On 30 May 1910 Joyce’s uncle John Murray died.
John Murray, known as ‘Red,’ was one of Joyce’s three maternal uncles. Though he was asthmatic, his death came as a shock to the family. On hearing the news, Joyce wrote to his aunt Lillie, John’s wife, to offer his condolences.
John Murray had worked in the accounts department of the Freeman’s Journal, and appears under the name Red Murray in Ulysses. He is the first person Bloom meets when he enters the print works of the Freeman’s Journal in the ‘Aeolus’ episode. Murray cuts out Keyes’ advertisement for Bloom, and suggests that the paper could offer Keyes a ‘par’ if he wants.
John Stanislaus Joyce, who did not like his brothers-in-law, told a story about how he was walking with John Murray one day near the Fifteen Acres in the Phoenix Park when a charge of cavalry came towards them. Murray made to run for the trees but John Joyce held him back and the cavalry were obliged to divide and ride around them as they stood their ground. Apparently the commander ordered the soldiers to salute John Joyce with their sabres.
According to Stanislaus Joyce, Murray was a reformed drunkard and atheist, despite occasional lapses. It was John Murray who, after May Joyce had lost consciousness and the assembled family knelt to pray for her, ordered Joyce and Stanislaus to kneel and pray for their mother. Both refused to do so.
Murray’s own marriage was unhappy and this was another target for John Joyce’s sarcasm, but despite John Joyce’s disdain for his brothers-in-law, he allowed John Murray to stand as godfather for two of his children, Margaret and George.
For Joyce, his uncle John was a source of material for Dubliners, and John and his brother William were the models for brothers Joe and Alphy in the story ‘Clay.’ John’s brother William, married to Josephine Giltrap, was the model for the character Richie Goulding. The third brother emigrated to England.
When Joyce visited Dublin in 1909 with his son Giorgio, he took the time to visit John and Lillie Murray. In the letter of condolence Joyce wrote to Lillie on 3 June 1910, he remembers John Murray’s friendliness and hospitality during that visit.
Sources& Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Jackson, John Wyse, & Peter Costello: John Stanislaus Joyce – The Voluminous Life and Genius of James Joyce’s Father, London: Fourth Estate, 1997.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Joyce, Stanislaus: My Brother’s Keeper, edited with an Introduction by Richard Ellmann, Preface by TS Eliot, London: Faber & Faber, 1958.