The Origins of the Journal:

The Journal is a comprehensive account of the activities of the Department of Supplies from its inception until 30th June 1944.

It is around 200 pages of, closely written, type written notes. I have condensed it and I have extracted the portion concerning the first ship in full and refer to the other ships briefly to show them in the context of their place during the Emergency. I hope that the shortages come through the narrative.

The purpose of the journal was twofold:

  1. To record the Department’s experience should the need ever arise again.
  2. To exercise control over a wide range of industry.

The plan for an Emergency had its origins during Nov 1935 when the Ministry of Defence considered what might be done during a major emergency. A report in August 1936 looked into maintaining fuel (electricity and gas) and oils. A second report in April 1937 dealt with cereals, animal feeds, salt, sugar and tea. A third report in June 1937 dealt with foodstuffs, agricultural and garden seeds, fertilizer, tobacco and drink. Consideration was given to other commodities and a recommendation in August 1938 was that full-time officers should be assigned to this work.

The Emergency Supplies Branch:

The Emergency Supplies Branch was set up on the 7th September 1938 within the Department of Industry and Commerce. The purpose was that adequate reserves of food and essential materials would be available in the event of a major emergency. This would entail central purchasing, distribution and selling. What might arise? It would be necessary to increase stocks to the maximum limit possible. From September 1938 oil companies were pressed to accumulate stocks of petrol. The response was disappointing due partly to failure to establish an oil refinery in Dublin. Millers set up a Wheat Reserve Committee which imported considerable stocks of wheat.

The State was reluctant to finance stocks in the hope that business prudence would prevail and businesses would benefit by stocking supplies which might ultimately become scarce. It had assumed that each firm knew how to buy economically, arrange storage and ensure reserves would not deteriorate. If the State interfered with one commodity then others would wait for State intervention. It was felt that some firms may need credit and arrangements were made with Banks through the Irish Banks Standing Committee.

The Emergency Supplies Branch kept in close contact with other Departments. They prepared a rationing scheme for petrol and other essential commodities. In April 1939 the countries dependence on other countries in respect of exports, imports and shipping was investigated.

Notes through the Irish High Commission in London with British Departments in 1937 on foodstuffs going in both directions were initiated but no discussions took place due to the state of diplomatic relations. By August 1938 following an improvement in relations informal conversations took place. The Department officials were given access to plans for essential commodities in war-time. We were assured that we would get our normal requirements of tea, sugar and coal and a square deal in the matter of shipping “so long as we co-operated”.

The Secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce went to London in July 1939 to explore ways of arranging cargoes, insuring the risk with other countries other than Britain. Discussions ceased until 1st September 1939 when war appeared inevitable. At that stage the British were only concerned with the next two or three weeks. The first agreement had to do with Irish livestock with unfavourable terms. Because we had a “special arrangement” no modifications were considered.

Establishing the Dept. of Supplies:

After the invasion of Poland and war generally in Europe in September 1939 “the Irish government appointed Seán F. Lemass as Minister of Supplies on the 8th September 1939”. The Department of Supplies was set up on that date and Lemass relinquished his position as Minister of Industry and Commerce. Staff transferred from many Departments including the Emergency Supplies Branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce.

Seán F. Lemass

Seán F. Lemass, Taoiseach. Photograph by kind permission of Seán Lemass (grandson).

Maintenance of essential supplies was the object and regulation of commodities in short supply. Matters relating to shipping were still looked after by the Department of Industry and Commerce. The new Minister exercised price controls, as necessary.

Emergency Powers were enacted to preserve the State in time of war. The new Department ran smoothly from the start. Continuity was maintained from the Emergency Supplies Branch. Traders and industrialists were encouraged to continue to accumulate stocks. Rationing of petrol began in September 1939. Coupons were initiated.

Joint purchase and importation of certain commodities started by setting up:

  1. Grain Importers, Eire to import wheat.
  2. Animal Feeding Stuffs, Eire to import animal feed.
  3. Three companies were set up to import timber.

Companies were set up on the basis that they would not earn profits and Banks provided loans at 3%, below the 5% obtaining. There was an exemption from Profits Tax on the basis that on winding up any profit would go to the Department of Finance. Further companies were set up as required, Fuel Importers, Tea Importers, Oil and Fats from 1940 to 1944. Jointly purchasing and importing proved an advantage.

By using one central channel negotiation could be done effectively. In this way commodities such as coffee, cocoa, beans, paraffin wax, newsprint, cardboard and dried fruits were arranged.

In October 1939 the Secretaries of the Department of Supplies and Department of Agriculture went to London for discussions on a wide range of commodities which included “agricultural machinery, seeds, fertilisers, petrol, coal, tea, dried fruit, sugar, steel billets, iron and steel, woollen and worsted yarns, linen yarn, timber, vegetable and animal oils, animal feeds, raw materials for margarine, soap, bakery and confectionery”. Irish farmers were given the same footing as British farmers. The British asked for our import programme to be included in their requirements. “Other subjects discussed were shipping, foreign exchange, coal and sugar prices, single grades of petroleum and tea, British export restrictions and fixing agricultural prices”. As we would be bidding with Britain for foreign supplies and shipping a system of co-operation was suggested.

Contact with British Departments:

After the October 1939 talks contact was maintained. As difficulties were encountered undertakings were taken up with the British Departments involved. We dealt directly with the British Ministry of Supply taking advantage of their placing of large contracts abroad. For example Grain Importers bought our full requirements of Canadian wheat. Similar arrangements were made for animal feed stuffs, vegetable oils, soap, sugar and phosphates. A small commission was paid but this was more favourable than completing on the world market for the comparatively small quantities we needed.

“At the outbreak of war all British registered shipping was taken under control by the Ministry of Shipping, and operated by the ship owners as agents of the Ministry”. Freight rates were kept down and subsidised. “No British shipping was provided for Irish requirements, except indirectly where our requirements, were met from supplies imported from Britain.” “Neutral tonnage was chartered by Irish importers for bulk cargoes.” In November 1939 a programme of our requirements was forwarded. Up to now the bulk of our cargoes were carried by British ships and we assumed that our needs would be included in their allocation of tonnage. We had granted permission for the transfer to the British register of seven oil tankers and ten other vessels.

In January 1940 after examination the British needed to know if bulk commodities were to be imported directly by us or included in purchases for British ports for re-export to us. After consultation with many Departments locally the latter arrangement was agreed especially due to the advantageous buying arrangements. They agreed that we would use the arrangement with the British supply authorities and the Ministry of Shipping. A memorandum was drawn up to this effect.

In March 1940 discussions took place in London and these covered “wheat, barley, maize and other cereals, agricultural seeds, flour for biscuits, castor oil, phosphates, timber, wool, woollen and worsted yarns, tea, vegetable oils, cocoa beans, dried fruit, petrol, kerosene, coal, iron and steel, metal products, copper, lead and non-ferrous products”. Our programme for wheat was accepted but reductions on maize and barley were insisted on. They found it more economical to import frozen beef, mutton and bacon rather than making space available for maize for animal feeding stuffs. By importing maize we wanted to increase our exports but the British were not interested in this. We were discouraged from importing tea through Holland for currency reasons, thus, the British became responsible for meeting all our needs.

We looked for exceptions for certain commodities where we could do a better deal but the British looked for a comprehensive deal.

Poplar, by Kenneth Kimg

Oil painting of SS Irish Poplar, by artist  Kenneth King courtesy of Cormac Lowth.

