Nora Barnacle was born in the city of Galway, but the day of her birth is uncertain. Depending on the source, it varies between 21 and 24 March 1884. Her birth certificate, which gives her first name as “Norah,” is dated 21 March. Her father Thomas Barnacle, a baker in Connemara, was an illiterate man who was 38 years old when Nora was born. Her mother, Annie Honoria Healy, was 28 and worked as a dressmaker.
Between 1886 and 1889, Nora was sent to live with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Mortimer Healy. During these years, she started her studies at a convent, eventually graduating from a national school in 1891. In 1896, Nora completed her schooling and began to work as a porteress and laundress. In the same year, her mother threw her father out for drinking and the couple separated. Nora went to live with her mother and her uncle, Tom Healy, at No.4 Bowling Green, Galway City.
In 1896, Nora fell in love with a teenager named Michael Feeney, who died soon after of typhoid and pneumonia. In a dramatic but unrelated coincidence, another boy loved by Nora, Michael Bodkin, died in 1900, bringing her the name of “man-killer” from her friends. Joyce later based the final short story in Dubliners, The Dead, on these incidents. It was rumoured that she sought solace from her friend, budding English theatre starlet, Laura London, who introduced her to a Protestant named Willie Mulvagh. In 1903, she left Galway after her uncle learned of the affair and dubious friendship. She went to Dublin where she worked as a chambermaid at Finn’s Hotel.
While in Dublin, she met Joyce on 10 June 1904, but it was not until 16 June that they had their first romantic liaison. This date would later be chosen as the setting for Joyce’s novel Ulysses, and has come to be known and celebrated around the world as Bloomsday. The 1904 rendezvous began a long relationship that eventually led to marriage in 1931 and continued until Joyce’s death.