Emily Lyons sets sail for Boston

Joyce’s notes for Exiles contain a reference to Emily Lyons, a close friend of Nora Barnacle from Galway days. Nothing is known about Emily other than what Joyce tells us. A note sheet entry for the Penelope episode identifies Emily as the model for Hester Stanhope, Molly's departing friend in Gibraltar: "Emily Lyons emigrant" (Herring, Notesheets, 498).

Joyce paints a moving picture of Emily’s departure from Galway, and we see Nora and Emily sharing in the ‘pain of separation’:

It is the quay of Galway Harbour on a bright morning. The emigrant ship is going away and Emily, her dark friend, stands on the deck going out to America. They kiss and cry bitterly. But she believes that some day her dark[-complexioned] friend will come back as she promises. […] The girl is older than she and has no lover. She too has no lover. Her sadness is brief. She is alone, friendless in her grandmother's garden and can see the garden, lonely now, in which the day before she played with her friend.1

Nora’s parents had a steadily growing family, and it was her grandmother Catherine Healy who brought Nora up, as Vivien Igoe explains:

Possibly due to overcrowding, and to ease the burden on her mother, Nora was fostered at an early age by her maternal grandmother, Mrs Catherine Healy, who lived in St Augustine Street with her son Thomas.2

Catherine died in early 1897, and so the events described by Joyce must precede this.

On Saturday 24 August 1895 passenger records show that Emily D. Lyons set sail on the Allan Line’s SS Peruvian for Boston. The ship had started its long journey in Glasgow, putting in at Moville in County Donegal to collect more passengers, and finally calling at Galway City before setting out across the ocean.

Emily was one of 240 listed passengers, travelling in "Steerage". The manifest of ‘alien immigrants’ compiled for the journey (ancestry.com) states that Emily was fourteen years of age, a domestic [servant], could read and write, and that her address prior to the journey was “Abbeygate Street, Galway”. Her passage was paid by her mother, and she was sailing out to stay with her mother at 272 Commercial Street (near the waterfront) in Boston. She states that she has not visited the United States of America before.

We can correlate this information with the details that Joyce gives us. Emily is “the older girl”: Nora was born in March 1884 and the ship’s manifest states that in August 1895 Emily is fourteen years of age, and so was born around 1880 - before Nora.

The ship leaves from Galway Harbour (local newspapers of the time, such as the Tuam Herald, regularly advertised these sailings on their front page), and is an emigrant ship bound for ‘America’. The ship leaves in late August 1895, over a year before the death of Nora’s grandmother Catherine, in whose garden Emily and Nora had played on the previous day.

Galway City by the Docks: reproduced by kind permission of Vivien Igoe

(James Joyce's Dublin Houses and Nora Barnacle's Galway: 1997, p. 84)

Emily lived in Abbeygate Street. This forms a junction with St Augustine Street in Galway City, where Nora lived with her grandmother – and is in fact right in the area of Galway where Nora’s parents lived for most of their married life. Early in their marriage they had lived in Lower Abbeygate Street.

There seems little doubt that Emily Lyons of Abbeygate Street is the friend of Nora’s that Joyce describes in the Exiles notes.

Nora believes that one day her friend will return. There is a record of an Emily Lyons from Galway travelling out to stay with her mother in Boston on the SS Saxonia from Queenstown in May 1905 (ancestry.com). This Emily is a servant aged 25, unmarried, and she states that she has visited the United States before, in 1893 and 1904. Her mother lives at 1117 Hallison (= Harrison?) Avenue, Boston, south of Mrs Lyons’ address in 1895. Further work would be needed to clarify this, but it is possible that Nora’s friend did return to Galway – at least temporarily - after the trauma of separation described by Joyce.

John Simpson


1 James Joyce, Exiles (Penguin: Harmondsworth 1973), pp. 154-5.

2 Vivien Igoe, James Joyce’s Dublin Houses and Nora Barnacle's Galway (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1997), ch. 4, p. 87.

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