Joyce, Patrick Weston (1827–1914), educationalist, historian, linguist, translator, and collector of folk music, was born in Ballyorgan, Co. Limerick, one of the eight sons of Garrett Joyce, a shoemaker known locally as ‘Garrett the Scholar’ for his knowledge of poetry and religion, and his wife, Elizabeth (O'Dwyer), of Keale, Co. Limerick. By 1830 his family had settled in the nearby village of Glenosheen, where his brother Robert Dwyer Joyce (qv) was born. Joyce attended hedge schools in Fanningstown, Kilmallock, Galbally, and Mitchelstown, where he studied a diverse curriculum of science, grammar, history, and the classics. In 1845 he was employed as a teacher with the Commission of National Education, and his obvious ability quickly gained him promotion to the position of principal of the Clonmel Mechanics' Institute (1850–1) and then to the position of principal of the West Dublin Model School (1851–6).
Joyce was one of fifteen teachers selected in 1856 by the commission to reorganise the national school system, and in the course of this work he moved to Dublin, where he studied at TCD, graduating BA (1861) and MA (1864). His extensive teaching experience was utilised in the publication of several educational textbooks, the most influential being A handbook for school management (1863), which ran to twenty-five editions and remained for many years a key text in training colleges. He also published course-books for children, notably The geography of the counties of Ireland (1883) and A child's history of Ireland (1898). The latter sold more than 86,000 copies and was adopted as a textbook by catholic institutions in Australia, New Zealand, and America. Joyce's achievements as an educationalist were recognised by an honorary LLD from Trinity (1870) and in his subsequent appointment as principal of the Commissioner's Training College, Marlborough Street, Dublin (1874–93).
Despite his distinguished professional career, Joyce is now remembered chiefly for his considerable contribution to Irish culture, his passion for which originated in his early childhood in Glenosheen. In all, he published some thirty books on Irish music, history, literature, folklore, topography, and language. In the early 1850s he collaborated with George Petrie (qv) in the preservation of traditional songs, contributing some twenty airs to the latter's anthology The ancient music of Ireland (1855). Joyce continued this conservation project, and published four collections of traditional Irish music, among them Ancient Irish music (1872) and Old Irish folk music and songs (1909). He produced several volumes of Irish history, notably A short history of Ireland to 1608 (1893) and A social history of ancient Ireland (1903), as well as a translation of early Irish myths, Old Celtic romances (1879), which was used by Tennyson in ‘The voyage of Maeldune’. He was particularly acclaimed for his enduring topographical work The origin and history of Irish names of places (3 vols, 1869–70) and his pioneering linguistic study of modern Hiberno-English, English as we speak it in Ireland (1910). Ancillary to these interests, Joyce became involved with various cultural institutions: he was a member (1863) and councillor (1884–5) of the RIA, and worked for the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language from its inception in December 1876. He also served on the commission for the publication of the Brehon Laws and was president of the RSAI (1906–8).
In 1856 Joyce married Caroline Waters of Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, with whom he had two daughters and three sons, one of whom was the author Weston St John Joyce. He died 7 January 1914 at his home, Barnalee, Rathmines, and was buried two days later in Glasnevin cemetery.