On 8 January 1901 Joyce performed in the play Cupid’s Confidante at the Antient Concert Rooms on Brunswick Street.
The one-act play, written by Margaret and Hanna Sheehy, had been awarded joint first place in a competition organised by the Literary, Dramatic and Musical Society in 1900. It was first performed in the X. L. Café on Grafton Street on 21 March 1900. Joyce did not appear in the first performance but took the lead male role in 1901 when the play was performed as part of an evening’s entertainment organised by Margaret Sheehy.
The play was a romantic comedy in which Joyce played Geoffrey Fortescue, an adventurer, who is engaged to the wealthy Eva Lambert who has broken with her true lover, Dick Fitzgerald (played by Richard Sheehy). Fortescue’s rakish behaviour is revealed by Helen Cashel, a palmist (played by Margaret Sheehy), and the revelations are overheard by Eva, just in time for her to break her engagement and stop Dick going to Africa. According to his brother Stanislaus, Joyce said that “even the virgin cheeks of his arse blushed for his part in it,” though Stanislaus thought Joyce was not embarrassed at all.
Joyce’s performance was praised by JB Hall in a newspaper article which appeared the following day in the Freeman’s Journal and the Evening Telegraph. Joyce kept a copy of this article in his wallet for some time afterwards, and the article was copied again for Joyce by Nora’s uncle, Michael Healy, at Sylvia Beach’s request in 1928.
Margaret Sheehy was the daughter of David and Bessie Sheehy who lived at 2 Belvedere Place, off Mountjoy Square, just around the corner from where the Joyces lived for a while at Fitzgibbon Street. Joyce had been in school at Belvedere College with Margaret’s brothers Richard, who was in the same year as him, and Eugene, who was a year behind them.
Of the four Sheehy daughters – Margaret, Hanna, Mary and Kathleen – Joyce had a particular affection for Mary who, according to Stanislaus, inspired two of the poems in Chamber Music. Mary later married Joyce’s university friend, Tom Kettle, and Hanna married another friend of Joyce’s, Francis Skeffington.
Joyce was a frequent visitor at the Sheehys’ home, and it was Richard Sheehy who christened him ‘James Disgustin Joyce’ owing to Joyce’s aversion to washing himself. Some of Joyce’s epiphanies are set in the Sheehys’ home and give an interesting picture of the young people’s conversation and entertainment.
Cupid’s Confidante was not Joyce’s first appearance on stage. In his final year in Belvedere, Joyce played the part of the headmaster, Dr Grimstone, in Rose’s stage adaptation of F Anstey’s novel Vice Versa . Joyce’s father claimed to have sung at the Antient Concert Rooms in 1875, and on 27 August 1904 Joyce himself shared the stage there with John McCormack and JC Doyle.
The text of the play, with an introduction by Andrée Sheehy Skeffington, can be found in the James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, Spring 1984, pp. 205-214.