James Joyce

James Joyce is one of Ireland’s most famous authors. On 16th June each year, we celebrate Bloomsday with a festival of Joycean events. It commemorates the date he met his later wife, Nora Barnacle in 1904 in the fictional Dublin of Ulysses. Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882 and died in Zurich in 1941, having lived away from Ireland for much of his adult life. Because of this, he appears in remarkably few of our standard Irish records, but I thought we’d take a look anyway.

James Joyce was born on 2nd February 1882 at 41 Brighton Square West in Rathgar, a southside inner suburb of Dublin. His parents were John Stanislaus Joyce, a government clerk, and Mary Murray.

Source:, Dublin South, 1882, GRID: 9997597

I’ve talked before about the concept of negative space when researching ancestors and it’s always most evident with a famous person, because we know so much more about them. For example, James’s extensive wikipedia article notes that he lived in Bray on the Dublin/Wicklow border and attended Clongowes Wood College in Kildare and Belvedere College in Dublin, then University College Dublin. However, what can we find online or offline that proves those points? There are of course many biographies of Joyce but I’m not using them here to keep strictly to records we primarily use in family history research.

Clongowes has an extensive history on their website and they indirectly reference Joyce’s attendance by saying their library is named after him and that he mentions going to the school refectory in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This novel’s protagonist is Stephen Dedalus who is considered Joyce’s fictional alter-ego. Stephen does attend Clongowes and Belvedere in this book. We don’t have the 1891 census of Ireland that might have shown real-life Joyce resident there. Belvedere College directly references Joyce attending their school in a historical timeline. UCD’s history page also mentions he graduated with a BA in 1902.

In 1901, we get to firmer ground and find Joyce’s family in Clontarf, a northside affluent suburb of Dublin.

But this is actually the last easily accessible record of James Joyce in Ireland! His family had moved by 1911 and he’s not with them.

Joyce and Nora moved abroad, mainly living in Switzerland, where they had 2 children. They finally got married in Kensington Registry Office in 1931. UK marriage records can only be purchased as full certified copies costing £12.50, so I didn’t buy this one, but you can see from the matching references in the indexes (using FreeBMD) that this couple appears on the same page of the register. Of course, if they had common names, you could not presume it was the right marriage, but the combination makes it very unlikely that there’s another couple.

Joyce died in Zurich in 1941. Swiss genealogical records seem rather limited online though. Plans were made to repatriate his body but it’s never happened. He’s buried in the Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, along with his wife and one of his children.

Joyce’s impact on the city of Dublin is enormous. He’s got a museum, a statue, a bridge over the Liffey, a Martello Tower, Blooms Hotel (named for Leopold Bloom) and multiple plaques. The Irish navy even has a ship named after him. There are many murals, like this one on Dame Lane.

I’ve tried to read Ulysses a couple of times but found it quite a challenge. Maybe I’ll try Dubliners instead!

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