On 8 October 1904 Joyce eloped with Nora Barnacle.
A couple of days after he left the Martello Tower at Sandycove, Joyce heard from Evelyn Gilford of the Midland Scholastic Agency in England that there was a teaching post available at a Berlitz School on the continent. Joyce paid £2 2s to Gilford who, on 4 October, sent Joyce a telegram announcing ‘Appointment Zurich Go Saturday.’
Nora Barnacle agreed to elope with Joyce who now faced the difficulty of raising a minimum of £7 10s to cover the cost of the cheapest fares. Amongst others, Joyce sought money from George Russell, James Cousins, George Roberts, Fred Ryan, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, James Starkey and Lady Gregory over the following days.
Joyce’s father, unaware that Nora Barnacle would be travelling with Joyce, managed to come up with £7, and Lady Gregory sent him another £5 ‘with all good wishes.’ Sheehy Skeffington didn’t give him any money but wrote: ‘You have my best wishes for you welfare, and for that of your companion, which is probably more doubtful that your own.’ Joyce also gave a third story, ‘After the Race,’ to Harry Norman of the Irish Homestead for which he hoped to get paid quickly.
At the last moment, on the day he was due to leave, he sent a message to James Starkey, whose father owned a pharmacy, asking him for ‘1 toothbrush and powder, 1 nail brush, 1 pair of black boots and any coat and vest you have to spare.’ He arranged to meet Starkey at Davy Byrne’s pub that evening, adding: ‘I have absolutely no boots.’
Joyce’s father, his brother Stanislaus and his aunt Josephine all turned out to see him off. Nora was obliged to board the boat separately from Joyce so that John Joyce wouldn’t see her, but it seems a friend of John Joyce’s, Thomas Devin, saw Joyce and Nora together on board and Joyce expected that his father would soon hear that Nora had eloped with him.
Leaving Ireland with Nora was an important moment in Joyce’s life and, with the help of Sylvia Beach, he organised a party to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of their elopement in October 1929. Ten years later, Dr Daniel O’Brien, the Rockefeller Foundation’s representative in Paris, threw a surprise party for Joyce and Nora to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vols II & III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.