Patrick Weston Joyce was born the son of Garret Joyce, a scholarly shoemaker, and Elizabeth Dwyer in the Ballyhoura hills on the borders of south-east Limerick and north Cork. One of a Catholic family of eight children, he was reared in the nearby townland of Glenosheen, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, and educated at first in local hedge schools. ‘Weston’ was a family name on his mother’s side. Joyce became a national-school teacher at 18, training in Marlborough St Training College in Dublin. Later he was a model-school teacher in Clonmel and a teacher in west Co Dublin, and in 1856 was one of a group of teachers chosen by the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland to improve the national system of primary schools. He graduated BA from Trinity College Dublin in 1861 and MA in 1863, and was awarded LL.D. in 1870. From 1874 to 1893 he was lecturer in and later an influential principal of the Commissioners’ Training College in Marlborough St, Dublin. He was married to Caroline Waters of Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, and they had seven children. His active engagement in many cultural societies included membership of the Royal Irish Academy, a commissionership for the Publication of the Ancient Laws of Ireland, and the presidency of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. Joyce died 7 January 1914 at his home on Leinster Rd, Rathmines, Dublin, in his 87th year.
Dr Joyce also led an extraordinarily industrious life as a writer and editor. Apart from his publications in Irish music, he produced some thirty works including The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places vols 1–3 (1869, 1875, 1913), Irish Local Names Explained (1870), A Handbook of School Management (1876, which went to 25 editions), Philip’s Handy Atlas of the Counties of Ireland (1881), The Geography of the Counties of Ireland (1883), A Short History of Ireland (1893), Outlines of the History of Ireland (1896), A Child’s History of Ireland (1897), A Reading Book in Irish History (1900), A Social History of Ancient Ireland vols 1–2 (1903), A Concise History of Ireland (1903), A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland (1906), The Story of Ancient Irish Civilisation (1907), English as We Speak it in Ireland (1910), and The Wonders of Ireland and Other Papers on Irish Subjects (1911). Although born in an Irish-speaking district, Joyce was reared and educated in English, and only later learned to read and write Irish, which he taught in Dublin. He was the author of A Grammar of the Irish Language for the Use of Schools (1878), Old Celtic Romances Translated from the Gaelic (1879), and Forus Feasa ar Éirinn. Keating’s History of Ireland… Edited with Gaelic Text (1880), and a Council member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language. Most of his publications went to several editions, some to many, and his history volumes in particular sold in their tens of thousands. Through their influence on readers, teachers and journalists, they played a major part in shaping national thinking on historical and cultural aspects of Irish life in the years before independence. His published work on Irish traditional music was also highly influential.
Patrick Weston Joyce, unlike the earlier important collectors of Irish traditional music Edward Bunting (1773–1840) and George Petrie (c. 1790–1866), came from within a local oral-music tradition and was immersed in it. In this he resembles the other younger nineteenth-century collectors James Goodman (1828–1896) of Co Kerry and Francis O’Neill (1848–1936) of Co Cork and Chicago. His detailed reporting of a living local tradition, from a time when the population of Ireland was at its highest-ever levels and Irish traditional music accordingly was in a flourishing state, gives his work a unique value.
Joyce himself explains that his life-long interest in Irish traditional music began in the 1830s in pre-Famine rural Co Limerick:
'I spent all my early life in a part of the county Limerick where music, singing and dancing were favourite amusements. My home… was a home of music and song: they were in the air of the valley; you heard them everywhere – sung, played, whistled; and they were mixed up with the people’s pastimes, occupations, and daily life. Though we had pipers, fiddlers, fifers, whistlers, and singers of our own, wandering musicians were welcomed: and from every one some choice air or song that struck our fancy was pretty sure to be learned and stored up… As I loved the graceful music of the people from my childhood, their songs, dance tunes, keens, and lullabies remained in my memory, almost without any effort of my own… I had indeed excellent opportunities; for my father's memory was richly stored with popular melodies and songs; and I believe that he never sang or played a tune that I did not learn.'
Language change from Irish to English was under way in the Co Limerick of his childhood; he heard songs in both languages from his father and from his older brother Michael, some of them unique in his experience. Joyce thought the songs in English generally inferior as most songmakers still had a defective grasp of English. He obviously sought out occasions of music: some items he had heard ‘scores of times’, others ‘hundreds of times’, others ‘constantly’. The Munster dance tunes familiar to Joyce were ‘chiefly the Reel, the Double Jig, the Single Jig, the Hop Jig, and the Hornpipe’, and the ‘Set Dance’ and 'various Country Dances', and he had a clear memory of the dances which were performed to them. He was also familiar with the music of keening, faction tunes, and songs appropriate for an American wake, and with printed ballad sheets. Joyce’s oldest source was probably his grandmother, a singer who was born in the early 1760s and lived into her nineties, and who passed on to him at least one melody that she herself had heard from her grandmother, a fiddle player. His music was largely of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with undoubtedly some older pieces.