A Comprehensive Agreement:

On the 20th March the government reviewed the London talks and it was decided that a memorandum was to be drawn up to deal with trade problems suggesting solutions from the Irish perspective. It was decided that a comprehensive agreement was required. A conference was arranged for the 30th April. This was a high level meeting involving Ministers and these decided to tackle individual problems. A further meeting on the 3rd May heard from the British that they wanted an agreement on transhipment facilities at Irish ports where large ships could be discharged into smaller ones. This had failed in the Bristol Channel and other British ports. They also sought storage at Irish ports. The deal was that transhipment or storage would only be in an emergency. The Irish raised serious objections but nevertheless agreed to explore the possibilities. Agricultural produce was subsidised for Britain and Northern Ireland and the Irish wanted the same price but they only wanted to pay the rate paid for New Zealand, Canadian or whoever was cheapest on the world market. We cited the fact that coal prices had risen sharply since the outbreak of war, far greater than that in Britain. The talks stalled and the British said they would forward proposals. At the meeting the Minister of Supplies took the opportunity to discuss prices of coal, crude-oil, iron and steel, copper, brass, wire and wire ropes. The spring offensives in Europe delayed action and the heads of agreement were delayed until August 1940. By that time it had been conveyed to the British that transhipment would not be entertained. Various proposals were put together but we were unable to agree to transhipment which could compromise our neutrality. In a further meeting on the 24th September transhipment was declined and it was agreed that only those arrangements which were in place prior to discussions would continue.

In the meantime on the 31st July / 1st August 1940 British coal exporters terminated the long established custom of supplying coal on credit. The coal exporters had to back down and this was the case for other commodities including kerosene, crude oil, sugar, grain, fertiliser, iron and steel, aeroplane parts and steel for ship repairs. This included freight and war risk insurance for grain cargoes.

Setting up Regional Administration:

“In July 1940 the government had reason to believe that we were in imminent danger of invasion.” The Department of Supplies was given the task of dividing the country into regions. Within these regions essential government functions could be carried out should they be cut off from central government.

A quick look through the five years of the war:

Irish Oak, oil by Kenneth Kimg

Oil painting of SS Irish Oak, by artist  Kenneth King as reproduced in a commemorative brochure published by Des Brannigan in 2001.

  1. Supplies during the first full year of the war up to September 1940 were comparatively easy. The war at sea continued but apart from the offensive in Poland there was a lull until the spring offensives of 1940. British exports to this country continued. Trade with Germany was cut off but there was no great difficulty in chartering sufficient neutral tonnage for bulk imports. Freight rates rose sharply. The reserves built up before the war helped. With the fall of France we knew that things would get worse and industrialists were encouraged to import goods to the greatest extent possible and disperse stocks regionally in case internal transport became a problem. In the summer of 1940 invasion of Britain seemed imminent. Military preparations were a priority but industrialists were encouraged to secure essential supplies.
  2. During the second year of the war up to September 1941 the general supply position began to deteriorate rapidly. All trade with continental Europe ceased. Sources of supply from Britain were curtailed or cut off. Goods from the USA could not be imported due to a lack of shipping. In December 1940 in a memorandum to government the Minister of Supplies stated that we had wheat for 26 weeks, tea for 4 weeks, sugar for 60 weeks, petrol for 8.5 weeks, kerosene for 7 weeks and coal for 11 weeks. Extraction of flour had increased from 70% to 75%. Maize deliveries had reduced to 50% and getting worse. Coal was reduced due to disruption of the railways in Britain. No ship had been provided for over a month to import wheat, maize and animal feed. On the 4th January it was decided to make a formal approach to the British government. They maintained that informal chartering was not their concern and due to the exigencies of the war they were compelled to obtain any available shipping for their own purposes. After more meetings it was decided that Britain was concentrating on winning the war and existing agreements no longer stood. Our most urgent need was for 40,000 tons of wheat which even at an extraction rate of 90% would be required to tide us over until native grain was available in September. On the 11th March the British offered 28,000 tons of maize but because sinkings were serious they were below safe levels and they were unable to release wheat.
    ISL flag

    Flag, as flown by Irish Shipping Ships until 1947. This flag is in the National Maritime Museum, Dún Laoghaire. During his presidency of the Maritime Institute, Des Brannigan had a set of flags commissioned, the house flags of the Irish shipping companies, so that they could be paraded at the City Quay and St Patrick's Cathedral commemorations

    By the end of 1940, apart from the cross-channel services we were “virtually completely cut off from the rest of the world”. Few Irish ships were available which could reach Lisbon. A service was initiated to Lisbon to link up with trade from the USA solely to import wheat. “In February 1941 the government transferred to the Minister of Shipping all functions in connection with the acquisition and operation of ocean-going ships. A special company was incorporated under the name of Irish Shipping Ltd. (21st March 1941) to secure ships wherever they could be got”.
  3. During the third year of the war export restrictions from Britain and shortages of ships to import goods from the USA continued. Rationing was extended: in June 1941 to clothing, in July 1942 to footwear, and September 1942 to butter. Agricultural production was increased. In October 1939 compulsory tillage had been introduced. Livestock had declined steadily especially pigs due to lack of maize. When the USA entered the war, in December 1941, this meant increased restrictions on exports from there. In March 1942 Seán F. Lemass took over responsibility for the Department of Industry and Commerce as well as the Ministry of Supplies. The building industry went into decline as well as other industries depending on imported materials.
  4. During the fourth year of the War difficulties became more widespread. Rationing was applied to soap in October 1942. Discussions took place in London in November 1942 and January 1943. Irish Shipping Ltd. had become well organised on the USA route devoted to the import of wheat and some small quantities of essential goods necessary to avoid economic collapse.
    Production of turf was increased with 3,800 men housed in camps in Co Kildare to produce hand-won turf, being convenient to Dublin. Bogs were developed in the Dublin Mountains to facilitate families to cut their own. This came under the Department of Supplies in March 1943 under the Turf Development Board Ltd.
  5. In the fifth year of the war up to June 1944 supplies continued to be critical and even the soap ration was threatened due to the lack of raw materials. Three small ships were sent to San Tome near the Equator to import raw materials for soap. The Secretary of the Supplies Ministry was in London in January, March, April and June 1944, latterly for discussions on coal supplies and the suspension of the Lisbon service. This service was suspended on the 24th April 1944 by the refusal of "navicerts". The British did not send their ships on the Lisbon route in case preparations for the invasion of Europe were disclosed. Strikes in the spring of 1944 reduced drastically the supply of coal but by June 1944 a 50% increase in existing allocations of coal, petrol, kerosene and fuel oil was negotiated.
Irish Pine, oil by Kenneth Kimg

Oil painting of SS Irish Pine, by artist  Kenneth King as reproduced in a commemorative brochure published by Des Brannigan in 2001.

The Role of Trade Organisations:

During the Emergency, the Emergency Supplies Branch kept in close contact with trade organisations and they were kept updated on any concerns. Both spoke “freely”. Suggestions and criticism was a real help to the Department. Trade organisations could see the trade difficulties. Industrialists consulted the Department before entering into commitments. All this helped throughout the Emergency.


This comprised of Allied organisations for the restriction of trade with certain countries. It was introduced by the British on 31st July 1940 where the cargo and navicert system was introduced as a means of preventing trade with countries at war with Britain. It was defined as a pass certifying that non-enemy origin and ownership of goods concerned had been made. A “ship navicert” was issued in respect of a ship for a given voyage where all goods were covered by navicerts. In November 1940 it was intimated that the British were to introduce navicerts for our export/imports from 1st January 1941. Apart from Syria and Liberia, Ireland was the only country where navicerts were applied to both imports and exports and it was introduced eventually on 1st May 1941. Irish exporters had to obtain navicerts in respect of all European countries. Imports from extra-European countries were also included.

At first navicerts did not interfere too much with trade but with export controls requirements to check blacklisted items and suppliers it soon became an economic weapon by October 1942. Certain commodities were divided among potential purchasers. This reduced what was available to us. When the supply of vegetable oils and fats became scarce we were informed that all navicerts for fats, vegetable oils and seeds and sisal were being refused. “A strong protest was made to the British that navicerts were being used as a weapon of sea power for the purpose of restricting the freedom of Irish trade”. Because of our isolation, more so than other neutral countries on the European continent it amounted to a blockade. Estimates of our minimum requirements were put forward. In February 1943 the British Ministry of Food agreed with our minimum estimates but it took until May 1943 to action this and the navicerts for oils and oil seeds came through on 30th June 1943 but only for half of what was agreed was a minimum. Navicerts were not granted for tallow, palm oil, copra, palm kernels and peanut oil and these could only be sourced in Portuguese colonies and this is why three small vessels usually used on the Ireland to Lisbon trade had to be sent to Portuguese West Africa.

