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Google the origin of the Joyce name and you will find the story of Thomas de Jorse who fled Wales in 1283 and landed with a fleet of ships in Galway where he married Norah O’Brien a descendant of Brian Boru and founded the Joyce Tribe in Connemara. But what are the origins of the origin story and is it true.

Adrian Martyn in his book Tribes of Galway attributes the first record of this story from James Hardiman in 1820 who translated and summarised an early 1700s Latin History called Genealogica Domini Gregorii Joyes.
We do know from the Battle Abbey Rolls that recorded the companions of William the Conqueror that a Cil de Jort (Lord of Jort) fought for William. It is assumed that this is the same person as Robertus de Jorz who was recorded in the Domesday Book 20 years later as owning land in Nottinghamshire. It has been assumed in many places that Thomas de Jorse was a descendant of his. I cannot find a record of anyone currently carrying the surname of de Jorse or a variant anywhere so this will be difficult to prove.

There were two Bishops of Armagh and one Cardinal with the surname de Jorse who did live in the early 1300’s and there is an assumption that they are descendants of the same family.

However, there are no records of that name from Connemara that have been found for that time frame. We do have are records of Thomas and Hugh Joy in 1289 in Catherskeehaun and Seafin.

Martyn believes that the Joyces of Joyce Country, or Duchasa Seoighe in Gaelic, may have been vassals of the Fitzgeralds who had extensive property in Connacht and have come with them to Ireland from South Wales. He believes that the Joys originally located in Athenry east of Galway City.

In the 1660s Mac Fhirbhisigh recorded that the Joys were derived from Seoigheach, son of Sir Daibhidh mc ri Bretan (Sir Daibhidh son of the king of the Britons). These early pedigrees need to be taken with a little caution because of the lack of written records to confirm the genealogy and a desire sometimes to inflate pedigrees to make the families seem more important. Nonetheless there is evidence that a branch of the Joys moved from Athenry up to the border Country in the North of Connemara.

One thing we can say though is that the YDNA evidence is showing a large cluster of Joyces alive now who descend from a common ancestor sometime around 1000-1200 years ago whose ancestors have genetic origins in Scandinavia. Many of them can trace there known ancestry to Joyces Country. This is not inconsistent with the story of Joyces being of Welsh-Norman origin.

Martyn writes that Seoigheach is the Gaelicised nickname of the old French Joie suggesting that the original name may have been forgotten by his descendants. He speculates that he may be Simon fitz Maurdudd (aka Maredudd) who was recorded in County Tipperary in March 1242. Simon, writes Martyn, is a rare Norman name but is recorded as that for four Joys in Tipperary in the 1300s. Given names were passed on in families it is suggested that these are all members of the same line.

Seoigheach had one son Seoinicin na Gasraighe who had an epithet meaning “of the band of youths”. Martyn states that could indicate that he was a leader of a military company that served the Fitzgeralds in the Craughwell area straddling the north east border with the de Burghs a few miles to the northeast of Loughrea.

Seoinicin na Gasraighe had two sons, Seoinicin who had a son called Tomas, and, Dabhac who had a son called Tomas Ruadh. Martyn believes one of these is the Thomas Joy recorded in 1289.

In the 1200s the Joyes took possession of Partrighe in Lacha and Patrighe in tSleibhe which were then the Central and Western districts of Conmhaicne Cuile Toland occupied by the Fitzgeralds. The settlement of that area and the displacement of the locals by the Joys was probably to ensure the border was protected from the border raids of the Ui Fhlaithbeartaigh (O’Fllaherties) whose feud with the Joyces lasted centuries.

As the Joys became Gaelicised so too did the name which morphed to Clann Seioghe and that area of Connemara came to be known as Duchasa Seoighe a name retained today as Joyce Country To commemorate the family founder each Chief of the clan was given the title Mac Tomas.

In speculating about which Tomas was the founder, Martyn states that Tomas son of Seonicin is recorded as only having five names after him in the genealogies whilst Tomas Ruadh proliferates “with all of the major septs of Clann Seoighe clearly traced back to him.”

He states that perhaps the first Tomas and his descendants remained in Athenry and eventually became that merchant family of Joyces who came to be known as the Joyce Tribe from Galway City.

So how does that fit with the DNA story to date. Certainly the largest identified group does share a common ancestor which following Martyn’s argument is that defined by Seoigheach, son of Sir Daibhidh mc ri Bretan. We also have several other distinct male lines of descent who also now share the surname Joyce and an origin in Connemara. Several of those have markers that indicate origins in the western Isles rather than Scandinavia which is possibly indicative of remnants from the earlier population or with those who came with Tomas Ruadh Seoighe.

We may never be able to prove the legend of Thomas de Jorse but thanks to Martyn’s research we do know that Tomas Ruadh Seoighe occupied Joyces Country around the time of Edward the First which fits the time frame attributed to Thomas de Jorses arrival. His appointment by the Fitzgeralds may indicate that he had a mercenary background, certainly his epithet indicates he was a leader of men. The path from Wales to Ireland was well established in the previous century by Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, the leader of the Norman Invasion of Ireland in the 1150’s and who is perhaps better known as Strongbow.

There is a distinct branch of Joyces from England who do not appear to be related to those with Connemara roots, another branch related to the English Jowsey family and yet another related to a Josse family with roots in Scotland but some suggestion that they may have gone to Scotland via Ireland. So the DNA story is an intriguing one which will continue to raise questions as it provides some answers to what ties us all together.

I am indebted to the work of Adrian Martyn in his book “The Tribes of Galway 1124-1642”, published by Adrian Martyn 2016, and, Brian Anton in his unpublished manuscript “The Family of Walter Joyce, his ancestors, descendants and cousins in Ireland and America” (2016). Both men have written of the early origins of the Joyces in far more detail than I could have. One day I would hope to get permission to publish the entirety of their research on