Killery Harbour and Joyce Country

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume II, Chapter IX-4 | Start of chapter

From Westport to the HEAD OF KILLERY HARBOUR the road follows the coast, presenting fine views of the island of Grana Uaile and the opposite shores of Achill. The country commencing here, and lying immediately south, is inhabited by a "race of giants," the Joyces, who have given their name to a large district. Jack Joyce is its reigning king, and a visit to this personage is a necessary part of every western tour. Mr. Inglis says, "the Joyces are a large race, but Jack Joyce is huge, even among them. He is as near akin to a giant as a man can well be without being every bit a giant. In height, breadth, muscle, and general aspect, he is like a man—if not of another race—the descendant of another race. Jack Joyce looks upon himself as the greatest man for many a mile round; as a sort of king of that country, Joyce's Country, as indeed he is. King Dan is a very inferior person to him there. But beware, reader! and address this individual in some phraseology more respectful than by the name he commonly bears. The salutation 'How are you, Jack! or Jack Joyce, my fine fellow, how do you do?' might be followed by an uncourteous reception. But Jack Joyce is really worth conversing with; he is a shrewd, intelligent, plain-spoken man; but not, of course, induced to favour with his conversation those who do not pay him the respect to which he thinks himself entitled." Perhaps a fairer judgment of Joyce's proportions may be got from a writer who is himself of a height and size which might, in his youthful days have fitted him to be an "ugly customer" to Jack—the author of the Tour in Connaught. He thus describes his visit to the giant:—

"I was determined to go and renew my acquaintance with my big friend, whom twelve years ago I found in all his might and glory as 'mine host,' at the head of the Killery—so I drove up to Jack's door, and inquired for Mr. Joyce, and was answered by a very tall young woman, not uncomely, who informed me that Mr. Joyce was within, but that as he had been out all night after cattle on the hills, he was on the bed asleep, but his daughter (for such she was) said, that if I desired it she would call him. I certainly did not like to go away without seeing BIG Jack, so he was called up, and as he came, loose, unclean, and frouzy, certainly my giant did not appear to advantage; for somehow or other, I had let my imagination play the rogue with my judgment, and magnify my retrospect with regard to this man.

"The first time I saw him (as I say), about twelve years ago, he made his appearance just as I drove up to his door, bouncing over the wall that divided the potato-garden from the front of his house, and I think a finer specimen of a strong man, tall, and yet well-proportioned, I could not conceive. Such do not look as tall as they really are. The great bullet-head, covered with crisp curls, the short bull-neck, the broad square shoulders, the massive chest all open and hirsute, the comparatively small sinewy loins, and pillar-like limbs, all bone and muscle. Milo, of Crotona, might have shaken hands with him as a brother, and the gifted sculptor of the Farnese Hercules might have selected Jack as his lay-figure. Such was my beau ideal of Mr. Joyce, from what I recollected of him since my former visit. But now, though I acknowledged the identity, yet certainly the man was greatly changed—but still, though I am sure my fancy had been playing tricks, he yet was tall, stout, and able; but I am sure I know fifty English and Irishmen just as large. Having called for some liquor—reader, I hope you will believe me, not to drink, but just to put mine host in good humour—Jack and I got into chat, and, to be sure, he was full of the hard usage of the attorney who had put him out of Leenane; but he said he had got where he was a large and good farm, and all he wished was to see the head landlord, the Provost of Trinity College, who was cheated entirely, entirely, by his middlemen, such as attorney R—— and others; but if he could but once get a sight of his great reverence, he would show him how acres, and hundreds of acres, we kept from him.

"Upon acquainting him that I had the honour of an intimate acquaintance with the greatest of all possible men, EXCEPT LORD LEITRIM, you may suppose he was mighty civil; and taking advantage of that desire to please, I endeavoured to get from him an account of his family, but he really could not tell anything about them: he seemed to think that size was not so much the characteristic of the tribe or name as of his own immediate family; and to show me that he had not been the means of any degeneracy, he whistled to his son, who was in a distant field, who came at the call, and certainly a taller and more comely stripling, of about twenty years of age, I have not seen. He was at least six feet four inches in height, and I am sure, if fed on animal food as an English farmer's son would be, he would prove a grand specimen of the human race. I left big Jack and his big family, receiving from them a thousand thanks for promising to introduce him to the notice of the new provost.

"On my road towards Leenane, I met some persons with whom I entered into conversation about the neighbourhood and about Jack Joyce. I found that he was not a favourite, that he was too apt to resort to his strength to settle disputes, when the fist he threw into the balance made the scale descend in his own favour. Indeed, he acknowledged to me on a former visit, that, as a justice of the peace was a great way off, he used to settle differences amongst the neighbours by taking the parties at variance by the nape of the neck, and battering their heads together until they consented to shake hands and drink a pint of potteen together, which, of course, it was Jack's office to furnish for a consideration."