Joyce County by Ray Burke

It was a hundred years ago, in 1922, that James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published in Paris. Joyce famously set the novel over the course of a day in Dublin; his connections with Galway, a smaller city on the opposite side of Ireland, are less well known but intriguing in their own right.

Those connections are mainly a result of Joyce’s lifelong relationship with Nora Barnacle. Though he visited Galway just twice, Joyce’s exploration of it continued vicariously through Nora as they settled and resettled in cities around Europe. Anyone who has read ‘The Dead’ will appreciate the richness and resonance of that exploration. But Joyce also wrote about Galway in poetry and in articles for a Trieste newspaper, for example.

Cover and spine of 'Joyce County: Galway and James Joyce' by Ray Burke. Cover is mainly white, with line drawings of Nora Barnacle, James Joyce, and Connemara mountains in the background. The spine is light green, and the border of the cover is green fading into purple. The O in 'Joyce' and 'County' are linked and so appear like Joyce's glasses. At the bottom are the publisher's name, Artisan House, and the text 'Foreword by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland'.Delving into this relationship between writer and place is Ray Burke in his book Joyce County: Galway and James Joyce, recently published in a beautiful revised edition by Connemara-based Artisan House. Long-time readers of this blog will be aware of my interest in Joyce’s writing, and I’m delighted to have worked as copy-editor on this project.

Joyce County, first published in 2016 by Currach Press, now reappears with original illustrations by Raymond Murphy and Joe Boske and around 10,000 words of additional text, the result of ongoing research in the intervening years. From the new foreword by Michael D. Higgins, president of Ireland (and himself a poet and scholar):

The powerful presence of Galway, skilfully tracked and traced in Joyce County, is evident across the writings of James Joyce. In his literature it is a presence that is sometimes a potent catalyst, and at other times a poignant whisper from the past. In his essays and articles it is a rich source of history and humanity, and a microcosm of a world that requires constant interrogation.

We can be deeply grateful to Raymond Burke for this new and revised edition of Joyce County, which so greatly adds to our knowledge of the work of James Joyce and the influences and people that drove it, but above all for the gentle recovery of the sense of place that informed the intimacies and memories of one of Ireland’s most valuable and brilliantly original brave couples, at home and abroad.

Ray Burke brings to Joyce County the skills and experience of his former trades as journalist and news editor. The book is deeply researched, the style accessible and aimed at general readers. Those of you with an interest in or love of Joyce’s work will savour this account of how it was shaped and inspired by the people and places of Galway.

Joyce County was launched this month in the wonderful Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop by Nuala O’Connor, author of Nora (2021), a novelisation of Nora Barnacle’s life with Joyce. You can order Joyce County from Charlie Byrne’s, from Artisan House, or from your local bookshop.

Photo of book launch in Charlie Byrne's Bookshop. In the foreground are a few dozen people, facing away and towards the far end of the room, where author Ray Burke speaks at a lectern. He is flanked by the publishers, bookshop staff, the mayor of Galway, and others. Surrounding everyone are ceiling-high shelves filled with books.

Ray Burke speaks at the launch of ‘Joyce County’ in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, February 2022

2 Responses to Joyce County by Ray Burke

  1. Ed Barrett says:

    Sounds like a must-read.

    I actually owe Joyce huge thanks for opening up Shakespeare to me.

    As a youngster, I’d always had doubts about how many of the poetic allusions being pointed out in Shakespeare were really there, and how many existed only in the imaginations of teachers and other commentators.

    Then I read James Joyce’s Ulysses. It was a struggle – like trying to think someone else’s thought (I guess that’s partly the point); but then I came to the following passage . . .

    . . . probably not best read if you’re about to eat . . .

    “A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting.”

    It knocked me back in my seat – not through revulsion, but because I instantly knew ‘sluggish’ meant both that the bile was moving slowly, and that it looked like a slug; and that that was precisely what Joyce intended.

    And if he meant it, then so did Shakespeare.

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