The first bearer of the name in Ireland was a Thomas de Joise, of Norman Welsh extraction, who married Honora, daughter of the O'Brien Princes of Thomond in 1283, and settled in the far west of Connacht, on the borders of the modern counties of Mayo and Galway. Their son, Mac Mara ("son of the sea") married into the powerful O?Flaherty family and his descendants became completely gaelicised, ruling the territory, today still known as "Joyce's Country", down to the seventeenth century.
The family were prominent in the affairs of Galway city for four centuries, as one of the "Fourteen Tribes of Galway", and provided many mayors of the city. One of the most famous symbols of Galway. the Claddagh ring with its heart clasped by two hands, was designed by a Galway silversmith, William Joyce, who learned his trade as a prisoner of "Barbary" pirates in Algeria at the end of the seventeenth century.
The surname remains strongly associated with the area, with a large majority of Joyces originating in counties Galway and Mayo.
The arms are supposed to originate from the experience of another William Joyce, who took part in the crusades. On his journey home a mysterious eagle is reputed to have shown him where a vast treasure was buried. On the other hand the double-headed eagle is a common heraldic symbol of power.
James Joyce (1882-1941), was descended from a family who settled in Cork in the eighteenth century. Author of Dubliners, The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake,. He was acutely aware of the importance of family, and of the antiquity of his own name and of the arms associated with it. In the Portrait, Stephen tells one of his doubting classmates of the arms registered at Ulster?s Office (now the Genealogical Office) and offers to take him there to show them to him. In Ulysses Joyce depicts his father shouting " Head up! Keep our flag flying! An eagle gules volant in a field argent displayed." In fact the elder Joyce?s rallying call was used most frequently to keep spirits up as the family were forced to abandon yet another home due to unpaid rent. The author?s grandmother was an O?Connell, from the Iveragh peninsula in Kerry, reputedly of the same family as Daniel O?Connell, the Liberator.