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Nora Barnacle House Museum

Nora Barnacle (March 1884 – April 10, 1951) was the muse and wife of Irish author James Joyce.

House in Galway
This terrace house is located in Galway City opposite of St Nicholas Church. It was built in the late 1800s and was home to James Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle. Joyce also spent considerable time here when he was writing in the 20th century. The building has been restored, but it’s admittedly showing some signs of wear.

The house itself is modest even by family standards, and it’s actually the smallest museum in Ireland. Barnacle lived here in the early 1900s with her mother and six siblings. They made do with two rooms and a tiny garden. The room on the ground floor served as a kitchen, a dining and—more often than not—a bedroom as well.

Nora Barnacle was Joyce’s muse, and her childhood home has been converted to a memorial of their relationship. Today, it’s filled with memorabilia, including photographs of the couple and the correspondence they exchanged, along with a few other exhibits exploring the couples’ lives and time together.

Early life

Nora Barnacle was born in the city of Galway, Ireland, but the day of her birth is uncertain. Depending on the source, it varies between 21 and 24 March 1884. Her birth certificate, which gives her first name as "Norah," is dated 21 March. Her father Thomas Barnacle, a baker in Connemara, was an illiterate man who was 38 years old when Nora was born. Her mother, Annie Honoria Healy, was 28 and worked as a dressmaker.

Between 1886 and 1889, Barnacle's parents sent her to live with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Mortimer Healy. During these years, she began studies at a convent, eventually graduating from a national school in 1891. In 1896, Barnacle completed her schooling and began to work as a porteress and laundress. In the same year, her mother threw her father out for drinking, and the couple separated. Barnacle went to live with her mother and her uncle, Tom Healy, at No.4 Bowling Green, Galway City.

In 1896, at age 12, Barnacle fell in love with a teenager named Michael Feeney, who died soon after of typhoid and pneumonia. In a dramatic coincidence, another boy she loved, Michael Bodkin, died in 1900—causing some of her friends to call her "man-killer." Joyce later based the final short story in Dubliners, The Dead, on these incidents. It was rumoured that she sought comfort from her friend, budding English theatre starlet, Laura London, who introduced her to a Protestant named Willie Mulvagh. In 1903, she left Galway after her uncle learned of the affair and friendship, and went to Dublin where she worked as a chambermaid at Finn's Hotel (later the name of the hotel was used as the title for a posthumously-published collection of ten short narrative pieces written Joyce, Finn's Hotel, in 2013.

Relationship with Joyce

Barnacle had met Joyce on 10 June 1904 while still in Dublin, and they had their first romantic liaison on 16 June. Joyce later chose 16 June 1904 as the date for the setting for his novel Ulysses, and the date has come to be known and celebrated around the world as Bloomsday. The 1904 rendezvous began a long relationship that eventually led to marriage in 1931, and continued until Joyce's death.

Barnacle and Joyce's relationship was complex. They had different personalities, tastes, and cultural interests. The numerous erotic letters they exchanged suggest they loved each other passionately at the beginning of their relationship. Joyce seems to have admired and trusted her, and Barnacle clearly loved Joyce and trusted him enough to agree to leave Ireland with him for the Continent. In anticipation of the move to Paris, she began studying French, and Barnacle cooked English puddings at Joyce's request during their travels.

In 1904, Barnacle and Joyce left Ireland for continental Europe, and the following year set up house in Trieste (at that time in Austria-Hungary). On 27 June 1905, Nora Barnacle gave birth to a son, Giorgio, and later to a daughter, Lucia, on 26 July 1907. A miscarriage in 1908 coincided with the beginning of a difficult time for both. Though she remained by his side, she complained to her sister both about his personal qualities and his writings.

In these letters to her sister, she says he drinks too much and wastes too much money. As for his literary activity, she laments that his writings are obscure and lacking in sense. She was always fiercely proud of him, although she occasionally expresses impatience at his meetings with other artists and admits she would have preferred him had he been a musician—in his youth, he was a talented singer—rather than a writer.

Lucia's mental illness, which became acute in the early 1930s, posed another challenge to the couple's relationship. Barnacle believed the condition required hospitalisation, which Joyce opposed. They brought in many specialists, and Lucia was for a time the patient of Carl Jung. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to a clinic in 1936. Her father visited her there often, but not her mother. Barnacle would refuse to see her daughter ever again.



Nora Barnacle House Museum Nora Barnacle House Museum

Later life and death

After Joyce's death in Zurich in 1941, Nora decided to remain there. She died in Zurich of acute renal failure in 1951, at age 67.

Maddox biography

In 1988, Nora Barnacle was the subject of a biography by Brenda Maddox, Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom.