Joyce, William Henry (1849/50–1928), policeman and magistrate, was born in Urney, Co. Tyrone, youngest of seven children of John Joyce and Eliza Anne Joyce (maiden name unknown), resident at Beechmount, Ballycolman, Strabane, Co. Tyrone. His father was clerk of the crown for Co. Donegal, based at Lifford, directly adjacent to Strabane. Both parents died in 1852 and the infant William Henry was raised by relatives. He entered the RIC as a cadet in 1868, was appointed 3rd class sub-inspector that November, and was allocated to Co. Cavan in June 1869. He went to Derry in August 1870 to quell Orange disturbances and had similar duties elsewhere in Ulster. He was commended for bringing rioters to justice in June 1871. Joyce was promoted to 2nd class sub-inspector in April 1875. He moved to Galway East Riding in September 1881, gaining experience as a detective before his next transfer to Co. Roscommon in December 1883, the year when sub-inspectors were renamed ‘district inspectors’. Having a good record of ‘exertion’ in his various stations, he was latterly attached to the divisional magistrate's staff.
In January 1888 he was appointed as a temporary RM to assist in working the 1887 crimes act. Later that year he became involved in the government's covert support for The Times, whose ‘Parnellism and crime’ articles had attempted to implicate Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) and others in crimes including the Phoenix Park murders (6 May 1882). During the subsequent special (or ‘Parnell’) commission Joyce compiled evidence to support The Times case, which by extension would damage the home rule–liberal alliance. Joyce had to examine past records and contemporary agrarian outrage for Parnellite links with crime, while police officers and notables as highly placed as the English attorney general were called to appear in London as corroborating witnesses. These activities in aid of The Times were politically scandalous if not illegal. In late February 1889 an unscrupulous journalist, Richard Pigott (qv), admitted he had forged the Parnell Times letters, yet Joyce continued compiling material to smear the Irish party for the commission's report. He was promoted (October 1889) to the modest RIC rank of 1st class district inspector. However, he remained a temporary RM, based at Dublin Castle, looking for Parnellite criminality in the supposedly non-violent Plan of Campaign in rural Ireland. Joyce sought relief from this duty in 1890, again in 1891, increasingly frustrated by lack of official recognition. Promoted routinely within the resident magistracy, he was stationed in a succession of posts throughout the country.
Weakened by ill health (which led to increasing absence from work) and by family disruption, Joyce sank into melancholy. Finally, owing to his apparent want of efficiency, allegedly exacerbated by alcohol, he was forcibly retired on a reduced annual allowance in November 1901. Joyce's family life suffered immensely. He had married (1872) Jane Hawkes Knox, daughter of Roscommon-based RM George Knox. They had three sons and two daughters, whose early comforts turned to distress and tragedy in later life. Joyce campaigned in vain for financial redress. In 1910 his patience snapped when The Times affair resurfaced in parliament and Balfour (by now Conservative leader) disparagingly referred to retired civil servants revealing secrets from their past. Joyce, who retained some documents from the commission period, was enraged and sought to expose the Conservative party/Times scandal, and to embarrass the current leadership in the approach to the third home rule bill crisis (1911–14).
He found the liberal government unwilling to listen, and the Irish party under John Redmond (qv) unwilling to risk its home rule agenda. In 1912–13 Joyce approached more radical nationalists, Eoin MacNeill (qv), founder of the Irish Volunteers, and the retired diplomat Sir Roger Casement (qv), who considered his documents of some propaganda value. Joyce received some financial reward, but war intervened in 1914 and Casement was executed in 1916, leaving the documents hidden and unpublished in New York. Joyce was eventually sent there to assist Sinn Féin in 1920, having lost his wife and a son to illness, most of his livelihood and all of his faith in the British establishment. He wrote ‘Sidelights on British conspiracies’, which was based on his professional knowledge and which, like his documents, remained unpublished.
On his return to Ireland in 1922, civil war and independence consigned his recovered documents to history. Joyce even lost contact with MacNeill, who had supported him financially and who shrewdly made copies (later, Ó Broin's sources) of the documents, now lost. Joyce died in poverty 8 July 1928 at Monkstown Hospital in Co. Dublin, having lived at 2 Crosthwaite Terrace, Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) and before that at 63 Albert Road, Kingstown, Dublin. He was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin.