In Brief

In his list of creditors in Nestor Stephen recalls that he owes "Curran" a quite large sum: "ten guineas." Constantine Curran, "Con" or "Conn" to his friends, was a friend to Joyce from their university days until the end of Joyce's life. Of the ten college-age acquaintances in the list, he is one of seven represented under their own names. The other three––Mulligan, McCann, and Temple––are fictive names for actual acquaintances.

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Curran was born in Dublin on 30 January 1883, nearly one year later than Joyce. The two met at University College, Dublin in 1899. Curran received a B.A. degree from the institution in 1902 and an M.A. in 1906. He studied law and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced. Instead he took a job in the Accountant General's office of the Four Courts, and in 1946 he became Registrar of the Supreme Court. He also studied Dublin's architecture, particularly its plasterwork, and published three books on those topics in 1945, 1953, and 1967. He married actress, costume designer, and political activist Helen Laird in 1913, and the two held celebrated cultural salons on Wednesday afternoons at their home on Garville Avenue.

In 1904 Curran was living at his parents' house just off the North Circular Road, near the Christian Brothers school on North Richmond Street. It was in the garden of that house that he took a famous photograph of Joyce standing with his hands in his pants pockets, a yachting cap on his head. Asked what he was thinking when Curran posed him, Joyce replied, "I was wondering would he lend me five shillings." Curran did lend him money on many occasions.

Ellmann writes of this "goodhearted" man that Joyce "in the course of his lifetime was to owe Curran a great many kindnesses" (63). In 1904, "Thanks to C. P. Curran, he was able to pay something down at Piggott's and had a grand piano delivered" (151). In the same year "Curran made him several small loans with uncomplaining generosity" (162). After calling The Holy Office "an unholy thing," Curran "mollified him with a little money" (165). In 1905 Joyce wrote to Stanislaus about the birth of his son "and asked him to borrow a pound from Curran to help pay expenses" (204). In 1912, when he was desperately urging George Roberts to publish Dubliners after three years of delays, "Curran proved friendly and willing to speak to Roberts on his behalf" (329).

Gordon Bowker, in his "New Biography," glances at Curran's many loans to Joyce, as in the following sentence: "Now that the 'harshness of his situation' was revealed, Joyce invited himself to Curran's office (he worked for the Accountant General) hinting that he was 'in a bloody hole', and ready as ever to take a loan if offered" (124). But he devotes more attention to the kindnesses that Curran did Joyce later in life, including the assistance that he provided to Lucia. When Joyce died, Curran published an obituary in the Irish Times showing that his devotion proceeded not only from Christian kindness but also from a clearheaded assessment of Joyce's genius: "His later life belongs to world literature, where his influence has been as widespread, as profound and as disruptive as that of Picasso in painting. He was as great a master of English prose as Yeats was of English verse—that is to say, he was one of the two greatest figures in contemporary English literature" (535).

In 1968 this goodnatured and intelligent man published a memoir of his lifelong friend titled James Joyce Remembered. A new edition of the book, with scholarly apparatus and many illustrations, is being released this year by the University College Dublin Press and the University of Chicago Press.

John Hunt 2022
Detail of Curran in a photograh of students and faculty members at University College, Dublin ca. 1900 (click to see entire photo). Source:
Photograph of Joyce taken by Curran in 1904. Source: Ellmann, James Joyce.
Constantine Curran in later life. Source: