister for Supplies, to finally centralise control by founding Irish Shipping Ltd, in March 1941, a company in which the government held the controlling share, and with great difficulty fifteen ocean-going cargo ships were purchased or chartered. The company amalgamated the few Irish-owned shipping concerns, most of which had already suffered the loss of several vessels to U-boats and mines. All these Irish ships and their crews are, to this today, still remembered fondly as they braved marine warfare to keep Ireland from starvation.
There were heavy casualties during the years of World War II, for although never more than eight hundred men were serving the fleet at any time, one hundred and thirty-six of them died in sixteen ships that were lost. In addition to these fatalities a further fourteen fishermen were killed aboard two trawlers. During the conflict, a total of five hundred and twenty-one sailors of all nationalities were rescued by Irish ships.
The Ringsend area of Dublin has a long maritime tradition. Tony ‘Deke’ McDonald, well-known local community activist and former seafarer said: “It was only right and fitting when housing was being redeveloped in the 1970s, the various roads off Sean Moore Road, were named in honour after the ships which were lost between 1939 and 1945. Many families living in the area had relatives on these brave ships that brought vital supplies to Ireland, whose only defences were their neutrality markings.”
The roads are Bremen Avenue, Bremen Road, Bremen Grove, Cymric Road, Clonlara Road, Isolda Road, Pine Road, Kerlogue Road, Kyleclare Road and Leukos Road.
SS City of Bremen (903 tons) had been built in Dundee in 1897. In 1934, it belonged to the Ulster Steamship Company and was called Teelin Head. It was then bought by the well-known Dublin shipping firm of Palgrave Murphy Ltd. and renamed City of Bremen.
Early in the war, on March 10th, 1940, SS City of Bremen was involved in a dramatic rescue on a voyage to Antwerp, when she came across a Dutch vessel Amor that was sinking in the North Sea after striking a mine and the crew of thirty-three were rescued and landed at Flushing in the Netherlands.
Two years later, on June 2nd, 1942, the City of Bremen was in the Bay of Biscay, carrying a cargo of wheat to Dublin, when it was attacked by a German Junkers 88 bomber and began to sink slowly and could not be saved. The crew abandoned ship and were picked up by two Spanish fishing trawlers and then landed safely at Vigo.
SS Clonlara (1023 tons) was also built in Dundee in 1926. She belonged to the Limerick Steamship Company Ltd.
In August 1941, the Clonlara was sailing in the Bay of Biscay with Convoy OG71. The convoy was made up of twenty-three merchant ships and thirteen heavily armed naval ships. One of the ships was the SS Lanahrone, also from the Limerick Steamship Company Ltd. (OG stands for outwards to Gibraltar).
On August 19th, German U-boats attacked. Three ships and a naval destroyer were sunk. The Clonlara crew pulled thirteen survivors from one of the ships, SS Alva from the water.
On August 22nd, Convoy OG71 was once again under attack by U Boat 564, 136 nautical miles west of the Portuguese city of Porto.
Clonlara was hit and went on fire and rapidly took in water. She sank, taking the lives of twenty-one young men with her, nine of these men were the Irish born crew of Clonlara and the remainder of those killed were crew who had been rescued from the sinking Alva, three days earlier.
The iron-hulled schooner Cymric was built in Amlwch, North Wales in 1893 as a 123-foot barquentine for the South American and Australian trade. The vessel had an interesting career with an incredibly sad end. By 1906, she was acquired by Captain Richard Hall in Arklow and re-rigged as a three-master schooner. During World War 1, along with other Arklow schooners, she served as a Royal Navy Q-ship. Q-ships were heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry, designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks. She failed to sink any German U-boats, but did sink a British submarine in error.
On November 28th, 1921, while waiting to move through into the inner Grand Canal Dock at Victoria Bridge (now called McMahon Bridge) in Ringsend , a stiff seaward wind came and pushed her forward suddenly, impaling her bowsprit in the side of the Sandymount tram, and smashed a window but no one was hurt.
On February 23rd, 1944, Cymric departed from Ardrossan in Scotland with a cargo of coal bound for Lisbon. She was sighted off Dublin on the following day but then vanished. No wreckage was ever found. Whether she foundered in heavy weather, hit a mine, or was sunk by a German U-boat or attacked by Allied aircraft remains unsolved. The relatives of the crew were informed on March 26th that she ‘was regarded in official circles as overdue’. That was the sad end of the Cymric.
The SS Isolda (734 tons) was built in Dublin in 1928 and was a lightship tender owned by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The lightship service was considered neutral and the ship had ‘Lighthouse Service’ painted in large letters five feet high on both sides of the hull.
On December 19th, 1940, Isolda sailed from Rosslare with seven relief crewmen for the Barrels and Coningbeg light vessels. Her own crew numbered twenty-eight, including the master, Captain Albert Bestic, who had been Third Officer on the Lusitania when the liner was torpedoed and sunk off Kinsale in 1915.
Isolda put the relief men on board the Barrels and then headed for the Coningbeg. When three miles from the light vessel she was attacked by a German aircraft. Observers in the lookout post at Carnsore Point and crewmen on the Limerick steamer Lanahrone, only eight miles away, witnessed the massacre. Six crew members, all from Dún Laoghaire were killed and another seven were wounded. The survivors landed at Kilmore Quay from their own lifeboats.
