On this day…5 December

On 5 December 1903 Joyce met Thomas Kelly about his plan for a newspaper.

The newspaper was a joint project of Joyce and Francis Skeffington, and Joyce met with the wealthy American Thomas Kelly in the hope of getting him to give financial backing to the project. In the end, the project came to nothing.

In November 1903 Joyce discussed with his friend Francis Skeffington the idea of establishing a new daily newspaper for Dublin. It was to be styled on continental newspapers and was to be more literary than political, but would also include discussion of general issues of interest to Skeffington such as emancipation of women, pacifism, and socialism.

The paper was to be called the Goblin, and Joyce estimated that they would need about £2,000 to set it up, and he hoped to get the money from Thomas Hughes Kelly. Kelly (1865-1933) was an American Catholic businessman and millionaire, son of the banker Eugene Kelly and his second wife Margaret Hughes. At the time, Kelly was living in Ireland and had recently given Padraic Colum a grant on condition that he live among the people and write about them.

Joyce met with Kelly on 5 December to discuss the project with him, and it seems that Kelly was, at least initially, interested in the idea. Joyce told Skeffington after the meeting: ‘I think I’m coming into my kingdom.’ A few days later, Joyce walked the 20km from Dublin to Celbridge, Co. Kildare, to visit Castletown House which Kelly was renting at the time. However, Joyce was not expected, and the gatekeeper refused to allow him to enter, and so Joyce had to trudge all the way back to Dublin without getting to see Kelly.

Peeved at being slighted in this manner, Joyce wrote to Kelly complaining, and Kelly responded with two telegrams in which he apologised for Joyce not being admitted. However, he also told Joyce that he could not put up the £2,000 that he and Skeffington wanted, and so the Goblin project came to an end.

There is a reference to asking a capitalist for two thousand pounds for a project in Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist,’ and the incident of the walk to Celbridge and back is mentioned in Stanislaus Joyce’s My Brother’s Keeper.

Kelly’s father Eugene (1808-1894) left Ireland in 1835 and made his money in the dry goods business in New York before moving into banking. Thomas Kelly maintained his connections with Ireland and was later Treasurer of the Friends of Irish Freedom, an American fundraising organisation aimed at encouraging and assisting Irish freedom.

Padraic Colum wrote a poem ‘In Memory of Thomas Hughes Kelly’ after Kelly’s death in 1933. In his memoirs of Joyce, Colum writes of the Goblin project and of Kelly (though he doesn’t mention him by name), but Colum seemed to think that Joyce and Kelly had never met until he introduced them to each other in his apartment in Paris many years later.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Joyce, James: Poems and Shorter Writings, edited by Richard Ellmann, A Walton Litz, & John Whittier-Ferguson, London: Faber & Faber, 1991.

Matthews, Terence: ‘Second Emendation to the Joycean Canon: L’Air Majestueux: Joyce and the New Emperor of the Sahara,’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, Spring 2011.

Colum, Mary & Padraic: Our Friend James Joyce, London: Gollancz, 1959.