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SS Kilkenny

Brief History

In 1823, the 'City of Dublin Steam Packet Company' was established. It soon built a notable reputation and held the distinction of being first to run a steamer from Liverpool to New York. Having built up an impressive fleet of ships, at the beginning of the 20th century, the 4 fastest passenger steamers in the world were on their mail service.

In 1903, the steamship "Kilkenny", named after County Kilkenny; was added to their fleet. The ship launched on 30 December 1903, and it was the largest of their 6 ships operating the Dublin - Liverpool route.

The steam ship Kilkenny

In 1917, she was purchased by the ‘Great Eastern Railway’ and later renamed SS Frinton. Acquired by the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923. Sold in 1927 to Samos Steam Navigation Company in London, and again in 1928 to D Inglessi Fils SA de Navigation, Samos.

Bombed and sunk by the Luftwaffe in Greece on 22 April 1941.


The ship was built by Clyde Shipbuilding Company in Glasgow. On its official trial, it hit a top speed of 15.319 knots, an average speed of 14.9 knots, and throughout the six-hour continuous trial showed "fine speed, excellent stability, and an almost complete absence of vibration". The ship was 270ft long and 36ft across; and featured a gross carrying capacity of 1419 tons, a propeller with a diameter of 13ft 6in, and an engine capable of 3500hp.

Staterooms and sleeping cabins provided lying down accommodation for 154 first-class passengers. In the 'tween decks, there was space for 500 head of cattle.

The ship was lighted with electricity throughout and had electric fans in the dining saloon.

Saving crew of sinking Guinness barge

​On 9 June 1905, a barge belonging to Guinness, the “Vartry” sunk in the Liffey on her way to reach the SS Kilkenny. When the barge neared the steamer, it was noticed that the vessel was slowly sinking towards the stern. An effort was made to relieve that part of the barge of its freight, but before it could be accomplished, the barge sunk, and the crew were forced overboard.


Captain Jones of the SS Kilkenny, at once, ordered boats of the vessel to be lowered and had the struggling men rescued, preventing catastrophe.

A large number of barrels aboard the barge floated downstream, but several boats joined the Kilkenny’s in recovering them. An operation to raise the sunken vessel was undertaken immediately, and the Vartry reconvened service up until 1961.


15 May 1919, the ship was stranded. Running into a thick fog just 6 miles off Minehead, they ran into trouble. With risk, the ship could later capsize, an attempt was made to reverse from where she had become a fixed, but this was abandoned and they were rescued by a nearby ship. Passengers were conveyed to Queenstown (Cobh).


It emerged the company’s adjuster, had improperly adjusted the ship’s compass. Finding an error of 4 degrees, he increased it, instead of decreasing, and said it to now be correct.


On this assumption, Captain Barren set the course which should have brought him to port, instead of which the vessel went ashore Knockadoon, sustaining an estimated £6000 of damage. The ship had been requisitioned by the Ministry of Shipping and was managed by the Cork Steam Packet Company.

Without a Tail

In February 1920, the ship departs Dublin “Without a Tail”. With all the space devoted to animals left vacant, at a loss to the steamer’s owners. The relatively small amount of goods cargo or passengers carried may have possibly paid for the coal used in the passage to Mersey, or possibly not.


She was bombed by Luftwaffe aircraft at Megalo Lefko during the German invasion of Greece and sunk on 22 April 1941. She was 1 of 24 ships lost through the war on that date, 18 of them also destroyed by the Luftwaffe in Greece.

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