The use of navicerts restricted our imports of shoe leather, timbo powder[lugnote]Timbo Powder: for the treatment of the Warble Fly parasite in sheep and cattle[/lugnote] and hog bristles. Rice became another casualty as did dried fruit. For some imports alternative countries of source were specified by the ministry in London or the Administration in Washington. We objected to the use of navicerts to deprive us of supplies which became an economic weapon against legitimate trade between neutral countries.

Control was exercised by the British on exports from Lisbon imported from Portuguese colonies through an organisation called CEDUP[lugnote]Companhia de Exportacoes do Ultramar Portugues which controlled all trade with Portugal and its colonies[/lugnote] and this resulted in very little allocation to us.

Another restriction system was operated by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) in Washington which controlled loans for the supply of cotton, corn, wheat and tobacco. This became an issue when we were excluded from dollar credits to accumulate quantities of leaf tobacco and by 1943 the CCC controlled our imports of fats and vegetable oils. Prior approval was also required by the British Ministry of Food in respect of many commodities. By February 1944 the USA took over the CCC and it became the US Commercial Corporation but this change made little difference.

Arrangements with Britain and the USA:

During the war reciprocal arrangements were made with Britain for manufactured civilian goods. Raw materials were supplied by Britain with a surplus of 33% for our use provided we sent the manufactured goods back to Britain. For Britain it relieved their need for manpower shortages and for us we needed supplies. In this way rubber, agricultural machinery, steel, domestic utensils, heel tips, some underwear and shirts were obtained. We did not benefit in the same way from surplus raw materials used for American textiles used for American Forces. Binder twine was supplied in exchange for our flax crop.


We could not import barley for the manufacture of beer for export to Britain and Northern Ireland in 1941. We required 41,000 tons[lugnote]At this time, in Ireland, imperial tons (also called long ton) were used, that is 1 ton = 2,240 pounds, or 1,016 kilograms[/lugnote] of native barley. Before the war we would have imported this shortfall from Britain. In January 1942 we were short 110,000 tons of wheat to bridge the time until the next harvest. We could normally rely on 50,000 tons on Irish ships. For this reason bread and flour would had to be rationed and consumption of beer reduced which would affect the exchequer too. 25,000 tons of barley was made available but the export of beer was stopped. The British were anxious to import beer and 20,000 tons of wheat was made available in a secret deal during 1942 in order not to compromise Lease-Lend agreements with the USA. The arrangement was leaked and wheat was refused the following year. Fortunately the shortfall was now imported by Irish Shipping Ltd. and in a barter arrangement tried to secure other commodities such as sulphate of ammonia, agricultural seeds and machinery. These came to over £500,000 but we required barley of a similar value. The British held off and we exported beer month by month from November 1942 until January 1943 and by March 1943 the value of all goods imported was only £130,000. Tea and sugar were suggested instead of what we required and exports continued through to October 1943. The government decided to stop exports and accordingly the MD of Arthur Guinness was instructed on 27th October to cease exports. The firm was informed by the Ministry of Food on 26th November that 24,000 tons of barley would be exported to us from Britain for the production of beer and the Department were informed on 30th November so export licenses were granted which covered up to 1st December 1944.

Approaches to other Foreign Governments:

We set out to make the most of importing from existing trading arrangements abroad and in some cases these contracts were of considerable help. Commercial channels were always tried at first but it became necessary to use diplomatic channels abroad or through their embassies in Dublin. The Secretary of the Ministry of Supply was sent to London frequently and the involvement of diplomats was discouraged as this slowed things down. A good relationship was built between their counterparts in the British Ministries. Assistant Secretaries were also utilised for certain commodities, e.g. wool and correspondence and goodwill were resorted to negotiate here the manufacture of goods from imported raw materials. All this was documented. It was necessary at times to make formal protests and the closest collaboration was achieved, at times. Particulars of our minimum requirements were furnished by the British to the Canadian and US governments. The demands of our industries were scaled back to a minimum and foreign governments commented favourably on our reasonableness. A case in point was the supply of newsprint, wood pulp and agricultural machinery supplied by Canada and paraffin wax and steel from the USA.

Trade Statistics:

Insured Employment
1936193719381939 1940194119421943
411,418428,460433,865432,316 243,127440,756439,457420,728

Weekly statistics were reduced to monthly and during the war the volume reduced substantially. Exports to Britain and Northern Ireland exceeded our imports. Exports to other countries virtually ceased and imports from foreign countries dropped alarmingly until we acquired our own ships.

Effect on Employment:

Shortage of raw material for industry and reduction in trade caused considerable unemployment. People were placed on short time. The figures for insured employment between 1936 and 1943 were:

1936193719381939 19401941194219431944
138,858108,07897,85597,814 111,387101,232103,24986,622 78,780
Effect on Unemployment:

Unemployment could have been worse except for numbers who joined the armed forces, left for employment in Northern Ireland or Britain and those who joined the British armed forces and auxiliary services. The unemployment figures were:



From the outbreak of war permits were required to travel to Britain for employment and were introduced for Northern Ireland in June 1940.

Checks were kept on migration to ensure those who could not find suitable work went abroad. During 1942 we ended up with a shortage of agricultural and turf workers. In some cases permits were refused. Men were encouraged to take up employment in agriculture and free travel and allowances were paid for these temporary jobs.

Subsidies 1941 1942 1943 1944
Flour   £464,008£1,359,478£1,368,309
Bread   £22,149 £101,469 £132,469
Butter £17,608£17,507 £17,182  
Tea       £148,000
Turf       £830,000
Fertiliser£94,443£52,376 £323,442  

As costs rose in some cases the government paid subsidies for flour, wheat-meal and bread in February 1942, turf in August 1943 and tea in March 1944. Butter was subsidised prior to the war for exports to Britain. This ceased but the subsidy was kept to keep the butter in storage for winter months costing around £17,000 during 1941-43. Artificial manure for farmers was subsidised in the years 1941, 1942 and 1943.

Cost of Living:

The cost of living rose steadily during the war years and an indication of this can be seen from the following figures for mid-February in the following years.

Cost of Living
1936193719381939 19401941194219431944
159 167 173 174 197 218 237 273 296

Measures were taken “to stabilise salaries, wages and other remuneration” and limiting dividends and subsidies helped check the rise in prices. Later in the war stabilisation of wages was relaxed to allow partial compensation for decreased purchasing power. Coupons were issued to those on unemployment, pensions and disability payments to help towards bread, butter, milk and turf. These supplemented the cash allowance. See also the recommendations of the cost of living committee in appendix IV.


During the Emergency orders were made by the government. These were supplemented by orders made by the Minister of Supplies:

Emergency Orders Issued by:
Orders by19391940194119421943
Minister 5649148189160

Most of these orders had to do with rationing of goods or fixing prices but they also had to do with directions to industrialists in manufacture of textiles and clothing. Orders were published in papers and broadcast on the radio. There were campaigns to be economical with the use of flour and bread. Lists were made with the maximum prices of household goods. A film was produced in 1943 to support tillage farmers. A handbook was produced for shop keepers at 4d on price control and rationing. A copy of this is said to be in Appendix V but that is not published in this copy of the journal.

The work of his Department was reviewed by the Minister during Dáil debates and he spoke on supply problems on the radio as can be seen in some of the Appendices.

How the Department was organised

It was realised from the start that a “much greater degree of promptitude” would be required. Officers were “encouraged to deal with matters quickly”. Seven days was adopted as the deadline for replies. The Minister held meetings bi-weekly with Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries and from 1943 Principal Officers were also included to address questions on the day to day running of the Department.

