Emissions from shipping traffic may impact severely upon air quality in port cities. In this study, the size and composition of freshly emitted individual ship exhaust particles has been investigated using an aerosol time-of-flight mass spectrometer (ATOFMS) co-located with a suite of real-time instrumentation at a site in the Port of Cork, Ireland. The collected spectra were clustered using the K-means algorithm and a unique ship exhaust class containing internally mixed elemental and organic carbon, sodium, calcium, iron, vanadium, nickel and sulfate was identified. Over twenty sharp emission events were observed for this particle type during the three week measurement period in August 2008. Coincident increases in mass concentrations of sulfate, elemental carbon and particles below 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) were also observed during these events. Simultaneous scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS) measurements indicate that the vast majority of freshly emitted ship exhaust particles lie in the ultrafine mode (<100 nm diameter). A second particle class consisted of internally mixed organic carbon, elemental carbon, ammonium and sulfate, and is tentatively attributed to aged or regionally transported ship exhaust. The results suggest that ATOFMS single particle mass spectra, when used in conjunction with other air quality monitoring instrumentation, may be useful in determining the contribution of local shipping traffic to air quality in port cities.