On 6 April 1893 Joyce started school at Belvedere College.
Joyce had started his formal education with the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in September 1888. However, with the decline in his father’s fortunes, Joyce was taken out of Clongowes in 1891. He spent a period at the O’Connell Christian Brothers’ School on North Richmond Street, before entering III Grammar at Belvedere College on 6 April 1893.
Joyce’s admission to Belvedere came after a chance meeting between John Joyce and Fr John Conmee. Conmee had been Rector at Clongowes when Joyce was a pupil there, and by 1893 he was Dean of Studies at Belvedere. When John Joyce told Conmee that Joyce was now at the Christian Brothers’ School, Conmee apparently offered to have Joyce and his brothers educated free of charge at Belvedere.
Joyce got on well for most of his time at Belvedere, and was highly thought of by some of the teachers, particularly Mr MacErlaine, the French teacher, and George Dempsey, the English teacher, with whom Joyce kept in touch afterwards. Joyce got on less well with the Rector, Fr William Henry, whose mannerisms Joyce parodied in a school play in 1898.
Joyce’s reading during his time at Belvedere developed beyond the school curriculum into works that were to influence his ideas and writing later on. In school, he read Lamb’s Adventures of Ulysses, and picked Ulysses as the subject for an essay entitled ‘My Favourite Hero.’ Joyce also borrowed books from the Capel Street Library, including novels by Thomas Hardy and George Meredith, and GB Shaw’s Quintessence of Ibsenism. While still a pupil at Belvedere, Joyce was writing the pieces he called ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Moods,’ though none of this material is extant. Many of the people and incidents from Joyce’s life during the time he was a pupil at Belvedere became material for his later writings.
Religion played a significant part in Joyce’s life at Belvedere. Joyce joined the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin at Belvedere in December 1895 and was elected Prefect of the Sodality in 1896 and again in 1897. A retreat conducted by Fr James Cullen in 1896 provided some of the material for the ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But Joyce’s religious devotion was compromised by the beginnings of his sexual life, around the age of fourteen, and the increasing conflict led to him abandoning his Catholic religion.
The Joyce family’s fortunes continued their downward spiral while Joyce attended Belvedere, with John Joyce finally obliged to sell his Cork properties in 1894. The family lived at four different addresses between April 1893 and September 1898. Two addresses (Fitzgibbon Street and North Richmond Street) were not far from Belvedere, but the family also lived at addresses in Drumcondra and Fairview.
Joyce also found new friends at Belvedere: Albrecht and Vincent Connolly, and Richard and Eugene Sheehy. The Sheehy’s, sons of MP David Sheehy, lived at Belvedere Place, not far from the Joyce family’s address at Fitzgibbon Street, and Joyce and his brother Stanislaus often spent time at their home. Joyce was closest to Richard Sheehy (who christened Joyce ‘James Disgustin’ Joyce’) but he also became friendly with the sisters Margaret, Kathleen, Mary and Hanna Sheehy.
From Joyce’s time at Clongowes Wood, Fr Conmee knew him to be a good pupil, and this influenced his offer to have Joyce attend free of charge. But Joyce’s exam results at Belvedere were not very consistent. His best results were in languages, and his worst results were in maths and science subjects. Based on information in Richard Ellmann’s biography, these are his percentage results in languages.
Even so, Joyce’s results, particularly in English composition, were often good enough to win him ‘exhibitions’ and cash prizes. In 1894 he won an exhibition worth £20, and in 1895 he won one that paid £20 a year for three years. In 1897 he won a further exhibition of £30 a year for two years, as well as a £3 prize for best essay. Though his results in his final year exams were not very good, he still managed to win a prize of £4 for English.
For a long time, Belvedere College was cautious about acknowledging its famous past-pupil. Nonetheless, the College magazine, the Belvederian, published one of Joyce’s poems in June 1907, though the author was credited only as ‘a past Belvederian.’
Sources & Further Reading:
Bradley, Bruce (SJ): James Joyce’s Schooldays, with Foreword by Richard Ellmann, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1982.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, Stanislaus: My Brother’s Keeper, edited with an Introduction by Richard Ellmann, and Preface by TS Eliot, London: Faber & Faber, 1958.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.