Erin's King

Erin's King

In Brief

The Erin's King, mentioned in five chapters of Ulysses, was a paddlewheel steamship used for sightseeing excursions in Dublin Bay from 1891 to 1900. For one shilling, tourists could sail around the Kish Lightship east of Dublin, steam over to Ireland's Eye on the other side of the Howth peninsula, and then return to Dublin. The trip took about two hours.

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According to a brief article on the Afloat website (, the Heather Bell was built in 1865 by T. Vernon & Son of Liverpool and served as a ferry on the River Mersey between Liverpool and Wallasey. In 1891 a man named Ward bought the ship, renamed it Erin's King, and put it to use as a seagoing cruise ship. (It seems likely that Mr. Ward was a Parnellite, since Charles Stewart Parnell, whose downfall as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party came in 1891, was known as "Erin's uncrowned king"––a phrase that Bloom recalls in Eumaeus.) Gifford writes that the ship sailed from the Custom House quay several times a day in the summer. Slote, however, quotes from an ad in the 10 June 1897 Freeman's Journal announcing only one departure on June 11 and two on June 12, a Saturday. The Lloyd's Register of 1901 records that the ship was scrapped the year before.

In Calypso Bloom remembers the "Damned old tub pitching about," but Milly did not suffer the fate of those "lovely seaside girls"–– seasickness. In Nausicaa he reflects that her spirits contrasted with those of the adults on the ship: "Day we went for the pleasure cruise in the Erin's King.... Drunkards out to shake up their livers. Puking overboard to feed the herrings. Nausea. And the women, fear of God in their faces. Milly, no sign of funk. Her blue scarf loose, laughing. Don't know what death is at that age." The memory comes back one last time in Eumaeus: "the Irish lights, Kish and others, liable to capsize at any moment, rounding which he once with his daughter had experienced some remarkably choppy, not to say stormy, weather."

Bloom also recalls the ship in Lestrygonians, after he throws a crumpled paper into the Liffey to see if the gulls will go for it: "the day I threw that stale cake out of the Erin's King picked it up in the wake fifty yards astern." In Circe the ship floats into view under her own steam, independent of human memories: "(Far out in the bay between Bailey and Kish lights the Erin's King sails, sending a broadening plume of coalsmoke from her funnel towards the land.)"

John Hunt 2023

The Heather Bell operating as a ferry, pre-1891. Source: