The sea is unforgiving. Make a mistake and you probably won’t recover. The mistake may be navigation, faulty equipment, war, or personnel error. Makes no difference. The result is often the same - loss of ship, cargo, and personnel. Ireland, being a seafaring nation, has seen numerous wrecks and losses. Some are commemorated on stamps. Note: RMS signifies Royal Mail Ship.
• Spanish Armada (Figure 1). After being defeated by Drake’s ships in the English Channel in 1588, the remnants of the Armada continued east and northward into the North Sea. They were harassed by Drake’s smaller but faster ships. They continued around the northern edge of Scotland into the Atlantic and set course southward to Spain. Passing Ireland, they were hit by a hurricane, causing between 17 and 24 shipwrecks along the west coast.
• “Coffin ships” (Figure 2). The Great Famine of 1845-1849 caused over 1½ million to leave the country. Many were carried in worn-out ships used for transporting lumber from Canada and the United States. Conditions were often hazardous, with a large loss of life. As the name implies, it was akin to traveling in a coffin. The stamp shown has a ship arriving in America. One of the lucky ones!
• The RMS Titanic (Figure 3). of the White Star line was the most luxurious liner of the day and was supposedly unsinkable. The ship met its end on the maiden voyage in 1912. The souvenir sheet is the last known picture of the ship leaving Cobh, before hitting an iceberg. Approximately 1500 people were lost.
• RMS Luisitania (Figure 4). WWI caused the loss of the liner Lusitania of the Cunard Line, torpedoed in 1915 by a German U-boat off of Kinsale. A total of 1198 Passengers and crew were lost. Although denied at the time, the Luisitania was carrying munitions, thus making it a legitimate target. This sinking was one of the reasons for US entry into WWI.
• RMS Leinster (Figure 5). The RMS Leinster led a routine life shuttling between Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Line. On May 30,1918, a German U-boat torpedoed it 10 miles from Dublin. The loss of life (564) was the largest in the Irish Sea.
• Lifeboats (Figure 6). When a ship is in trouble, ocean-capable lifeboats are often the first on the scene. Manned by largely volunteer crews, they brave surf and storm to rescue the crew. The example shown is an older type, modern boats are engine-driven and can survive a complete roll-over.
• Lighthouses A major cause of shipwrecks is hitting unmarked reefs or rocks in what appears to be open water. The Fastnet Lighthouse, shown in Figure 7, is located offshore in the southwest and marks Fastnet Rock, the southernmost point of Ireland. Lighthouses have been built to mark such reefs, and their lights and foghorns serve to allow mariners to determine their position at night or in fog. The lighthouses are controlled by the Commissioners of Irish Lights which covers all of Ireland.
These are only a few of the disasters and wrecks that have occurred in Irish waters.
Irish Philatelic Service, The Collector, Dublin, 2/08, 2/15, 4/16.
Moody, T.W. & Martin, F.X., The Course of Irish History, 4th ed., Roberts Rinehart, Lantham, Md., 2001.
Wikipedia, Irish Lighthouses, Irish Sea Disasters, Titanic, Luisitania, Leinster, reviewed August 10, 2019.