Katey Keogh, Assistant at the Volta Cinema, Dublin

O, Milly Bloom, you are my darling.

You are my lookingglass from night to morning.

I’d rather have you without a farthing

Than Katey Keogh with her ass and garden.

(U 4. 287-90)1

Katey Keogh, almost a cliché of a common Irish name used by Bloom in a verse for his daughter Milly, was thought to have been an imaginary character created by Joyce. But it seems she was a real person, a Dubliner, who was in all likelihood known to Joyce.2

Catherine Keogh, Kathleen Keogh, or ‘Katey’ as she was known, was born about 1892 in Dublin, the daughter of Thomas Keogh and his wife Anne Rose (née Doran).3 Both Katey’s parents came from Co. Wexford. The Keogh family are listed in 1901 and 1911 censuses as living at No 23 Thomas Street, Usher’s Quay, Dublin. Thomas Keogh worked as a farrier for the Guinness brewery nearby, and also had a workshop and forge adjacent to his house in Thomas Street.

Katey was one of ten children (five girls and five boys), all born in Dublin City. She is listed in the 1911 census, aged 19, as engaged in tailoring. Described by her family as an attractive girl and ‘a bit of a madam’, she got a position as an assistant at the Volta Cinema (also known as the Volta Electric Theatre) at 45 Mary Street, Dublin.4

From: Vivien Igoe, James Joyce’s Dublin Houses (p. 139)

Joyce was involved with the Volta from October 1909, when he was in negotiations with a syndicate of Triestine businessmen about setting it up as Dublin’s first cinema. The syndicate consisted of Messrs Machnich, Rebez and Novak. The Volta was officially opened on 20 December 1909, with a programme that included ‘The Bewitched Castle’, ‘The First Paris Orphanage’, ‘The Tragic Story of Beatrice Cenci’ and the comedy ‘Devilled Crab’. The show ran from 5 pm until 10 pm daily, going in rotation on the hour. All four were silent films and a string quintet in the background supplied the soundtracks.5

Joyce left for Trieste on 2 January 1910 and had no further connection with the Volta. He left the running of it to his partners. Soon after he left, the Volta was sold to the British Provincial Cinematograph Theatres Ltd. for £1,000, at a loss. Overall, throughout its thirty-nine years as a cinema, it changed hands again, becoming the Lyceum Picture Theatre, and eventually reverted to its original name, before its doors closed finally in 1948.

Katey worked for a time at the Volta Cinema when she was seventeen. It is unknown how long she worked there. She also got her younger brother William a job as an Assistant to projectionist Lenny Collinge. It must have been an exciting place to work - the first cinema in Dublin. Decorated in light blue and crimson, it could seat up to 420 people. Entrance tickets sold from 2d to 6d, depending on the seats.

Courtesy: James Joyce Museum, Dublin

The building was eventually demolished and was replaced by Penneys department store in 1969. On 12 June 2007, a small plaque was unveiled to mark the site of the cinema.

On 18 January 1917 Katey married Joseph Synnott, a soldier, at St Catherine’s Church, near her home at 23 Thomas Street. He lived at 8 Greenmount, Harold’s Cross, where they subsequently lived. They had four sons.

Joseph died on 13 December 1925, aged 31, at the Meath Hospital in Long Lane, Dublin. Katey later married again, to Joseph’s brother, Edward, and they had a daughter. Katey died in New Zealand in 1986, aged 94, and is buried in Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand.

Vivien Igoe


Ancestry; Census of Ireland, Dublin 1901, 1911; The Dublin Evening Telegraph; irishgenealogy.ie; The Irish Times; Keogh, Paula (private correspondence); Rockett, Kevin, Gibbons, Luke and Hill, John, Cinema and Ireland (Croom Helm, 1987); Lover, Samuel, The Songs of Samuel Lover (New York, 1858, 1867); Thom’s Directory 1904


1 When Joyce was in Clongowes Wood College, his childhood friend Eileen Vance, four months older than Joyce and his neighbour in Bray, wrote him a letter with the help of her father James Vance. Joyce remembered everything. It ended with the verse:

Oh, Jimmie Joyce, you are my darling,

You are my looking-glass night and morning.

I’d rather have you without a farthing

Than Harry Newell and his ass and garden.

James Vance adapted the lines from a song by Samuel Lover (1787-1868) in his Legends and Stories of Ireland:

Oh Thady Brady you are my darlin,

You are my looking-glass from night till morning

I love you better without one fardin

Than Brian Gallagher wid house and garden.

Joyce in turn amended the lines from Lover that Bloom used in his verse to Milly (U 4. 287-90)

2 See, for example, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1894), vol. 38 p. 658, which describes four persona of a stock character “Katharine Keogh”: Katharine Keogh (an Irish woman, but really something of a lady, and with rather a nice English-Irish-Dublin accent, but strangely uninformed on the subject of incense and wax candles”), Kate Keogh (“daughter of a landed proprietor in Hibernia, but disappointingly ignorant of Orange politics”), Katie Keogh (“a cousin to the jokes in the comic weeklies”), and Kitty Keogh (“a jolly, all-round Milesian who, the girls think, has no particular feelings, and with whom the boys feel entirely safe”).

3 The fictitious Milly Bloom was born on 15 June 1889, so was about three years older than Katey Keogh.

4 Paula Keogh (private email correspondence: 9 April 2020): “She worked at the Volta when it first opened for a short period and then got her younger brother Willie (William Keogh) a job there as an assistant projectionist. It is here she would have met James Joyce. As far as I know my grandfather never met him. Anecdotally she was a bit of a madam and was very good looking — sadly I’ve not been able to source any pictures yet. I’m asking my other relatives as my father doesn’t remember a lot.”.

5 The Dublin Evening Telegraph for 21 December 1909 (page 2, column 5) carried a review of the final showing at the Volta (quoted in Vivien Igoe James Joyce’s Dublin Houses (p. 138):

“Yesterday, at 45 Mary Street, a most interesting cinematograph exhibition was opened before a large number of invited visitors. The hall in which the display takes place is most admirably equipped for the purpose and has been admirably laid out. Indeed, no expense would appear to have been spared in making the entertainment one deserving of the patronage of the public. Perhaps its special feature is that it is of Italian origin, and is in that respect somewhat out of the ordinary and more conventional forms of such displays. For an initial experiment it was remarkably good, remembering how difficult it is to produce, with absolute completeness, a series of pictures at the first stage of their location in new surroundings; the occasion may be described as having been particularly successful. The chief pictures shown were The First Paris Orphanage, La Pourponniere, and The Tragic Story of Beatrice Cenci. The latter, although very excellent, was hardly as exhilarating a subject as one would desire on the eve of the festive season. But it was very much appreciated and applauded. An excellent little string orchestra played charmingly during the afternoon. Mr James Joyce, who is in charge of the exhibition, has worked apparently indefatigably in its production and deserves to be congratulated on the success of the inaugural exhibition.”

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