Joyce, Robert Dwyer (1830–83), doctor and poet, was born at Glenosheen, Co. Limerick, son of Garrett Joyce, a shoemaker, and his wife Elizabeth Joyce (née O'Dwyer) of Keale, Co. Limerick. Educated locally, he entered the service of the commissioners of national education and trained as a teacher; he followed in the footsteps of his brother Patrick Weston Joyce (qv) by becoming principal of the Clonmel Mechanics' Institute, but resigned in 1857 to enter Queen's College, Cork, where he graduated Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1865. Interested in nationalist politics, he contributed to the Nation (under the pseudonym ‘Feardana’) after it was revived in 1849, and also to the Irish People (under the pseudonym ‘Merulan’) between 1863 and 1865. He wrote song lyrics and his first collection of songs and ballads was published in 1861, while he was still a student, as Ballads of Irish chivalry. He was appointed (1866) professor of English literature in the Catholic University of Ireland and was also elected member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA).
Disappointed by the failure of the Fenian rising in 1867, Joyce emigrated to America the following year, where he lectured at Harvard Medical School and became friends with leading Irish nationalists, including John Devoy (qv). Around this time he wrote a novel, The squire of Castletown, which was published serially in the Irishman. He also took a keen interest in military matters and became colonel of a local militia regiment, hoping to use this knowledge in a future attempt to win Irish freedom. His interest in Irish affairs remained constant: Michael Davitt (qv), for example, admitted that the night before he launched the ‘New Departure’ (a loose alliance between the Land League, Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the home rule party) in 1878 he discussed it with Joyce. In Boston, Joyce published two volumes of Irish prose tales, Legends of the wars in Ireland (1868) and Irish fireside tales (1871). In 1876 he published his epic poem Deirdre, which ran to 250 pages and sold 10,000 copies, and which received much critical acclaim. This was followed by a second epic, Blanid, in 1879. His ballads ‘The blacksmith of Limerick’ and ‘The boys of Wexford’ are among his most popular works.
In September 1883, his health in decline, he returned to Ireland. He died 24 October 1883 at his brother's house at 18 Leinster Road West, Rathmines, Dublin, and was buried at Glasnevin cemetery. It appears he had been married but there are no details about his wife. The nationalist John O'Leary (qv) wrote of Joyce: ‘He was, since Scott, the most objective of English-writing poets. He was mostly historical, and nearly always warlike’ (O'Duffy, 41).