Irish Shipping

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Irish Shipping Ltd
Industry Passenger transportation
Freight transportation
Marine Insurance
Fate Liquidation
Founded 21 March 1941
Defunct 14 November 1984
Headquarters Dublin, Ireland
Area served
Global trade
Owner Irish Government
Divisions Irish Continental Line
Belfast Car Ferries

Irish Shipping Limited was an Irish state-owned deepsea shipping company, formed during World War II for the purpose of supplying the country's import needs. Its ships were usually named after trees. Its contribution to Irish neutrality was recognised by the government after the war. In the post-war years the company continued to operate as a commercial strategic reserve until 1984 when, as a result of taking on a series of expensive long-term time charters, it was forced into liquidation.


Ireland had declared its neutrality when hostilities broke out and in the early years of the war much of its food needs were carried on board Allied vessels. The Irish government realised that they needed to be more independent and self-sufficient. In February 1941, Seán Lemass, the Minister for Supplies stated that The creation of an Irish mercantile marine was necessary, as it was as important for the national safety as the Army.

On 21 March 1941, Irish Shipping Limited was formed as a company majority owned by the state, which held 51% of the shares. 43¾% were owned by Grain Importers Ireland Ltd and the three largest shipping companies in the state, Wexford Steamship Company, Limerick Steamship Company and Palgrave Murphy Limited, held 1¾% each.[1] Each of the shareholders also had a representative on the board. Unfortunately the new company had a major problem in that it had no ships and needed to acquire some.

The wartime fleet[edit]

Ships of all forms and in all conditions were a very scarce resource during the early years of the war. The company management took control of whatever tonnage, in whatever condition, they could lay their hands on. Its first ship was the Irish Poplar which was located in Avilés, Spain as the Greek-flagged Vassilios Destounis. It had been abandoned following an attack by a German aircraft in the Bay of Biscay and towed into port by Spanish fishermen, where it was purchased by Irish Shipping.

List of ships operated during World War Two[edit]

Acquired in 1941[edit]

  • Irish Poplar (March 1941 – 1949) Ex Vassilios Destounis
  • Irish Larch (28 July 1941 – November 1949) Ex Hiafa Trader
  • Irish Beech (13 May 1941 – 1948) Ex Cetvrti
  • Irish Elm (August 1941 – 1949) Ex Leda
  • Irish Fir (14 October 1941 – 1949) Ex Margara
  • Irish Hazel (17 June 1941 – 1943, 1945 – 1949) Ex Noemijulia
  • Irish Oak (21 May 1941 – 15 May 1943) Ex West Neris
  • Irish Pine (21 May 1941 – 16 November 1942) Ex West Hematite
  • Irish Plane (26 December 1941 – 1 February 1947) Ex Arena
  • Irish Willow (December 1941 – 1946) Ex Otto

Acquired in 1942[edit]

Acquired in 1943[edit]

Other ventures[edit]

The nature of the conflict and of the state meant that Irish Shipping had some unusual influences on its commercial operations. This lead it into a number of other commercial ventures, most notably marine insurance and ship repair, where it might not necessarily have wanted to be.

A combination of the war, and the fact that Irish vessels were sailing out of convoy, led to impossibly high premiums for goods carried in Irish ships. This encouraged the company to set up its own successful marine insurance business which it sold to the Insurance Corporation of Ireland after the war.

The post-war years[edit]

Ships acquired in 1948[edit]

As most of the original tonnage was in poor condition, in 1946 the company placed orders for 8 vessels with British yards.

Ships acquired in the 1950s[edit]

Several vessels of different types were delivered in the early 1950s, Irish Oak, a near sister to the 1948 Irish Pine. Both of these vessels were steamships, with triple expansion reciprocating engines, converted to motor vessels in the mid fifties and powered by Doxford diesel engines.

Two sisterships were delivered in 1952 and 1954:

They were utilised on several routes and carried many varied cargoes.

Three sisterships were delivered in 1956,

These were smaller vessels, with accommodation aft and twin holds. Originally designed primarily for Baltic trading they were utilised on the North Atlantic and even saw service in South America and the far north of Canada in Hudson Bay.

The following dry cargo vessels built for Irish Shipping during the mid-1950s and were powered by Doxford opposed piston engines.

Two steam turbine vessels were also built in the 1950s the sisters Irish Poplar and Irish Spruce. Irish Poplar (2), Steam Turbine, delivered in 1956. 8,012 GRT, 4,575 NRT, ON 400072. NHP 1107. The Irish Poplar and her near sister operated on the North Atlantic Liner trade for most of their lives. The Irish Poplar was sold in 1972. Irish Spruce, Steam Turbine, delivered in 1957, was a near sister of the Irish Poplar. Both of these vessels were equipped with refrigerated cargo tweendecks for the carriage of meat. The Irish Spruce ran aground in the Caribbean in 1972 and was subsequently broken up for scrap.

The tankers[edit]

The Irish Hawthorn 1958–1965, Irish Blackthorn 1959–1965 and Irish Holly 1954–1967 were the only tankers ever operated by ISL. Both the Irish Hawthorn and Irish Blackthorn were sold in 1965.

