The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

People on board

Michael Joyce

JOYCE, Michael M.P.

Michael Joyce was born on the 4th September 1851 at Merchants Quay, Limerick to Richard Joyce and Bridget Tubbs, the fourth of ten children. When Bridget died Richard remarried and went on to have four more children. Michael was educated by the Christian Brothers at Sexton Street in Limerick, leaving at the age of fourteen. Both Michael’s father Richard and his father before him were pilots on the river Shannon so it is not surprising that Michael went to sea. In the following years Michael was shipwrecked four times, in the Bay of Biscay, in the Atlantic and twice in the North Sea. In the 1870s he returned to Limerick to serve his apprenticeship as river pilot, gaining his licence in 1878.

That same year Michael married Annie Mahony, whose father was also a river pilot, and they had four children between 1886 and 1895. Very involved in local affairs he was one of the founding members of the Limerick branch of the National League and played rugby for Garryowen and Limerick County.

When the 1898 Local Government Act widened the franchise for local elections Michael Joyce stood as a Labour candidate for Limerick Corporation and was elected in 1899, heading the poll in his ward. In the 1900 general election Joyce stood as a candidate for the Irish Parliamentary Party and won an overwhelming majority over his Unionist opponent.

For the next two decades Michael Joyce served as an Alderman on Limerick Corporation, was Mayor for two years, 1905-06, and was M.P. for Limerick to the Westminster Parliament. A ‘Constitutional Nationalist’, opposed to change by force, Michael Joyce’s nickname in parliament was ‘Admiral’. He was a member of the Marine Advisory Committee which steered through the Pilotage Act in 1913, at the same time being a member of Limerick Harbour Board.

In 1914 his son Joseph, also a river pilot, died at the age of twenty two of peritonitis. His eldest son, Richard, had emigrated to the U.S. and fought in France with the 165th U.S. Regiment, serving between October 1917 and September 1918. He was severely wounded in action in July 1918 and received an honourable discharge in December 1918.

On the 10th October 1918 Michael Joyce was returning to London on the RMS Leinster when it was sunk. Because of his position as M.P. he was interviewed by many newspapers after the event. He said that he was in the smoking room of the ship when the torpedo hit and he immediately put on a life jacket. He gave assistance in lowering a lifeboat and subsequently found a place in one which went on to take several people off life rafts. They were later taken on board a naval vessel. His maritime experiences helped him, but he nevertheless he said that “he had never had such a trying experience as this.”

Michael Joyce did not stand for re-election to Westminster in December 1918 and he retired from Limerick Harbour Board in 1920. He remained active in the Limerick community for the following two decades, dying at his home ‘The Moorings’, O’Connell Avenue on the 9th December 1940 at the age of eighty nine. The Limerick Leader published a long obituary outlining all his achievements and giving a detailed account of his early shipwrecks. His wife Annie, aged eighty eight,  died the following year in Dublin, in the home of their eldest daughter, and both are buried in Mount St Lawrence cemetery in Limerick.



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