Nora Barnacle


Unknown photographer
Nora Barnacle, ca. 1915–1920
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, the State University of New York


The relationship between James Joyce and Nora Barnacle is a great romance. Nora was born in Galway in the west of Ireland in 1884. One day, on the 10th of June 1904, she bumped into James Joyce on a street in Dublin. They looked at one another, they spoke, and they arranged to meet four days later, outside the childhood home of the writer Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square in Dublin. But Nora did not turn up, so Joyce left her a note at the rooming house where she worked, Finn's Hotel, and he met again on the sixteenth of June, the date on which Ulysses is set. And later, James Joyce would tell his lifetime companion, “You made me a man.”

Joyce and Nora Barnacle left Ireland together in 1904. They had two children, Georgio in 1905 and Lucia in 1907. Though the couple described themselves as husband and wife, in fact, they did not marry until 1931. Joyce used Nora's personality, indeed, and her background in the west of Ireland for the character of Greta Conroy in his story The Dead. But I think perhaps, more importantly, he incorporated her frankness, her sensuality, and indeed, some of her ways of speaking and writing into the figure of Molly Bloom in Ulysses. Nora barnacle died in Zurich in 1951.