SS Hare and SS Adela remembered

By Jennifer Reddin

The large crowd which attended. Images: Patrick Hugh Lynch

On Saturday the 30th of September, 2017, hundreds of people gathered at Custom House Quay, beside the Sean O’Casey Bridge, to commemorate the loss of the SS Hare and the SS Adela, two ships that have a strong historical association with Dublin Port and the Docklands area.

These two merchant ships were torpedoed by German submarines, U-62 and U-100, and lost in the Irish Sea during December 1917 at the height of World War One. 

Twelve lives were lost on the 14th of December 1917 when the SS Hare went down, including one woman crew member, Sarah Jane Arnott who was a stewardess. Eleven crew members survived.

Later that month, on the 27th of December, 23 merchant seamen drowned, or died from exposure, alongside 24 year old Christina Kavanagh, the only passenger on board, when the SS Adela succumbed to the same fate. Only the Captain, Michael Tyrrell, survived. It is thought that his long experience at sea and his strong build saved him.

One hundred years later, members of the Dockland communities, with the support of DCC and the Dublin Port Company, came together to remember the two ships and all who sailed on them. The umbrella group formed for the project, the Adela-Hare Centenary Commemoration Committee, set out to remind the people of Dublin of the sacrifices made by brave members of the Mercantile Marine who put their lives at risk to bring cargoes back and forth across the Irish Sea at a time of conflict.

The event was officiated by Ardmhéara and Honorary Admiral of Dublin Port, Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha (The Lord Mayor of Dublin City).

He was joined by descendants of the ships’ crews as well as members of the public and of the local historical and heritage societies who were responsible for the tribute. The Mayor of Holyhead, Anne Kennedy, the Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy, Josef Reichhardt, and representatives from DCC and DPC were also in attendance.

A commemorative plaque to the SS Hare was unveiled at the site, just outside the DCC office building, formerly the property of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Following the ceremony, guests crossed the Liffey to the Campshire Buildings on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, where a second commemorative plaque was unveiled to the SS Adela, close to the ship’s original berth.

In 1917 Ireland was totally dependent on the Merchant Marine to bring goods to and from the country. At the time, ships came further up river, so Dubliners were far more aware of Ireland as an island nation and of the city as Ireland’s premier port. Both ships would have been a familiar sight on the quayside and many of the victims came from the close-knit seafaring communities around the Port.

The SS Hare and her crew were particularly well-known and loved by the workers of the Capital. She was known as ‘Larkin’s food ship’ because she had played a critical role during the Great Lockout of 1913, when the Dublin Employers’ Federation, led by powerful businessman and newspaper owner William Martin Murphy, locked out up to 20,000 workers in an effort to stop them organising under Jim Larkin to demand better pay and working conditions.

Larkin went to the UK to rally support. As an act of solidarity with their Irish counterparts, the British Trade Union Congress organised a relief effort, gathering food and other supplies for their striking comrades. As SS Hare made her way into the city, laden with donations, the striking workers and their starving families stood along the quayside to cheer the crew.

When the news of her loss and of the subsequent loss of the SS Adele reached the capital, it had a seismic effect on the city’s population, who rallied together to lend their support to the survivors and to the dependents of the crew members.

Substantial donations were raised by the ordinary people of Dublin, from all social classes and religious divides. The business community that had been served so well by the crews of these vessels gave generously too, with the Irish Cattle Traders and Stockowners Association contributing £1,100, which was considered to be a fortune at the time.

The fascinating history of the SS Hare and the SS Adela can be followed on Facebook with a page that has been set up in their memory. Events, talks and discussion all feature to commemorate the centenary year.