How the Department was staffed:

As supplies deteriorated during the first year of the war staff were required to deal with rationing, control of industry and distribution. In 1940 the new Department had 163 established and 6 temporary officers. These totals rose in each year. Sanction had to be granted by the Department of Finance to keep transferring staff from other Departments and recruit new staff. Staff at every level worked long hours through each year of the war “without any question of extra remuneration”.

Staff numbers in the Ministry of Supplies
Established 163244455504581
Temporary 614165385486
Inspectors 2206377101

Because there was the necessity of compliance with Emergency Powers Orders there was a requirement for Inspectors. Many of these inspectors were recruited from within but others came from Customs and Excise whose work had reduced during the war. Inspection centres were set up at Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Sligo, Dundalk, Wexford, Westport, Letterkenny, Mullingar and Fenit. They not only investigated complaints but would survey groups of traders. Detection was not the prime objective but respect for the Department’s regulations and they worked in cooperation with the Gardaí.

Powers of Inspectors

Emergency Powers were given to inspectors to measure stocks, inspect and extract from books and documents and question traders. Working in conjunction with the Gardaí they could make seizures in serious cases.


The attitude to rationing in the early years of the war was to treat it less seriously but traders were encouraged to keep records. Staff concentrated on rationing and irregularities had to wait until sufficient staff were free. Because of delays in prosecutions and interaction with the Chief State Solicitors Office, this was an area which could have worked better. The following are figures produced for prosecutions and convictions.

  19401941 1942 1943 1944
Inspectors 2 20 63 77 101
Prosecutions  4091,2993,231 
Convictions   2631,1542,884 
Security of Ration Documents

There were millions of ration books and hundreds of thousands of permits and licences. The greatest care was taken to rotate junior staff. Many staff were temporary and on low wages and every effort had to be made to prevent ration books falling into the wrong hands, where they had a cash value. Care had to be taken in printing and storing books. Special paper was used and special designs and they were signed individually before issue. There were many checks and balances. This involved three officers 1) authoring 2) writing and 3) checking each document issued. Surprise checks were organised. Two cases involving petrol coupons led to prosecution and dismissal.

Department Premises:

Initially it was difficult to locate the new Department until it was accommodated at the Hospital’s Trust in Ballsbridge but in July 1940 the OPW found them premises at 13/14 Earlsforth Terrace. In September 1940 the petrol section was set up on Parnell Square. Further offices were taken in Ballsbridge to house the petrol, tea, sugar, kerosene, general rationing and prices sections. When the Departments of Industry and Commerce and the Ministry of Supplies were combined under one Minister, namely Seán F. Lemass the main functions of both Departments were transferred to new Government Offices in Kildare Street. Other offices were required in time and one on 24 Upper O’Connell St was used for officers dealing with transport of turf.

Regional Administration:

As described elsewhere there was a need to have regional offices in case of invasion to carry on administration locally. Regional commissioners were appointed and below them each county had local commissioners which in most cases were the secretaries of those county councils. Regional and county commissioners were to take over complete control of “essential functions of government” in the event of invasion. If necessary the Taoiseach would broadcast instructions. In this way the arrangements for regional administration would come into being.

Gardaí and Defence Forces:

The Department of Supplies had a number of conferences with the Defence Forces and Justice Departments to ensure cooperation between the Army and all non-combatant services including the Gardaí. The Gardaí would arrange transport for Regional Commissioners to their regions if a major emergency arose.


From the start of the war merchant vessels were attacked by aircraft, mines, submarines and surface raiders. The ships of countries at war were fitted with anti-aircraft guns and they travelled in convoy protected by warships. Neutral ships whether singly or in convoy were attacked and sunk. Despite a rapid building programme in the USA the lack of shipping was the greatest problem during the war.

In 1938 there were 11,027 entries of vessels with cargoes into Irish ports with net tonnage of 8,248,434 which amounts to a year’s shipping. Of this 32% was described as Irish nationality but by tonnage it was only 5% with 64% British and 31% other vessels. There were 27 vessels ranging from 500 tons to 3,500 tons.

  • The Limerick Steamship Co. Ltd. had 8 vessels totalling 24,792 net tons,[lugnote]Clonlara, Kyleclare, Lanahrone, Luimneach, Maigue, Monaleen, Moyalla, Rynanna[/lugnote]
  • the Saorstat and Continental Steamship Co. Ltd. 6 vessels totalling 21,930 net tons,[lugnote]Assaroe, City of Antwerp, City of Bremen, City of Dublin, City of Limerick, City of Waterford[/lugnote] and
  • the Wexford Steamship Co. Ltd. had 3 vessels totalling 2,331 net tons [lugnote]Edenvale, Kerlogue, Menapia[/lugnote]
  • Five other firms between them had 10 vessels totalling 17,434 net tons.

Apart from these there were cross channel passenger vessels plying the Irish Sea all controlled in Britain. “It was not considered necessary or desirable to acquire tonnage in anticipation of war”. Nevertheless we depended entirely on other countries for the tramp shipping (ships which don’t have regular trade routes and are chartered on the spot market) to carry our imports of wheat, maize, timber and other bulk cargoes from abroad.

In discussions with the British authorities before the war and because of our exceptional relationship we expressed our main concern about trade and shipping and were assured there would be no difficulty with shipping as we would be put on the same footing as Britain.

When the war started Emergency Power Orders restricted movements of shipping and Irish ships which sometimes flew the red ensign were required to fly the Irish flag. The word EIRE and the national colours were painted on the sides and on deck for aircraft with floodlights lighting these markings at night. Degaussing (reducing the ship’s magnetic signature) was fitted to ships to repel mines at government expense.

When the war began the USA prohibited their vessels from entering any Irish port. This continued even after representations. They traded with Spain and Portugal until they became involved in the war themselves in December 1941.

The British refused to provide tonnage for bulk cargoes from the start of the war for our direct imports of wheat, maize and other bulk cargoes even though we used British ships for this purpose before the war. It was not too bad for the first 6 months as we could charter neutral tonnage thus embarrassing them in their efforts to keep freight down. They then suggested we arrange charters through their Charter Office. This worked for a while but by the autumn of 1940 it dwindled. They secured all the neutral tonnage and cut us out.
The table Imports of Wheat and Maize by Quarter illustrates this decline, from Autumn 1940. In 1938 we imported 379,857 tons of wheat and 355,331 tons of maize. There were only 2,868 tons of wheat imported in the second quarter 1941; and no maize for the last 3 quarters of 1941.
Maize was needed for animal feedstuffs.

Imports of Wheat and Maize by Quarter
Quarter Ending Wheat Maize
31st March, 1938 90,322 80,792
30th June, 1938 73,845 71,456
30th September, 1938 72,403103,621
31st December, 1938143,287 89,462
31st March, 1939 86,668 95,763
30th June, 1939124,887 99.458
30th September, 1939 94,799112,174
31st December, 1939 56,525100,654
31st March, 1940103,103 78,016
30th June, 1940101,106124,847
30th September, 1940 55,221 48,924
31st December, 1940 72,402 89,462
31st March, 1941 16,395 39,450
30th June, 1941 2,586 Nil
30th September, 1941 11,572 Nil
31st December, 1941 19,948 Nil

Imperial tons or long ton; where one Ton is 1.01605 Tonnes or Metric tons

The small steamers of the three Irish companies which existed before Irish Shipping ceased trade with Germany but continued calling to Belgium and Holland until they became occupied. The British registered Head Line called regularly to Belfast and Dublin and other British ports from the USA and Canada. Dublin was dropped and small consignments redirected from British ports were carried on cross channel services but liable to confiscation so supplies of cocoa beans, cocoa butter and wood pulp imported in this way diminished through the war.

Cross-Channel shipping services by British and Irish shipping companies continued because of the value of Irish manpower, livestock and agricultural produce. There were some problems due to the bombing of British ports and by 1st May 1944 some colliers and passenger ships were withdrawn in the build up to the invasion of Europe.

