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James Joyce's (short lived) medical aspirations!


It’s Bloomsday this Sunday, celebrating the day on which Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) takes place.  RCSI has many Joycean connections, probably the most prominent of which is the appearance in Dubliners (1914) of the clock over the front door of 123 St Stephen’s Green (‘He went as far as the clock of the College of Surgeons: it was on the stroke of ten’).  RCSI Professor and President (and bon viveur) Charles Cameron is one of the real-life people named in Ulysses itself (‘The annual dinner you know.  Boiled shirt affair.  The lord mayor was there… and sir Charles Cameron’).

But did you know that Joyce had originally aspired to a career in medicine?  In April 1902, he enrolled at the Catholic University Medical School in Cecilia Street (now the Temple Bar home of Urban Outfitters).  At the time this School opened, it was unlicensed and unchartered, meaning its students were on the road to receiving essentially worthless qualifications.  But in 1856, RCSI solved the problem by officially recognizing the CUMS’s teaching; thereafter, graduates of the CUMS could call themselves Licentiates of RCSI.

The Catholic University of Ireland, 1855 now Urban Outfitters in Templebar

So was Joyce almost one of our own?  Alas, no – by Joyce’s time, the Royal University, the forerunner of the NUI, had replaced RCSI as the CUMS’s awarding body.

But also, more to the point, the future novelist discovered he had no aptitude for medicine whatsoever.  Particularly disliking his science courses, he dropped out, and soon afterwards left Dublin for Paris, where, somewhat optimistically, he took a handful of classes at the École de Médecine.  But the subjects were no easier in French (au contraire, in fact) and very quickly the dream of ‘Dr’ Joyce came to an end – but medicine’s miniscule loss turned out to be one of literature’s greatest gains.