SS Irish Pine (5,621 tons) was built in 1919 in the United States and was originally called West Hematite. In 1941, she was chartered by Irish Shipping Ltd. and was renamed Irish Pine. At the same time, another vessel called West Neris was also chartered and renamed Irish Oak.
For the next twelve months, the Irish Pine carried grain across the Atlantic from Canada. On October 26th, 1942 with a crew of thirty-three, she was bound to Boston for dry-docking and repairs to her fuel tanks, before continuing her voyage to Tampa, Florida, where she was to load a cargo of phosphates for Dublin.
On November 14th, she was in radio contact with the Irish Fir, which was about to dock in Boston, and gave her time of arrival there as noon on November 17th.
On November 15th, 1942, Irish Pine was torpedoed and sunk by the German U-608. It was not until 1977 that this information was ascertained by Captain Forde, through research for his book ‘The Long Watch’. Until then the loss of the Irish Pine had remained a mystery. The Irish Pine sank in just three minutes. No wreckage or any of the bodies of her thirty-three crew were ever found. Irish Shipping Ltd made a sad announcement on December 5th, “Irish Shipping Ltd regrets to announce that the Irish Pine is now considerably overdue at her trans-Atlantic port of call and must be presumed lost.”
Six-months later, on May 15th, 1943, the Irish Oak was sunk in the North Atlantic and the entire crew were rescued by the Irish Plane.
The MV Kerlogue (335 tons) was built in Rotterdam in 1939, just prior to the outbreak of World War II for the Wexford Steamship Company. During the war, the neutral Kerlogue was attacked by both sides and rescued sailors from both sides.
On April 2nd, 1941, a British convoy was attacked by German bombers. Distress signals were seen by the Kerlogue, which altered course and went to the aid of the disabled Wild Rose, a collier from Liverpool. The crew members were rescued and the Kerlogue managed to tow the Wild Rose and beach her on the strand at Rosslare.
On October 7th, 1941, while sailing from Port Talbot in Wales to Rosslare, Kerlogue was damaged by a mine but survived.
On October 23rd, 1943, 130 miles south of Ireland, on passage to Lisbon with a cargo of coal, Kerlogue was circled by an RAF Sunderland flying boat. Three hours later, she was attacked by two initially unidentified aircraft for twenty minutes. The Kerlogue limped back to Cobh, where it was found that the cargo of coal had saved her; without it, the shells would have penetrated the hull. The aircraft were later found to have been Mosquito fighters of No 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron.
On December 29th, 1943, the Kerlogue was 360 miles south of Fastnet Rock, on passage from Lisbon to Dublin with a cargo of oranges, when she was circled by a German aircraft signalling SOS and heading southeast. The Kerlogue altered course to southeast, where she came upon an appalling scene. The German Narvik-class destroyer Z27 and two Elbing class torpedo boats, T25 and T26, had been sunk. More than seven hundred men, most of them dead, were in the water. The Kerlogue spent ten hours plucking survivors from the water. 168 were rescued. Four died on board. The cargo of oranges saved the rescued from dehydration. Captain Tom Donohue ignored the German request to bring them to Brest or La Rochelle. He also ignored British radio orders from Land’s End to go to Fishguard. He berthed at Cobh on January 1st, 1944.
The Kerlogue survived the remainder of the war and traded around our coasts for many years. She was sold to Norway in 1957 and was wrecked off TromsØ in 1960.
SS Kyleclare (700 tons) was built at Dundee in 1932 for the Limerick Steam Ship Company and up to the outbreak of the war mainly traded from ports in the west of Ireland to Liverpool.
On February 21st, 1943 she departed Lisbon for Dublin. Two days later, on February 23rd, she was sighted by the German U-456 and attacked. The German commander later claimed that he had not seen Kyleclare’s neutrality markings as she was low in the water, listing to starboard. Eighteen brave Irish lives, including several from the Ringsend district, were lost.
The steam trawler Leukos was built in Aberdeen in 1914. In 1927, she was sold to the Dublin Trawlers, Ice and Cold Storage Company with offices at 8 Cardiff Lane, Dublin. She was transferred to the Irish registry. She was based at Hanover Quay in Ringsend.
On February 9th, 1940 the Leukos sailed from Hanover Quay under Captain James Potter Thomasson, from Fleetwood, Lancashire. She called to Troon, Scotland for coaling and then headed to a fishing ground, north-west of Tory Island, off Donegal, in the company of British trawlers.
On March 9th, 1940, the Leukos was attacked by the German submarine U-38.  The submarine surfaced opening fire with its deck gun. All eleven crew members were lost. Crew members, Michael Cullen and James Hawkins hailed from Ringsend.
As a neutral country, all Irish ships, including the Leukos, were unarmed and clearly marked. A theory exists that the Leukos, in an act of selfless bravery, had positioned herself between the fleeing British trawlers in the vain belief that her status as a neutral would be respected.

The Long Watch by Captain Frank Forde, Gill, and Macmillan, 1981
A Social and Natural History of Sandymount Irishtown Ringsend Sandymount Community Services, 1993
The Roads to Sandymount Irishtown Ringsend Sandymount Community Services, 1996
A Maritime History of Ringsend Sandymount Community Services, 2000

A model of MV Kerlogue and other interesting information may be found at the National Maritime Museum, Haigh Terrace, Dún Laoghaire.

Dauntless Courage, by David Carroll, which celebrates the story of lifeboats, maritime history and heritage of Dunmore East RNLI Lifeboats is available at  at €25.00. All proceeds go to the RNLI.