J. C. Doyle

J. C. Doyle

In Brief

In Calypso Molly tells her husband that she will be performing Là ci darem la mano with baritone "J. C. Doyle." Later, in Hades, Bloom says that "we'll have all topnobbers. J. C. Doyle and John MacCormack I hope and. The best, in fact." Today Doyle is not half so well known as the famous tenor John McCormack, but in his day he ranked among the most highly regarded Irish musicians, and he helped promote the younger man's career when McCormack was starting out. By putting these two formidable singers on a stage with Molly, Joyce was recreating a glorious moment from his own past in August 1904.

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John C. Doyle was born in Dublin in 1866, the same year as the fictional Leopold Bloom. Gifford notes that he "won the award at the 1899 Feis Ceoil," an annual Dublin music festival established in 1897 that is still held today. Vivien Igoe records that Doyle made a career in the Telegraphs Office of the General Post Office, avoiding the risks of a full-time singing career in order to support a wife and eight children. But he "sang at concerts, soirées, and salons in Dublin and other parts of the country, and also performed in England and Scotland. With his fine voice and his matinée-idol good looks, Pathé described him as 'the darling of the Irish concert platform'." Slote notes that he also sang at the Carmelite Church on Whitefriars Street from 1901 until his retirement in 1936.

On 22 August 1904 Joyce invited Nora to hear him sing at an afternoon concert. Then, Ellmann observes, "he was invited to share the platform at the Antient Concert Rooms with John McCormack and J. C. Doyle on August 27, the last night of the Horse Show Week. It was the high point of his musical career." One reviewer described the concert's disastrously poor organization, which gave Joyce material for "A Mother": when his accompanist left early (as Kathleen Kearney does in the Dubliners story) and her replacement proved incompetent, "one of the vocalists, Mr. James A. Joyce, had to sit down at the piano and accompany himself in the song In Her Simplicity, after she had made several unsuccessful attempts to strum out The Croppy Boy, the item programmed over the singer's name....Mr. Joyce possesses a light tenor voice, which he is inclined to force on the high notes but sings with artistic emotionalism" (168).

A review in the Freeman's Journal, also quoted in Ellmann's biography, gave a less mixed impression of the event, noting that "Mr. J. C. Doyle sang a number of songs in first-rate style....Mr. James A. Joyce, the possessor of a sweet tenor voice, sang charmingly The Sally Gardens, and gave a pathetic rendering of The Croppy Boy....Mr. J. F. M'Cormack was the hero of the evening. It was announced as his last public appearance in Ireland, and the evident feeling of the audience at the parting seemed to unnerve him a good deal" (168n). Nora was greatly impressed with her lover, and would tell people for years that "Jim should have stuck to music instead of bothering with writing" (169). Instead, he transferred his triumph to Molly, giving readers a high impression of the quality of her singing by associating her with Doyle and McCormack.

Thanks to Vincent Altman O'Connor for uploading to Youtube the recording of Doyle's singing posted here.

JH 2021
1904 photographic portrait of J. C. Doyle, held in the National Library of Ireland. Source: Igoe, Real People.