The West of Ireland is known far and wide for its intrinsic link to the country’s most prominent literary names, having set the scene for some of the greats to come to fruition. Looking at the smallest house on Bowling Green today, you couldn’t imagine that such a tiny building could have held the magnificent woman who inspired some of James Joyce’s very best work, Nora Barnacle.
Claiming to be the smallest museum in Ireland, Nora Barnacle House was the family home from 1894 to 1940 and has since become a relic of local historical interest in an ever-advancing area. Filled with memorabilia of days gone by, this faithfully restored building has quite the history so without further ado, let’s look back to the 1800s…
Behind the bright blue door of the Bowling Green home, a young Nora Barnacle and her six siblings enjoyed a life of simple pleasures. Food was cooked over an open fire, water was sourced from a nearby pump and sleeping arrangements were divided between two communal bedrooms. A far cry from the luxuries we are used to now, this was the norm back at the turn of the turn of the twentieth century.
Back then, the street was a mostly male-dominated area filled with soldiers, farmers, butchers and carters due to its proximity to the military barracks and surrounding abattoirs. Calling Bowling Green home until 1904, Nora set off for Dublin and so began her great love affair with the inimitable James Joyce.
Quickly becoming his lover and muse, the pair soon welcomed two beautiful children - Georgio and Lucia - before returning to Galway in August 1909 to meet the mother-in-law, Annie Barnacle. Falling in love with the family home and the streets of Galway that his partner once called home, Joyce embraced the city and returned soon after for a three-week getaway in 1912.
Nora Barnacle paid her last visit to her childhood home in 1922 at the age of 38, with her mother remaining on Bowling Green until her eventual passing in 1940. After this point, the house remained derelict for the best part of two decades until it was purchased by Mary and Sheila Gallagher in 1987 and lovingly revived to its former glory. Today, a commemorative plaque indicates the building’s importance and on the rare occasion they open to the public, photographs and correspondence between the two can be found within. Nora's legacy grew even more with the creation of Nora's Irish Gin from Tigh Nora, both named after this famous Galway figure.
As for Nora and James, they eventually tied the knot in 1931 and continued their passionate love affair until Joyce’s death in 1941. Ten years later, Nora Barnacle passed away in Zurich at the age of 67. Decades later, their relationship remains one of the most noteworthy in Irish history.
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Photo of Bowling Green and St Nicholas' Church courtesy of William Murphy on Flickr