THE STORY OF A SMALL BUT GREAT SHIPPING COMPANY
Britain had decided that it could no longer put its ships and men at risk by supplying a country that had decided to remain neutral. So after a meeting held at Earlsfort Terrace Dublin on the 21st March 1941 a national shipping company was formed called Irish Shipping Ltd.
Irish Shipping Limited was an Irish state-owned deep sea 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. 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
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
Acquired in 1941
• 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
• Irish Rose 1942 to 1946
• Irish Alder 1942 to 1946
• Irish Spruce 1942 to 1949
• Irish Ash 1942 to 1949
Acquired in 1943
• Irish Cedar
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.