It had been planned to build an oil refinery in Dublin before the war by Thames Haven Oil Wharves Ltd., setting up an Irish company. Provision of tankers was essential to this and 7 tankers of around 14,000 tons were transferred from the Irish register. On the outbreak of war with assurances of the provision of motor spirit those 7 ships were transferred to the British and motor spirit became restricted and no guarantee was forthcoming. By February 1940 four of those tankers had been sunk. Through the war supply steadily decreased. Irish Shipping Ltd. was unable to acquire a tanker or even charter one.

Insurance costs for grain cargoes went up by 25% in June 1940 and had doubled in July and later that month sent up by another 25%. Imports of grain were limited to Dublin causing distribution problems and many Greek ships came out of convoy and were sunk before reaching this country.

Despite very large and clear markings Irish vessels were subject to aircraft and submarine attack during the first two years of the war. Protests were made and where governments admitted responsibility compensation was promised.

Offers of ships were made in the first year of the war, of tramp ships which could carry bulk cargoes. Prices quickly escalated and the Ministry of Shipping resisted buying such vessels while neutral tonnage was available in the early years.


On July 30th 1940 the British government announced warrants. They controlled bunkers, dry-docking, repairs, stores and insurance. These had been freely available but now they were withdrawn from vessels which did not “render commensurable service”.

The rules were very strict and included provision of navicerts and were renewable every 6 months. Although warrants were granted to ships on the Irish register at the time they were introduced “the greatest difficulty was experienced in securing the promise of warrants for ships which Irish Shipping Ltd. wished to acquire”.

With regard to foreign ships lying in Irish ports warrants were promised but the process was very tedious. The ships were physically under the control of the Irish government but the British wanted control of some of them.

Poplar, 1948

Post war picture of SS Irish Poplar, circa 1948. Departing Waterford in ballast. Photograph courtesy of Rosslare Maritime.

By September 1941 the British Ministry was refusing to grant warrants to any ships which Irish Shipping Ltd. wished to buy. They intimated on a few occasions that they would grant warrants if 50% to 75% of the trade was to the British account. The government decided that this would compromise our neutrality. No unconditional warrants were offered even though we kept making efforts to secure them. In July 1942 the Secretary of the Department of Supplies learned that warrants were being considered for Norwegian, Italian and German vessels immobilised at French Atlantic and Mediterranean ports but by September 1942 we learned that they were not within the category. The Portuguese got warrants for ships in similar circumstances but our representations were unsuccessful. Norwegian vessels were identified in Gothenburg and enquiries were made but we were told that warrants would not be granted. In a Dáil debate in July 1944 the Minister for Supplies pointed out that even if we had sufficient ships prior to the war that the warrant system could immobilise them.

In May 1943 the USA imposed warrants but for Irish Shipping Ltd such warrants were obtained through Washington and renewed from time to time.

In 1940 the Department of Industry and Commerce looked into our need for shipping and concluded that the expansion of Irish ownership was required. State assistance would be required. Cross-channel services would be unlikely to increase. Ships were required to import coal. The existing 3 Irish companies should be invited to engage in the tramp trade (spot cargoes).

The Formation of Irish Shipping Ltd.:

This committee reported on the 7th January 1941 and the Minister of Supplies was appointed to supply ocean-going vessels.

The Secretary of the Department met with the existing three companies and told them of the decision to buy ships. These companies did not have the resources and were in favour of a new company being formed and Grain Importers, Eire were asked to look for opportunities.

Lord Inverforth was approached and after consideration was reluctant to take part in a new venture during the war but would do so after the war so long as he was given exclusive rights. We needed ships now to bring in supplies.

Prior to the outbreak of war we had received assurances from the British Treasury that “we would be provided with reasonable requirements of foreign currency for trade and commerce”.

We eventually managed to get the promise of $2m to be paid for in Sterling from the British Finance Ministry.

Discussions were opened again with the 3 existing companies who could only afford minimal cash. The government decided to proceed to put forward the cash but retain the companies for their management skills. A Board was formed and Grain Importers, Eire were invited onto the Board as the government saw that grain would be the prime requirement for the rest of the war. The first ship the Vassilios Destounis was acquired on the 10th March and the new company was incorporated on 21st March 1941.

An Emergency Powers order was made authorising the Minister to spend £200,000 on shares in the company, to guarantee payment by the company for borrowings and pay subsidies to the company. The shares were distributed as follows six directors and a secretary got 1 share each, Limerick, Wexford and Saorstat Eireann Steamship Companies got 3,500 shares each, Grain Importers, Eire got 87,500 shares and the Minister of Finance got 101,993 shares. Each share was worth £1 bringing the total to £200,000. In April 1941 the Minister of Finance approved a loan of £1m which he later increased to £2m.

15 ships were bought, 8 outright and 7 either chartered or the subject of re-sale. Of these 8 ships were tied up in Irish ports, 2 were provided by the USA and 5 purchased on the open market.

Acquisition of ships in Irish Ports:

Poplar, 1947

Photograph of SS Irish Poplar under tow arriving at Cardiff c.1947 supplied by Rosslare Maritime, original by the Hansen Collection, the National Museum of Wales.

In all there were 9 ships tied up in Irish ports 1 Yugoslav, 3 Estonian, 2 Latvian, 1 Finnish, 1 Danish and 1 Italian. These ships had arrived at intervals and nothing was done to induce them to stay but they owed port dues.

  • Cetvati (2,002 grt) from Yugoslavia came from Huelva in Spain to Dublin on 18th September 1940 with a cargo of pyrites. She was purchased for £58,000 and renamed the Irish Beech and landed her first cargo in Dublin on 20th December 1941.
  • Mall (1,094 grt) from Estonia came from New Brunswick to Waterford with timber on 7th August 1940. This ship was chartered with the option to purchase on 12th January 1942. It became the Irish Rose and left on her first voyage in May 1942.
  • Pinet (1,541 grt) from Estonia came from Cuba with sugar on 12th August 1940. A similar deal was done to charter this vessel from the same date. It became the Irish Alder. Legal delays meant she did not make her first voyage until January 1944.
  • Otto (1,083 grit) from Estonia came from New Brunswick to Cork with timber on 14th August 1940. After negations with Estonia this vessel was chartered by Irish Shipping on 3rd October 1941. It became the Irish Willow. She made her first voyage in March 1942.Click for more on the Otto / Irish Willow, and the Soviet claim on the Baltic ships
  • Everoga (2,878 grt) from Latvia came from Cuba with sugar to Dublin on 26th July 1940. This ship was the subject of court action involving Latvia and the USSR but eventually it was sent to Britain as part of a deal to secure warrants. It was sunk on a voyage to Ireland with a cargo of wheat.
  • Ramava (1,305 grt) from Latvia came from Halifax with timber to Dublin on 8th August 1940. A similar deal was done after court action with the British for this ship.
  • Mathilde Maersk (2,088 grt) from Denmark came from Norway in ballast to Limerick on 11th May 1940. It took until 31st January 1943 to acquire the Mathilde Maersk. This involved discussions with New York, Denmark, Britain and others but eventually $525k was paid and Irish flag transfer was arranged and she became the Irish Ash.
  • Caterina Gerolomich (5,430 grt) from Italy came from North Africa with sulphates to Dublin on 31st May 1940. It took until the 19th June 1943 to secure the purchase of Caterina Gerolomich from the Italian government with a buy back clause 12 months after the cessation of hostilities. We paid in excess of 8m Swiss francs for the deal but needed the tonnage. She was named Irish Cedar. The Italians were insistent that it would only be used for goods destined for this country. The Italian armistice complicated matters further but permission was obtained from the German Minister in Dublin that the ship could be used exclusively to import goods to this country and she sailed from Cork to New Brunswick on 20th December 1943 and arrived back on 3rd February 1944 without incident.

Further deals were done in swapping vessels due to location.

