The story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce is one of trust, tenderness, faithfulness, and incredible love. It is also one of constant struggle against poverty. The following is a brief synopsis of their lives together, and their small but significant connection with the village of Oughterard.
Thomas Barnacle – James Byrne’s bakery Oughterard
In Galway City on the 21st of March 1884 Nora Barnacle was born to Thomas and Annie Barnacle. Nora’s life started out, as it would continue, in a poor and struggling household. Her father, Thomas, a baker, worked in most of the bakeries in Galway city. In the early 1900’s he came to work in Oughterard as a baker for James Byrne. In Padraic O’Laoi’s book “Nora Barnacle Joyce” Byrne’s daughter Leo describes Thomas as:
“………A very refined, very well behaved and educated man. He was in every sense a gentleman. My father always thought very highly of him and never had the slightest hesitation in leaving us girls under his care.”
Thomas worked and lived with the Byrnes for almost 14 years. The house and bakery are where my family live as it was passed down to my husband. The bakery, separate to the house, is still standing. During his time in Oughterard it is said that Thomas was quite fond of the drink, and there are many humorous stories to collaborate this!
Thomas rarely went home to Galway, and rarely sent money. This was in part the reason why his daughter, Nora, following a family dispute moved to Dublin. Nora, a tall brown-haired girl, was described as a simple, proud, outspoken country girl. On arriving in Dublin she secured work as a chambermaid in Finn’s Hotel. On June 10th 1904 while walking down Nassau Street, Nora met James Joyce.
James Augustine Joyce was born in Dublin on February 2nd 1882. He would become one of the most radical innovators in twentieth century literature, dedicating himself to the exuberant exploration of the total resources of language.
Joyce began his education in 1888 at Clongowes Wood College and graduated from UCD in 1902. Intent on studying medicine, he left for Paris. After a year of poverty, Joyce received a telegram telling him of his mother’s illness and summoning him home. His mother died on August 13th . Joyce spent the next ten months in the habit of regular drinking. He wrote some book reviews for the Daily Express and even thought of making a career as a singer.
Nora was to become the inspiration for much of his work.
On June 10th 1904, Joyce met Nora Barnacle. This meeting was to change the course of both their lives. On the evening of June 16 th they went walking at Ringsend. A decade and half later, the day become “Bloomsday”. It was on that day, as Joyce later told Nora,