Joyce, John Stanislaus (1849–1931), businessman, civil servant, and father of James Joyce (qv), was born 4 July 1849 in Cork city, the only son of James Augustine Joyce, a minor corporation official, born in Fermoy, Co. Cork, and his wife Ellen (née O'Connell), a distant relation of Daniel O'Connell (qv), a connection of some importance both to John Stanislaus and James Joyce. The branch of the Joyce family to which John Joyce belonged had originated in the Joyce country in Connemara, reaching Fermoy by way of Lixnaw, Co. Kerry, and Athlacca, Co. Limerick. John Stanislaus Joyce was (so his father claimed) the only son of an only son of an only son. His father died at Cork on 28 October 1866. His mother, having lived with her son in Dublin for some years, died in Cork on 27 June 1881.
John Joyce was educated at Fermoy College, privately in Cork city, and at QCC, where he studied medicine, but left without a degree. In the summer of 1873 he moved with his mother to Dublin, where he was involved as an investor and company secretary with the Dublin Distillery Company in Chapelizod (the setting in part for Finnegans wake). Though this business collapsed, he was later involved in other companies, including a mineral water company. He was for a time secretary of the United Liberal Club in Dublin, and worked for the return of liberal candidates in Dublin in the general election of April 1880. Through political influence he obtained a post in the collector general's office as a rates collector in Dublin.
He married (5 May 1880) May Murray, daughter of a publican, originally from Longford, with premises in Terenure, south Dublin. She was a devout catholic and a talented singer. They had a large family, only ten of whom survived childhood. James Joyce was the eldest surviving son, born in 1882. John shared with his wife a genuine interest in music, especially opera, which they passed on to their son James. The family were in comfortable circumstances till about 1894, when debts, loans, and difficulties at work led to John Joyce retiring on pension.
The fall of John Joyce coincided with the political fall and death of C. S. Parnell (qv), whom John Joyce (and his son) vigorously supported. John took little interest in active politics after this, even after the Irish Party reunited. The family moved from their comfortable middle-class life to more difficult circumstances on the north side of Dublin. John Joyce attempted to establish a business as an accountant, but this failed. He worked from time to time on various jobs, such as voter registration in Westmeath, but his family seem to have known little of his activities outside the house. Though money was very limited, their homes were respectable enough up to the death of Mrs Joyce on 13 August 1903. This proved to be another major upheaval in the life of the family, which now broke up. His daughters left for convents or work. His son James went abroad with Nora Barnacle (qv) in the autumn of 1904. John saw him again only in 1909, 1910, and 1912. On these visits to Ireland James Joyce collected much useful material from his observations of his father's small social circle in and around the quays, which he used in Ulysses.
At this time John Joyce worked for George Lidwell, a solicitor, who died in 1916. The rising effectively destroyed his social world, and thereafter, though still a familiar figure on the city streets, he lived in retirement in increasing ill health. In 1923 his son James arranged for Patrick Tuohy (qv) to paint a remarkable portrait of him, exhibited at the Tailteann games the following year as ‘A portrait of a Dublin gentleman’. This portrait, now recognised as an important work of Irish art, is in the poetry/rare books collection of the State University of New York at Buffalo.
He was living in lodgings at Claude Road, Drumcondra, when he fell ill; he died in the Whitworth Hospital on 29 December 1931. He was survived by three sons and four daughters, the remnants of what had been even by Victorian standards a large family of some fifteen or more children. In his will he left £665. 0s. 9d. to his son James; nothing to the rest of his children. He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery in the same grave as his wife and first-born son.
Much of the detailed lore of Dublin life deployed in James Joyce's books comes from his father. The debt was one he recognised and honoured, attempting to have a memorial bench erected in Dublin to his father. This was finally put in place in 1966 on St Stephen's Green by some admirers of both men. Some of John Joyce's letters survive in various collections of Joyce MSS; some are in The collected letters of James Joyce (1956–66). The biography by Wyse Jackson and Costello (London and New York, 1997) provides a full account of the ascertainable facts and sources.