On 28 August 1937 Joyce wrote to Frank Budgen about the John Joyce pleasure steamer.
Joyce had received a ‘throwaway’ from Dublin advertising coastal cruises aboard a ship called the John Joyce. Joyce made a copy of the leaflet and sent it to Budgen, hoping that Budgen, a former sailor, might be able to find out more about the ship and its name.
The leaflet, issued by Dublin Tenders Limited, advertised a 3-hour coastal cruise on board the pleasure steamer John Joyce, sailing from Victoria Wharf, Dun Laoghaire, weather and other circumstances permitting, at 3.30pm every day except Sunday from Tuesday 17 to Wednesday 25 August 1937. The fare was 2 shillings, or sixpence for children, and refreshments could be obtained on board.
In his letter to Budgen, Joyce refers to the John Joyce as ‘the phantom ship,’ playing on ‘Le Vaisseau fantôme,’ the French title of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman). From Dieppe on 9 September, Joyce wrote again to Budgen to say that he had gone to the British Consulate and checked the Lloyd’s register of ships for 1935, but could find no trace of his ‘phantom ship.’
Budgen could find out nothing more about it, nor could Joyce. In another letter to Budgen on 20 September, Joyce mentioned that he had sent a copy of the advert to his cousin in London, only to hear back from her husband that she had died the day Joyce sent the letter.
Years later, Richard Ellmann received information from T St John Barry, of Independent Television News Ltd in London, that the John Joyce had originally been a Mersey ferry boat. Its original name, the Bluebell, was rejected by the Ferries Committee and the owners renamed it John Joyce after the then chairman of the Ferries Committee.
The John Joyce was sold in November 1936 to a Dublin company, and then sold again to the Cork Harbour Commissioners in 1946. It was renamed the Shandon and was finally broken up in 1952.
Sources & Further Reading:
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.