On 27 August 1904 Joyce sang on stage with John McCormack.
The concert took place on the Saturday evening at the end of Horse Show week, and Joyce shared the stage with John McCormack, JC Doyle, Máire nic Shiubhlaigh and others.
John McCormack had arrived back in Ireland earlier in 1904 after a year’s study in Italy, his prize for winning the gold medal at the Feis Ceoil in 1903. JC Doyle was a baritone who had won a Feis Ceoil singing competition in 1899, and Máire nic Shiubhlaigh was one of the founders of the Irish National Theatre Society and a well-known actress.
Joyce had been rehearsing all week, and had tried out some of his programme in a concert on 22 August. While rehearsing one morning with his accompanist, Eileen Reidy, her mother offered him some refreshment, and Joyce declared he’d like a whiskey! Despite all his preparation, Joyce told Nora that he would be nervous on the night of the concert. The day before the concert, he sent her two tickets, but he was not going to accompany her himself: Joyce’s friend, Vincent Cosgrave, would take her instead.
The concert took place on the last day of Horse Show week, an extremely busy week in Dublin, and the performers played to a full house. The concert was organised by ‘revivalists’ and was accompanied by an exhibition of Irish industries. The artistes were advertised as Agnes Treacy, Olive Barry, Madame Hall, Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh, JC Doyle, James Joyce and John McCormack, and the orchestra (presumably the Exhibition Spring Band) was to be conducted by Eileen Reidy.
The concert was due to start at 8 o’clock but, as Joseph Holloway noted in his account of the evening, it got off to a late start, and there was another long pause after the first item that made the audience restless. To add to the problems, Eileen Reidy left early in the evening, and her substitute was so incompetent that Joyce ended up accompanying himself in his songs.
Joyce sang ‘The Croppy Boy,’ ‘In Her Simplicity,’ and ‘Down by the Salley Gardens,’ and followed with ‘My Love She was Born in the North Countree’ as an encore. According to Holloway, ‘Mr Joyce possesses a light tenor voice, which he is inclined to force on the high notes but sings with artistic emotionalism. One of his selections, “Down by the Salley Gardens,” suited his method best…’ The Freeman’s Journal reviewer commented that Joyce, ‘the possessor of a sweet tenor voice, sang charmingly “The Salley Gardens,” and gave a pathetic rendering of “The Croppy Boy.”’
The concert, in particular the disappearance of Miss Reidy early in the evening, gave Joyce material for the story ‘A Mother.’
Sources & Further Reading:
Curran, Constantine: James Joyce Remembered, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.
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.
Maddox, Brenda: Nora – A Biography of Nora Joyce, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988.