On this day…15 September

On 15 September 1904 Joyce left the Martello Tower in Sandycove.

Having arrived to stay at the Martello Tower on Friday 9 September, Joyce left it abruptly in the early hours of Thursday 15 September, and did not return. This final break with Gogarty also seemed to have confirmed Joyce’s determination to leave Ireland as quickly as possible.

Whatever had drawn Joyce and Gogarty together when they met first in December 1902 seems, by 1904, to have dissipated into suspicion and distrust. Though Gogarty intended the Martello Tower as a new omphalos, a centre of new creativity, in which Joyce would figure, it seems clear that Joyce was reluctant to become involved.

Even so, the immediate cause of Joyce’s departure from the Tower was an incident during the night of 14-15 September. Samuel Chenevix Trench, whom Gogarty had known at Oxford and who was also staying in the Tower at the time, had a nightmare involving a black panther. Roused, he took his revolver and fired off a shot, much to Joyce’s discomfort. Trench went back to sleep, but the nightmare returned. This time, Gogarty took the gun and fired off shots into the pots and pans hanging over Joyce’s bed. Joyce dressed and quickly left the Tower.

It was too early in the morning for any transport, and Joyce was obliged to walk the eight miles into the city. He was waiting at the door of the National Library when it opened, and he told librarian William Magee (who wrote under the name John Eglinton) what had happened at the Tower.

Later that day, Joyce wrote a letter to his friend James Starkey (Seumas O’Sullivan), asking him to pack his trunk at the Tower so that it could be collected the following day. Joyce carefully listed all the items he wanted Starkey to pack into the trunk, including two pairs of boots, two caps and a hat, a raincoat, and the rolled-up manuscript of his verses which Starkey would find on a shelf. Joyce also asked him to ensure that Gogarty hadn’t removed the twelfth chapter of Joyce’s Stephen Hero, and to tie the trunk closed with a piece of rope as it had no lock.

Joyce met Nora as usual on the evening of 15 September, and writing to her the next day he made it clear that he saw himself as being alone in his fight against religious and social forces in Ireland, adding that he saw no naturalness or honesty, no life, in Ireland. It’s clear that Joyce was now determined to leave Ireland as quickly as possible taking Nora with him.

Gogarty continued to live at the Tower for some time after Joyce left, and continued to pay the rent there until 1925. Michael Scott, the architect, who built his home just below the Tower, campaigned for many years for it to become a museum, and on Bloomsday 1962 Sylvia Beach officially opened the Joyce Museum there.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Gogarty, Oliver St John: It Isn’t This Time of Year at All – An Unpremeditated Autobiography, London: Sphere Books, 1983 (1954).

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

Nicholson, Robert: The Ulysses Guide – Tours Through Joyce’s Dublin, Dublin: New Island, 2002.