  • The Irish Spruce (formerly Vicia) was to be transferred to the British and
  • the Irish Alder (formerly Pinet) would come to Dublin for repair.
  • The Irish Hazel (formerly Noemi Julia) which was purchased in 1941 ended up in Newport for repair and was chartered by us.
We obtained 50% use of the Irish Spruce but due to extensive repairs it remained inoperative until June 1944.
Acquisition of ships from the USA:

We had made representations to the USA in 1940 to purchase American tonnage. Outright purchase became a problem but purchase under the Lend-Lease Act was negotiated but this again became a problem and we ended up chartering two vessels the West Neris (5,588 grt) and the West Hematite (5,621 grt). These became the Irish Oak and Irish Pine respectively. The Irish Oak left New Orleans on 3rd October 1941 for New Brunswick to load wheat and arrived in Ireland 6th July 1942 after delays due to repairs, enroute. It landed 4 cargoes in Ireland and was on her fifth journey with a cargo of phosphates from Florida when it was torpedoed and sunk by an unidentified submarine on the 25th April 1943. All hands were rescued by the Irish Plane.Click for more on the West Neris / Irish Oak, and the rescue of her crew by the Irish Plane The Irish Pine left New Orleans on 10th October 1941 and arrived in Dublin on 4th December 1941 with wheat from New Brunswick. She was on her fifth outward journey via Philadelphia but never reached that port. She was lost with all hands, a crew of 33. Click for more on the West Hematite / Irish Pine, and the loss of her crew of 33

Irish Shipping Ltd. purchases their first ship:
Poplar, after the war

SS Vassilios Destounis dressed overall c. 1933. Photo supplied by Rosslare Maritime, origin unknown.

“The SS Vassilius Destounis (3,299 tons gross, Greek Flag) went aground and was abandoned by her crew while carrying grain from the Plate to a Spanish port. She was salvaged by Spanish fishermen and brought into the port of Aviles. She was purchased by Irish Shipping Ltd. by contract dated the 10th March 1941 for £142,000 (sterling). She was not officially handed over until the 9th April 1941. The government made the Emergency Powers (no. 68) Order 1941. (S.R. & O. No. 227 of 1941) on the 17th May 1941, so that a ship bought at a foreign port could be provisionally registered as an Irish ship by the Irish Consular Authority or another officer nominated at the port and fly the Irish flag on her homeward voyage. The Vassilius Destounis was registered accordingly and renamed the “Irish Poplar”. Difficulties were raised by the Spanish Government. There followed repeated representations by the Department of External Affairs. Her final release by the Spanish Government was not secured until the 5th August 1941. An Irish crew had to be sent out to take delivery. She sailed from Aviles to Lisbon to load a cargo, arriving in Dublin on the 8th October 1941”. Click for more on the Vassilios Destounis / Irish Poplar, and the voyage to collect her

Poplar, being renamed

Renaming at Dublin October 1941. Photograph supplied by Rosslare Maritime, original: Irish Press, Dublin.

Other vessels:

Many ships were left in Ireland when their crews were repatriated at the outbreak of WW II and the fate of each of these ships is dealt with in the journal. I have gone through them briefly in preceding and subsequent paragraphs but I have quoted, in full, the passage on the first ship that was acquired for Irish Shipping Ltd.

It is also worth noting that the Irish Elm came to Dublin with the first cargo of grain from the USA arriving on the 31st August 1941. On the 4th September the Taoiseach Mr Eamon deValera and Minister of Supplies Mr Seán Lemass came down to thank the Captain and crew in person (1A) p19.

They were to become President and Taoiseach respectively and the photo below was taken in that period.

awaiting Asgard

President Eamon deValera and Taoiseach Seán Lemass with his wife Kathleen await the SV Asgard. Photo by kind permission of Seán Lemass (grandson).

Other ships purchased for Irish Shipping Ltd:
  • The SS Leda (4,115 grt) was purchased from Panamanian interests for $800,000 (£199,107 sterling) on 25th March 1941. This contract was later declared null and void. She did become the Irish Elm and is referred to above.
  • The SS Margara (1,487 grt) was purchased from Chilean interests on 12th April 1941 for £82,000. Transfer of the flag became an issue and she was not released until October 1941. She became the Irish Fir and arrived in Ireland with her first cargo on 28th February 1942.
  • The SS Noemi Julia (2,499 grt) was purchased in Dublin on 19th July 1941 from Panamanian interests for £67,500 buying out a charter with the Swiss government. It had to be sent to Britain for repair and was exchanged for the Irish Alder as previously described.
  • The SS Ahena (4.673 grt) was purchased from Panamanian interests for $1,390,000 (the sterling equivalent of £345,949) on 23rd September 1941. The Swiss government were also interested in this vessel. She became the Irish Plane and it arrived in Dublin on 26th December 1941 after repairs at Philadelphia.

That completes the formation of Irish Shipping Ltd. during the war years. Once the company was formed they devoted their energies to acquiring vessels at a time when there was a worldwide scramble for ships and prices rose rapidly. On one occasion they were offered 100% mark up on the price they purchased for but they had to resist this as they built up their tonnage. The negotiations on navicerts and warrants, covered elsewhere, added to the complications and working with countries which were being taken over as in the case of the USSR prolonged conclusions. Bear in mind that many of these vessels were in poor repair and many had to undergo long and expensive repairs rendering some useless for periods of years within the 1940 to 1944 critical period. There was also some one-up-manship dealing with the British and some trading of vessels and the use of vessels on alternate voyages had to be conceded but we did not carry any mixed cargoes destines in part for British ports which meant we did not compromise our neutrality.

Operation of the ships:

There was great collaboration between the Ministry of Supply and Irish Shipping Ltd. The Secretary of the Department as Chairman of the company dealt personally with provision of passports for crew and got quick decisions on outstanding matters negotiating directly with the British government. He had a full appreciation at all times of matters arising and could maintain secrecy were necessary.

Company meetings were held weekly and later bi-weekly. Problems were dealt with daily and management from the three existing companies was utilised so action could be taken immediately.

Because of the exceptional circumstances in which the company was set-up it was necessary to write down the capital costs of acquiring vessels seeking exemption from Corporation Profit tax etc. By 1943 the original cost of ships had been written down by 50% and by July of that year the majority of shares in the company were now held by the Department of Finance. Directors on the Board refused to accept any fee and cheques for £500 p/a were returned.

Payments to the three existing companies who managed the collection of freight, paying crews and running costs etc. They did not accept a fee for the first accounting period until 30th June 1942 and thereafter a flat rate of £1,000 per ship (50% for those laid up) was paid.


The only repair facilities were at Liffey Dockyard Co. Ltd. in Dublin which was under great pressure for existing vessels apart from those acquired by Irish Shipping Ltd. The use of drydocks in Britain became problematic as they prioritised their own vessels. For this reason it was decided to acquire the dockyard at Rushbrooke in Cork which became Cork Drydock Ltd. with Irish Shipping Ltd. subscribing £75,000 to this and transferring two directors from its board. The additional facilities meant that repairs could be undertaken without delay.


Irish vessels took on coal or oil at British ports on outward journeys resulting in considerable delays at congested British ports. In 1943 it was agreed that an Irish Shipping vessel would be used to bring bunkering fuels to Ireland thus reducing voyage times and this worked well. On return journeys from the USA ships used St John, New Brunswick for coal and Halifax, Nova Scotia for oil and normally loaded their cargoes at these ports.

Routes and courses:

Initially Irish vessels sailed in convoy with other neutral ships in British convoys to St John, New Brunswick which took 3 months for a round trip. The board decided to take them out of convoy and there was a 50% saving in time. It is difficult to say which was the most dangerous with two of the largest vessels being sunk. The British and American navies insisted that ships out of convoy had to use a route which added 2,500 miles to the round trip. Eventually this was dropped with a huge saving in time and bunkers.

Poplar, in Atlantic

Photograph of SS Irish Poplar taken in the North Atlantic during WW II probably bound for the USA or Canada supplied by Rosslare Maritime, origin unknown.

Discharge ports:

The ports used were Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford, with Sligo being used once. Ports were alternated to prevent problems with dockers. Ships due drydock would be routed to Dublin or Cork to reduce transit times and another consideration was the use of minimum internal transport to destinations.


