Joyce was billed to sing in a concert in August 1904, and his accompanist was to have been Eileen Reidy. However, for some reason she pulled out just before the concert. Contemporary accounts note that her replacement was so incompetent that Joyce ultimately had to accompany himself.
Joyce wove this experience into A Mother.
Mrs Kearney, the “mother” in Joyce’s story won’t allow her daughter onstage until she has been paid; later she makes her daughter withdraw altogether from the concert after she is enraged by the chaotic organisation of the concert and the attitude of the committee.
Although the mother appears as an unsympathetic and pushy character, it is Joyce’s depiction of the shoddy organisation and cult of mediocrity surrounding the event that accords most closely with his perception of a society in paralysis.
Eileen Reidy, who had studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, received a great deal of favourable press coverage in the early 1900s. She was from a musical family, and both she and her brother William were later to teach in the College of Music (now the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama).
Balfe’s song is mentioned in Dubliners as follows:
“The poor lady [Madam Glynn] sang Killarney in a bodiless, gasping voice, with all the old-fashioned mannerisms of intonation and pronunciation which she believed lent elegance to her singing. She looked as if she had been resurrected from an old stage wardrobe, and the cheapear parts of the hall made fun of her high, wailing notes”.