A Brief Encounter between Joyce and Yeats

When James Joyce met W.B. Yeats

A significant literary encounter made possible by travelling via Holyhead.


When James Joyce left Ireland for exile in continental Europe, he passed through Holyhead, taking the train from there to Euston. The poem W.B. Yeats, already a great success in London, had heard from his friend Lady Gregory about the talented and impoverished young writer named James Joyce, suggesting to Yeats that he ‘should write and ask him to breakfast with you on the morning he arrives, if you can get up early enough, and feed him and take care of him.’

Duly instructed, on around the 25th November, Yeats wrote to ‘my dear Joyce’:

I have just heard from Lady Gregory about your plan of going to Paris to study. It seems that you leave Dublin Monday night, and cross to Paris Tuesday night. If I am right I hope you will breakfast with me on Tuesday morning. I shall set my alarm clock and be ready for you as soon as the train gets in. You can lie down on my sofa afterwards and sleep off the fatigue of the journey. You can dine with me and catch your Paris train afterwards.

Yeats lived in a rented flat in Woburn buildings, a short walk across the Euston Road from the train station. He managed to get up early enough to meet Joyce from the 6am train on the following Tuesday, looking after the younger man and setting him on his way to Paris.