The Irish Blackthorn and Irish Hawthorn were steam turbine vessels.

The Irish Holly was primarily a coastal oil tanker, triple expansion steam engine. This vessel survived in the fleet for some time after the two larger vessels.

Ships acquired in the 1960s[edit]

Two steam turbine ships were owned and operated:

Due to the sharp increase in the price of oil and the greater thermal efficiencies of diesel engines, these were the last two steam powered ships to be operated by Irish Shipping. Note:-Both of these vessels were acquired in the 1950s, not the 1960s the Poplar in 1956 and the Spruce in 1957, built to order for Irish Shipping, and had refrigerated cargo spaces for the carriage of frozen meat. They both survived to the early 1970s.

Two sisters delivered in the early 1960s. Laid down in the very late 1950s. Irish Rowan. First vessel built in the newly formed Verolme Cork Dockyard. 1961. Powered by Doxford diesel engine. Irish Sycamore a sister of the Rowan with similar machinery, built in England.

Two other sister ships were operated:

The Irish Cedar operated the Cork-Casablanca-Dublin run importing phophate for Gouldings Ireland before the Irish Plane was used on the run. When the Irish Cedar was sold in the 1970s she was converted to an oil exploration vessel, a drill ship. The Irish Plane operated on the CasablancaDublinCork run, importing phosphate fertiliser for several years. Both of these sisters were powered by MAN diesel engines, type KZ70-120D

Ships acquired in the 1970s[edit]

The Star ships and the Elm[edit]

Irish Shipping entered a joint venture with the Norwegian Star shipping company and operated two ships;

A bulk carrier with retractable/stackable car decks was also acquired;

  • Irish Elm 1968–1979 22,186.03 GRT 14,516.91 NRT ON 400577 BHP 18,800. ON 400577

The Irish Elm was the second vessel built for Irish Shipping at Verolme Cork Dockyard and made her maiden voyage in 1969. The vessel was a new departure for the company being operated by a GPR (general purpose) crew. Each crew member had a cabin and the vessel had an officers and a crew bar. It also had a swimming pool. The accommodation, all aft was air conditioned. The Main Engine, a MAN, could be manoeuvred from the bridge.

She was designed to run with an unmanned machinery space, UMS, for night time sailing in open waters, however this was seldom, if ever achieved. There were many design problems with the UMS equipment, the main problem being that the electronics were germanium based rather than silicon. Silicon had not come to the fore as the most suitable semiconductor material. The germanium was affected by the high ambient temperatures in the engine room.

The vessel was primarily designed as a bulk carrier but had electro-hydraulic cranes and pontoon decks fitted after her sea trials. She operated for many years as a car carrier primarily transporting cars from Japan to USA and Europe. The Elm was sold in 1979.

A further mis-match of technology was the use of steam driven reciprocating feed pump for the exhaust gas boiler. Controlled by a pneumatic valve, the system required constant attention to ensure correct operation.

Celtic Bulk Carriers[edit]

In the early 1970s ISL set up a joint venture with Reardon Smiths called Celtic Bulk Carriers and between them ordered 12 standard ships from Govan Shipbuilders in Glasgow. The ships were referred to as "Clyde"-class and the Irish ships were named:

The Japanese Ships[edit]

The Irish Cedar and Irish Rowan were built in Japan and delivered in 1976.

The Spruce[edit]

The company took delivery of their final vessel, the Irish Spruce in 1983. Built in Verolme Cork Dockyards, it was a Panamax bulk carrier of 72,000 tonnes deadweight (DWT) . Its ordering and build were the subject of much controversy with many feeling that the Irish government put undue pressure on the company to place the order to keep the dockyard open.

Managed Vessels[edit]

The Rock Boats[edit]

Other Managed Vessels[edit]

Liquidation and aftermath[edit]

0n 14 November 1984, the Irish government surprised most observers by placing Irish Shipping Ltd into liquidation.[2][3] Maurice Tempany, a senior partner at Ernst & Young was appointed as Official Liquidator. He quickly set about laying-off the staff and making preparations for the sale of the ships. With four ships still owned by the company – Irish Maple, Irish Rowan, Irish Cedar and Irish Spruce – as each came into port it was arrested and eventually sold.

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ J C Spong (1982), Irish Shipping Limited, World Ship Society, ISBN 0-905617-20-7 
  2. ^ "Dáil accepts Irish Shipping liquidation". The Irish Times. 15 November 1984. Retrieved 21 March 2008. 
  3. ^ "Official Report (Dáil Éireann), Volume 353, 14 November 1984: Irish Shipping Limited: Motion". Oireachtas. Retrieved 21 March 2008. 

Legislation Relating to Irish Shipping Ltd[edit]


  • Spong, H C (1982). Irish Shipping Ltd. Kendal: World Ship Society. ISBN 0-905617-20-7. 
  • Forde, Frank (2000) [1981]. The Long Watch. Dublin: New Island Books. ISBN 1-902602-42-0. 
  • Irish Shipping Ltd. Signal. Company In-House Publication. 

External links[edit]