The first recorded use of the name Joyce was Joy in the 13th century State papers. Sometime the name was rendered as Joy, Joyces, Jorz, Jorse, or the standard spelling, Joyce. The Joyces of Mervue were a distinguished branch of the family. Marcus Joyce, a rich merchant who bought land in County Mayo in the late 16th century, was probably the founder of this branch. About a century later, the Joyces emerged as a leading merchant family in Galway. Hardiman states that Joyce’s house was at the corner of Abbeygate Street and Market Street and that this family was head of the name. They were eminent wine merchants.
A son of the family, Matthew, was the first to lease Mervue and his residence is mentioned in two deeds dated 1784. In another deed dated 1784, he acquired property known as ‘Captain Eyre’s Big Garden’ situated in the lower part of Fairgreen outside the East Gate of Galway and he also obtained premises at Fairhill.
Another family member, Walter, was a member of the Irish Volunteers in 1782 and became very active in politics, being one of the leading Galway supporters of Daniel O’Connell. The Joyce family were regarded as very good landlords during the Famine, and donated £1,000 to relief funds. After the Famine, Pierce Joyce bought the Mervue Estate.
In spite of their good record as leading supporters of the Catholic hierarchy, the Joyce family were savagely attacked by the local clergy and Bishop McEvilly during the 1874 election. The hostility came about because the clergy backed Frank Hugh O’Donnell as their candidate against Pierce Joyce junior. O’Donnell won and became the first non-landed candidate (apart from John Orrell Lever ) to win a seat in Galway. The Joyce family were branded as “Aristocratic Catholics who feel humbled that one from the ranks of the people should represent Galway”.
Pierce Joyce was active in Galway life. He was a member of the Grand Jury, of the harbour board, and he was an inspector of prisons from 1879 to 1906, a position which carried a ‘good snug salary’.
The Joyce connection with Mervue House ceased in the middle of the last century. It was eventually sold to Kerry O’Sullivan who converted part of it into a china factory, known as Royal Tara. Extensive damage was caused to the property by a fire in 1957. Our photograph shows the facade of the house as seen c1930.
Most of this information comes from a newly published book entitle Estates and Landed Society in Galway, written by Patrick Melvin. Landowners in County Galway were as diverse and varied as the landscape. The real ascendancy in Galway were families like the Burkes, Blakes, Dalys, Dillons, and Martins, all Irish and Norman rather than the so-called New English landowners, but there were also a number of Catholic gentry and a large network of related Tribal families. This book is a ‘warts and all’ analysis of the county and its landowners, a comprehensive study of the family, social, and political aspects of landowners large and small, including scrutiny and criticism, where appropriate, of their role as landlords. This important volume, the result of many years of research, is a must for anybody interested in Galway history. Available in good bookshops at €75.