In Brief

The "Koehler" mentioned in Nestor's list of people to whom Stephen owes money was a friend of Joyce's named Thomas Goodwin Keohler. All the family used this form of their name, but Joyce apparently liked the German spelling better. In 1914 Thomas and his brother Robert legally changed their names to Keller, probably to avoid association with Germans as the war started. Thomas, nine years older than Joyce, was a writer, musician, and Theosophist who was deeply involved in the Irish Literary Revival. Joyce stayed connected to him all his life, unlike most of his other Dublin friends, and he may have gotten the idea for giving Bloom a job at Hely's stationery business from visiting Keohler at work there.

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Thomas Keohler was born in Belfast in 1873. In 1902 he took a job at Hely's, Ltd. in Dame Street and was still working there more than 40 years later. Throughout these adult years, though, he conducted a parallel literary life. He became involved with the Abbey Theatre, and when the Irish National Theatre opened its new building on Abbey Street in December 1904 he wrote reviews of the inaugural performances for John Eglinton's Dana. He wrote other literary essays for various magazines and newspapers, including Arthur Griffith's United Irishman and later his Sinn Féin.

Keohler also wrote poetry. George Russell (Æ) published five of his lyrics in New Songs: A Lyric Selection (1904), a volume that the librarian, Thomas Lyster, refers to in Scylla and Charybdis: "Mr Russell, rumour has it, is gathering together a sheaf of our younger poets' verses." (The poets were Padraic Colum, Susan Mitchell, Alice Milligan, George Roberts, Eva Gore-Booth, Seumas O'Sullivan, Ella Young, and Koehler.) Soon afterward, Tower Press published Koehler's Songs of a Devotee (1906), a chapbook of 28 lyrics. Joyce owned a signed copy of this volume and held on to it throughout his European moves. Keohler did not publish any more volumes of poetry until, decades later, Timely Utterances (1937) was produced in a limited edition intended only for private distribution.

The slender bulk of Keller's literary output is somewhat deceiving, however, since an obituary in the 27 March 1959 Irish Times noted that he wrote "sometimes under his pseudonym 'Michael Orkney'." In an essay on James Joyce Online Notes, Eamonn Finn and John Simpson survey the works that "Orkney" published in a variety of newspapers and magazines during the seemingly dry years between 1906 and 1937. They include poems, book reviews, short stories, literary essays, essays on music and history, and letters on cultural topics. Joyce was aware of his friend's pseudonymous literary career. Citing Finn Fordham's Lots of Fun at Finnegans Wake (2007), the JJON article notes that on 7 March 1924 Joyce sent to Harriet Shaw Weaver a fragment of Work in Progress that never made it into the Wake which includes the sentence, "Well, there once dwelt a local hermit, Michael Orkney, they say was his name."

Tom Keller died in May 1942, a little more than a year after Joyce. He is buried in the Mount Jerome Cemetery.

JH 2021
Title page of Thomas Keohler's Songs of a Devotee (1906). Source: ww.abebooks.com.
Table of Contents in the same volume. Source: www.abebooks.com.