The policy was to employ Irish nationals but some British officers had to be employed. Scholarships were established to train Cadets at the Galway School of Nautical Training and the Crawford Municipal Institute, Cork. Three year courses were set-up for Deck and Engineering Officers.


Crew members were found to be carrying letters which could compromise the movement of Irish ships. Crews were warned that this must stop with the threat of immediate dismissal. Gardaí would search crew quarters and hand on letters to the censor. Crew members were also importing excessive quantities of goods e.g. tea, sugar, pepper and nails. These were being sold on through irregular channels. Personal importation was imposed of 25 lbs. per person with no more than 5 lbs. of any one item.


The first cargo was imported on 31st August 1941 and from then until 30 June 1942 we imported 66,004 tons of goods 58,442 of wheat, 2,113 of tea, 1,630 of tobacco and 3,819 of other essentials). In the year ending 30th June 1943 we imported 199,644 tons of goods (138,505 of wheat, 12,517 of phosphates11,016 of sugar, 9,407 of wood pulp, newsprint, paper and cardboard, 5,454 of tobacco, 4,781 of oats, 6.745 of other commodities and 11,219 of British coal. In the year ending June 1944 we imported 200,872 tons of goods (162,949 of wheat, 5,724 of sugar, 11,345 of fertilisers, 5,462 of tobacco and cigarettes, 3,898 of wood pulp, newsprint, paper and cardboard, 4,947 of metals, 6,547 of other commodities and 19,943 of British coal for bunkers. This makes an aggregate import of 486,463 tons.

Imports by Irish Shipping Ltd.
Cargoes 41/42 42/43 43/44
Wheat 58,442138,505162,949
Tea 2,113    
Tobacco 1,630 5,454 5,462
Phosphates  12,51711,345
Sugar  11,016 
Paper  9,407 3,898
Oats   4,718  
Coal   11,219 19,943
Metals     4,947
Other 3,819 6,745 6,547
Total 66,004199,644200,872
Aggregate 486,463
Freight Rates:

To cover the huge costs of acquiring vessels high freight rates had to be charged. Ships left Ireland with very small parcels of cargo. No passengers were carried. The original rate was £16. 12s. 6d. per ton (40 cu. ft.). Wheat was charged at 48 cu. ft. per ton. On 1st Dec 1942 the rate per ton was reduced to £10 per ton for grain and £12 for general cargo. There was a further reduction of 10% on 1st July 1943 with a further 10% reduction in October 1943. This meant grain was now £8 per ton and general cargo £9. 12s. 0d. The Chairman gave preference for wheat as it was heavily subsidised by the government... The company were able to affect savings due to passage times being reduced by sailing out of convoy and in time carrying its own insurance.


War risk insurance from Irish insurers for cargoes imported via Lisbon in the early days of the war was limited to 15 days. Indemnity could not be obtained from Britain, the USA or elsewhere. Firms could not run the risk of goods at Lisbon not being insured so Irish Shipping Ltd was asked to underwrite the insurance themselves and this they did. The rate charged was 7.5% for periods up to one year at Lisbon. Luckily in the early stages there were no claims so the company was able to build up a fund. Ships hulls were being insured against Marine and War risks at 20% for 3 month cover and even at that the full cost of the ship was not covered. Protection and Indemnity Clubs (P&I) offered better rates but the valuations of the vessels were very low and they would not allow the remainder to be insured on the open market so by April 1942 the company decided to carry its own war risk insurance. During 1943 it added the marine and hull risks. It was fortunate that it had not got to pay out and the two ships which were lost were covered in the USA by charterers insurance. In time it was able to offer insurance to other Irish shipping companies and to Aer Lingus Teoranta for aircraft.

Insurance of war risks and cargoes:

By October 1942 the company was in a position to undertake underwriting cargoes. They offered war and strikes cover at competitive rates to Lloyds. Some Irish companies were reluctant to use them doubting their capacity to meet claims so they arranged with the Institute of London Underwriters to ensure no delays would occur where the cause of claims were not immediately determinable. Towards the end of 1943 they were in a position to cover bulk cargoes of wheat, fertiliser, sugar and vegetable oils. They also covered risks where goods missed shipment and freight was paid.

Results of Insurance business:

With modest beginnings by June 1942 £123,823 on hulls and £28,222 had been saved on freight of a total £152,045. By June 1943 this had increased to £1,361,796. Taking into account the loss of freight due to sinkings of the Irish Pine and Irish Oak the aggregate was £1,188,241 and the company’s insurance reserve by 30th June 1943 was £1m.

Shore Staff, continuity and future of the company.

By 1942 it was necessary to employ a Superintendent to oversee repairs and quick turnaround of vessels. He was employed from sea staff, within. A shore representative was employed at St John’s New Brunswick and an Accountant and Clerical Staff were employed to assist the Secretary. By 1943 the government decided that the company should continue after the war period. The combined board as originally established was very satisfactory and was praised by the Taoiseach and Minister of Supplies. Nobody lost sight of the reasons for its creation and it was a great advantage that the Secretary of the Department was the Chairman of the company and as the main commodity imported was wheat it was of huge importance to have the head of Grain Importers as a Director. The 3 Directors who operated their own companies gave unstinted service to the company as well and their technical advice and expertise was invaluable.

The Lisbon Service:

Click for more on MV Kerlogue, of the Wexford Steamship Company; she served the Lisbon route The original three companies had arrangements with American companies to tranship goods coming from the USA to this country booking limited space on these regular liner trades. Appreciable goods from North America were imported in this way until the USA entered the war in December 1941. Irish ships continued to trade with Lisbon and Vigo in Spain importing wine, spirits, cork, resin, citrus fruit, dried fruit and pyrites. A trade grew from Iberian ports served by Switzerland and South America. Sometimes a backlog of goods built up at Lisbon and the British became wary of this so they were happy to see Irish Shipping vessels clear these cargoes. Some neutral countries mainly under the Panamanian flag continued to bring cargoes from Lisbon to Ireland like wine for which they got a premium as Irish vessels cargo space was reserved for the most essential cargoes. Three small ships engaged on the Lisbon service had to be sent to San Tome, West Africa in 1943 and 1944 to secure cargoes of vegetable seeds and oils. We required these raw materials to produce soap. Five voyages were made and 5.579 tons of these precious cargoes were imported.

As we gained experience Lisbon was used for transhipment and appreciable cargoes were sent from Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Portuguese East and West Africa. Pyrites were shipped from Huelva (Spain) and Pomaron (Portugal).

Temporary suspension of service:

The Peninsular Service was suspended 24th April 1944 when navicerts were not issued by the British on security grounds. This was because of preparations for the invasion of Europe. British ships were provided to take cargoes to Dublin and phosphates from Saffi (French North Africa) to Dublin and even two ships were sent to the USA.

Cargoes imported from Peninsular Ports
  1941/1942 1942/1943 1943/1944

Limerick Steam Ship Co Ltd.
Wexford Steamship Company
Saorstat & Continental Lines

One ship from
Irish Shipping Ltd.

Other Irish Ships

Limerick Steam Ship Co Ltd.
Wexford Steamship Company
Saorstat & Continental Lines

One ship from
Irish Shipping Ltd.


Other Irish Ships

Limerick Steam Ship Co Ltd.
Wexford Steamship Company
Saorstat & Continental Lines

One ship from
Irish Shipping Ltd.


Other Irish Ships

Total 44,570 5,736 3,053 58,934 1,762 326 4,459 33,936 5,610 1,472 5,295
Wheat 19,683 5,715 2,603 16,530 1,200   1,409 3,269 5,610    
Cocoa 4,387 21   6174     400       960
Citrus 2,600     2,828              
Dried Fruit 1,053     1,295       2,270      
Wine 1,344   450 2,202  2,554   752,417
Paper 1,353   1,904    4,880 99 
Metals 3,514            
Linseed 4,157   7,234    1,378   
Sugar    1,492 300     149
Fertiliser     14,628    10,856 1,091 
Corn Flour          1,294   
Rice     2,176       940
Cork       26    123 
Glucose             145
Others 6,479    2,871562    6,125 84 674

Control of space on ships:

The best use was made of space on ships by a special section within the Department of Supplies for essential commodities. Each September an inter-Departmental conference was held when we could evaluate the forthcoming harvest. Targets were set for wheat, feeding stuffs, sugar, fertiliser, tobacco, cigarettes, agricultural seeds, machinery, vegetable seeds and oils, paper goods and metals. Importers applied for space and each was judged on merit. Priorities were set but had to be adjusted with regard to changes in shipping and availability of commodities based on export licences, navicerts and other difficulties.

The system worked well and shipping companies co-operated with the Department which succeeded in exercising control without resorting to any special emergency powers for this purpose.

Poplar in Cork, click to enlarge

Photograph of SS Irish Poplar taken in Cork during WW II supplied by Rosslare Maritime, original the Cork Examiner, Cork.


Appendix I:

20th June 1940: Powers allocated to the Department of Supplies

  1. Control of export of commodities.
  2. Control of importation of commodities.
  3. Regulation of movement, storage, sale, purchase of consumable articles.
  4. Control of price to be charged for commodities.
Appendix II:

26th Feb 1941: Emergency Scientific Research Bureau.

  1. To give technical advice on industrial processes and use of substitute materials.
  2. Use of native or other materials to meet deficiencies.
  3. Direct and conduct special research and inquiries connected to the above.

List of persons appointed and instructions.

Appendix III:

Imports by value, by Country of Origin and Domestic Exports by Country of Consignment 1936 to 1943.
Tables are set out for each year from 1936 to 1943.
Volumes of Imports are compared with those of Exports.

Appendix IV:

Interdepartmental Committee on the Cost of Living.

  1. Is it advisable to take steps to stabilise or reduce prices of commodities?
  2. Is the cost of living causing hardship to any section of people?
  1. Only to apply to conditions arising out of the Emergency.
  2. Cost of living is a true price index and an adjustment of wages is not justified.
  3. In 1943 the figure would have been 243 as against index 284.
  4. No agreement on whether wage earners should be compensated for true rise.
  5. No clear road to a reduction but stabilisation is possible (1944).
  6. Special inter-Departmental committee to keep under review to keep stabilised.
  7. Practically all items can be produced at home. Keep price down.
  8. Scope for subsidy extremely limited.
  9. Reason to hope that clothing prices will stabilise.
  10. The price of turf is likely to be higher this year than previously.
  11. An enquiry into the increase in the price of houses.
  12. Consideration on the abolition of customs and excise duty on the price of petrol.
  13. Increase of money in circulation and decrease in value of goods a constant menace.
  14. Certain people e.g. farmers have benefited substantially and should be further taxed.
  15. Savings movements should be encouraged.
  16. Sales by auction should be controlled.
  17. Encourage the view that prices will fall.
  18. Price cutting is important to reduce margin to middle man.
  19. Hardship must be being endured by those without adjustment in pay since 1939.
  20. Monies remitted by workers in Britain helped to compensate for increases.
Appendix VI:

Paying in stocks – Broadcast by Seán F. Lemass, Minister of Supplies 21st June 1940.
This speech encourages people to stock up on supplies and fuel as belligerent activity gets closer to our country.

Appendix VIII:

Clothes Rationing – Broadcast statement by Seán Lemass Minister of Supplies on 8th June 1942.
Announced the day before it comes into effect. An explanatory booklet will come by post.

Appendix IX:

Bread and Flour - Broadcast statement by Seán F. Lemass Minister of Supplies, 10th November 1943.
Intention of producing 88% flour and barley admixture to replace the 100% extraction brown flour that has been on sale. This was good news as white flour was on its way back.


Memorial to the seamen lost while serving on Irish Merchant Ships 1939-1945. The photo was taken by Joe Ryan.

Appendix XII:

Personal and Confidential. Emergency Measures to provide for the functions of Government.

  1. Possible invasion of the country. Decentralisation of administration.
  2. Eight regional areas. Regional Commissioners.
  3. County commissioners will report to Regional Commissioners.
  4. If invaded and isolated County Commissioners will assume complete responsibility.
  5. If invaded County Commissioners would act under Military control.
  6. County Commissioners would ensure.
    1. Ensure supplies of food and fuel.
    2. Conserve supplies.
    3. Care of water and health.
    4. Maintain order.
    5. Relief of distress.
    6. Maintain education and agricultural services.
    7. Maintain pensions, unemployment benefit etc.
    8. Pay wages etc. to local authorities.
    9. Pay grants from government.
    10. Collect sums due to government and local authorities.
    11. To carry on existing services.
  7. Give fullest measure of co-operation.
  8. Schedule payments via banking facilities made available.
  9. If insufficient funds, prioritise payments.
  10. All powers of government will be exercised in each county.
  11. In case of dire need.
    1. Purchase or requisition food and fuel.
    2. Requisition transport for foodstuffs and fuel.
    3. Supplement Poor Law for relief of poor, sick and children.
  12. Those in employment should defray the costs of commodities supplied.
  13. County commissioners can requisition part of dwellings for homeless persons.
  14. County commissioners can’t dispose of any land for local authorities.
  15. Maintain local government services until such time as they are required for vital work.
  16. Decentralised administration will be brought into operation as determined.
  17. County commissioners need to know their stocks and locations.
  18. The county commissioners must liaise locally to make sure everything is in place.
  19. Interfering as little as possible with existing activities.
  20. No hard and fast rules but the greatest measure of discretion.

Department of Supplies, July 1940

click for the role of Des Branningan

Des Brannigan, one of the first crew of Irish Shipping Ltd:

Des Brannigan was presented with the journal which is the main source of this story by Mr Seán Lemass. He is delighted that I am using it to let people know how we coped.

click to enlarge

Photograph of Des Brannigan taken at the Dún Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club, November 2015 by author.

I was very fortunate that Des Brannigan came to one of my illustrated lectures on the Diving Bell that he voted to preserve many years ago. Click here for Cormac Lowth's article on the Dublin Port Diving Bell He came with Shay Page a friend of his son, who is indisposed, but Shay visits Des regularly and brings him to events from time to time.

We owe him a great debt and I hope that telling this story is a way of saying thank you for a long life lived his way but filled with decisions on behalf of people that were fair and just. Des went to sea as a young man on “square riggers” and I was fortunate to hear his life story, many years ago. He reckons he served in every capacity at sea and he became one of Ireland’s first freelance divers, being honoured by the Spanish Government for work done on Armada vessels on the West Coast.

He served on the first ship acquired by Irish Shipping during WW II in 1941. He ended the war on tugs. These were prime targets. He became a very accomplished Seaman’s Union representative and served on the Board of ICTU and was also a Board member of Dublin Port and Docks. He is a former President of the Maritime Institute He negotiated the purchase of the Church in Dún Laoghaire and got the government to pledge a large sum towards its restoration, a job which continued after his time and was completed in 2012.

At 97 Des is in remarkably good health and very aware of happenings in all walks of life. He enjoys a good chat and is quick witted, as ever. I have been fortunate to attend the National Commemoration Day at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham for the past three years and two years ago I met Des there. At one point in the ceremony the RTE camera hovered over Des and the commentator saw him in a wheelchair covered with a blanket on a crisp early July morning. He pointed him out as an old soldier and to be fair the majority of those there were soldiers from North and South as well as those from France and elsewhere. Little did he know that Des was a sailor and one to whom we owe a great deal.

Merchant Navy men, of whom I can be counted, are often the unsung heroes as well as fishermen who brave the deep even in peacetime to bring directly or indirectly our food and foodstuffs and all manner of goods. Let’s hope Des will be around to collect his cheque from the President and keeps enjoying his twilight years.


Each photograph is acknowledged in conjunction with the photograph. Below is a list of references where they occur. The main source is the journal supplied by Des Brannigan and direct quotes from the journal appear in parenthesis in the text.

End of citations

Joe Ryan, 19th March 2016