On this day…8 August

On 8 August 1909 Joyce visited John Francis Byrne at 7 Eccles Street.

In fact, Joyce had already visited Byrne at Eccles Street shortly after his arrival in Dublin. But the occasion for his second visit was the claim that Vincent Cosgrave had made to Joyce on 6 August, that he had been seeing Nora at the same time as Joyce in the summer of 1904. Distraught, Joyce went to Byrne to tell him what Cosgrave had said.

Byrne lived at 7 Eccles Street from 1908 until April 1910 with his cousins, Mary and Cicely Fleming. It was Byrne’s last Dublin address before he emigrated from Ireland to America. Byrne’s memoir Silent Years was first published in 1953, before Joyce’s letters or other information about his personal life had been published, and Byrne discreetly does not say exactly what it was that brought Joyce to Eccles Street on 8 August, though he does say it was nothing to do with his literary work or his business affairs.

Byrne claimed that he had always known that Joyce was highly emotional, but he had never seen him in such a frightening condition before: Joyce wept and groaned as he told Byrne that Cosgrave had claimed to be going out with Nora at the same time as Joyce during the summer of 1904. “Never in my life have I seen a human being more shattered,” wrote Byrne in his memoir.

Whatever Byrne knew or thought about what had gone on in 1904, he told Joyce that it was a “blasted lie” that Cosgrave was going out with Nora at the time. Writing to Stanislaus on 21 August Joyce added that Byrne had told him that Cosgrave and Gogarty had colluded in concocting the story, and that Cosgrave lied to Joyce for the sake of half a crown.

Joyce was as convinced by Byrne’s version of things as he had been on 6 August by Cosgrave’s version. He stayed at 7 Eccles Street for dinner and supper and spent the night there. The next morning, he left the house after breakfast only to return later in the afternoon to show Byrne a necklace with five linked pieces of ivory that he had bought for Nora.

In his book, Byrne goes on to detail some other elements from his meetings with Joyce in 1909 that became material for Ulysses. For instance Bloom’s height and weight are those of Byrne at that time, and the escapade with Bloom climbing over the railings at 7 Eccles Street in Ulysses happened to Byrne when he and Joyce returned from a walk around the city towards the end of Joyce’s visit.

The choice of 7 Eccles Street as the home address of Leopold Bloom and his family in Ulysses is also certainly the result of Byrne’s reassurances to Joyce there on 8 August 1909.

 

Sources & Further Reading:

Byrne, JF: Silent Years – An Autobiography with Memoirs of James Joyce and Our Ireland, New York: Octagon Books, 1975.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

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