The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

People on board

Thomas Donnelly


Thomas Donnelly was born on the 17th November 1892 in Henrietta Street, Dublin to Michael Donnelly and Margaret Farrell, the second of their ten children. In the 1901 census Michael gave his occupation as ‘Bottle Washer’ and in 1911 he was a ‘General Labourer’. In that same census Thomas, then aged eighteen, was a ‘Messenger.’ In 1901 the family was living in North Cumberland Street in the north inner city, then a family of seven in one room. By 1911 they had moved to Upper Tyrone Street in the same area where they had two rooms for their family of eleven, with another child born later that year.

In 1915 Thomas Donnelly married Ellen Rigney and they had four children between 1917 and 1922 and three more later. The birth certificates show that Thomas was a ‘Porter’, a ‘Ship’s Steward’, a ‘Waiter’ and ‘I.R.A. Quartermaster’ during that period up to 1922 and the family lived in Dorset Street.

Details of his career come from his statement to the Pensions Board in his application for a military service pension. He served with the Irish Republican Army between April 1920 and September 1923 during the War of Independence. He had joined the Irish Volunteers in 1917 at the same time as he was employed by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Co. as a Steward on the Mail Boats. In his statement he said that he lost his position on R.M.S. Leinster in 1919 because of “his activities” as a Volunteer. Thomas Donnelly was a 3rd Steward in 1918 when the ship was torpedoed and he survived. Family stories always recounted how his wife Ellen waited at the harbour until he appeared. In his statement he said that fellow Steward on the R.M.S. Leinster Thomas Deegan was also involved with the Volunteers and was in the Intelligence Unit – see the entry for Thomas Deegan. They later were related through marriage.

In February 1922 he enlisted in the National Army, taking the pro-Treaty side in the Civil War. He served with the Dublin Guards and with the Quartermaster General Air Service in Baldonnell. He resigned from the Army in March 1924 with the rank of Commandant and then began his application for his pension. Bureaucratic delays left him frustrated, with many letters and phone calls involved and he refused to leave his family accommodation in Baldonnell until he received his pension. He finally received £90 per annum.

From November 1927 Thomas Donnelly was employed as a Messenger by the Board of Works in St Stephen’s Green. Ellen died in 1937 at the age of fifty and Thomas lived until 1966 when he died at the age of 74. He was living in Clonmacnoise Road in Kimmage then and his occupation on his death certificate was ‘Retired Civil Servant.’



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