Joyce inherited the family talent for music, and played it from his youth:
'I attended a science school in Galbally [Co Limerick]. I was the delight and joy of that school; for I generally carried in my pocket a little fife from which I could roll off jigs, reels, hornpipes, hop-jigs, song tunes, &c., without limit... Some dozen or more of the scholars were always in attendance in the mornings half an hour or so before the arrival of the master... and then out came the fife, and they cleared the floor for a dance. It was simply magnificent to see and hear these athletic fellows dancing on the bare boards with their thick-soled well-nailed heavy shoes – so as to shake the whole house... At last in came the master: there was no cessation; and he took his seat, looking on complacently 'till that bout was finished, when I put up my fife, and the serious business of the day was commenced.'
Although he had received his music from oral tradition, by the time he was in his late teens Joyce had learned to read and write music, and in 1844 he began the noting down of tunes and songs from family members and neighbours. Becoming acquainted with published collections of Irish music, he realised that many of his Limerick tunes were unpublished and unknown in Ireland generally, and accordingly in the early 1850s, by which time he was living in Dublin, he began to write down purposefully from memory the melodies of his locality. In this he had come under the influence of the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland which had been formed in Dublin in December 1851 in the aftermath of the Great Famine and in the consciousness of the devastation that it had caused to traditional music culture. Joyce was encouraged by the Society’s president, George Petrie, to contribute to Petrie’s music collections, and to make his own collection. Even at that early stage of Joyce's career, when he was in his mid-twenties, Petrie considered him to be 'one of the most zealous and judicious of the collectors of Irish music'. He published some 20 of Joyce's melodies in his Ancient Music of Ireland of 1855.
To bolster his music memory, Joyce ‘went among the peasantry during vacations, for several successive years, noting down whatever I thought worthy of preserving, both words and music. In this way I gradually accumulated a very large collection’. He began this holiday collecting in his native area in 1852 and continued through to about 1856, music coming from professional fiddle players and uilleann pipers, and from whistlers, and songs from farmers, thatchers and women singers among others. In the same period he occasionally noted down tunes in Dublin and elsewhere from street singers, servants and teaching colleagues, and continued this practice for many years.
The death in 1866 of George Petrie frustrated Joyce in his hope that more of his own tunes would be published by the older collector, and he eventually decided to arrange their publication himself.
His first music collection – Ancient Irish Music: Comprising One Hundred Airs Hitherto Unpublished, Many of the Old Popular Songs, and Several New Songs (Dublin: McGlashan & Gill, etc., ix+104+5 pp.) – appeared in 1873, and drew almost entirely on the music from his childhood and from his 1850s collecting visits to Limerick. Contextual notes in the style of Petrie accompanied each item and his sources were named. The melodies were arranged for piano by JW Glover in line with Joyce’s belief that accompaniments should be extremely simple. The lyrics of the new songs were written by himself and his songwriter younger brother Robert Dwyer Joyce (1830–83).
This work was followed in 1888 by his Irish Music and Song: A Collection of Songs in the Irish Language (Dublin: Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language; M.H. Gill and Son, vi+[ii]+44 pp.), which was drawn largely from printed sources and contained some 20 songs. It is the first collection in which Irish-language songs are set to music, the syllables under the notes, and it was well received by a growing national movement for the revival of the Irish language and its culture. These first two music publications established Joyce as an authority on Irish music, and he later served as a music advisor to the Gaelic League when it established its Oireachtas cultural festival in 1897.
Joyce's slight 1906 third collection, a pamphlet of 7 songs – Irish Peasant Songs in the English Language (London etc.: Longmans, Green & Co; Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, iv+16+ pp.) – was almost entirely a selection of English-language songs from his childhood.
Joyce’s final music publication – his magnum opus in music – appeared in 1909: Old Irish Folk Music and Songs: A Collection of 842 Irish Airs and Songs Hitherto Unpublished (Dublin: Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland; London: Longmans, Green & Co, etc., xxxvi+408+iv pp.). It is presented in four sections: 1 The Joyce Collection (melodies collected and recollected by himself, or sent to him in manuscript from all parts of Ireland); 2 Continuation of the Joyce Collection (Irish folk songs in the English language, with the words set to the proper old Irish airs, the syllables under the notes; most from his childhood recollections, and from his personal collection of ballad sheets); 3 The Forde Collection (selection of melodies collected by William Forde of Cork, 1830s–1850s, edited by Joyce); 4 The Pigot Collection (selection of melodies collected by John Edward Pigot of Dublin, 1840s–1860s, edited by Joyce). The two latter collections had been given to Joyce by relatives of Pigot; in 1910 he donated them to the Library of the Royal Irish Academy where they remain. His collection of ballad sheets is now in the Dublin City Library and Archive. James Joyce, who was influenced in his writings by the published works of PW Joyce, owned at least one of his music publications.
In his editing, PW Joyce, like George Petrie and Francis O’Neill, made changes to the melodies he copied and published, and amalgamated different versions of tunes. These procedures would now be regarded as unscientific, but the collectors were practicing musicians thoroughly familiar with the creative culture of Irish traditional music and may have reasonably considered that they were simply following the playing practices of traditional musicians. Less acceptable currently would be his bowdlerisation of song texts and his substitution of lines of his own.
In the preface to his first publication of 1873, Joyce had said that ‘I will continue to publish [Irish music] as long as I can obtain materials’, and in the preface to his 1909 publication he was, in his early eighties, calling on his readers for the loan of manuscripts that he might examine for his next volume. With undiminished zeal he continued until his death five years later. The manuscripts of this final work, which contain 878 songs and melodies with notes, have remained unpublished in the National Library of Ireland.