Nan Joyce was born in 1940 in Tipperary. Joyce (née O’Donoghue) was the second eldest in a family of 11 children and was brought up travelling the roads of Ireland with her family. She married when she was 16 and had 10 children who grew up between Tallaght, Finglas, Coolock and Belfast.
In 1982 Joyce co-founded the Committee for the Rights of Travellers and became the first member of the Traveller Community to stand for election in the history of the State. She ran as a candidate in the November 1982 general election in the Dublin South-West constituency and polled 581 votes. It was reported at the time that she was unable to actually vote in the election as she was not on the register.
Like many others in the Traveller community, she was not on the register and thus not entitled to a vote because of her life on the road. In 1988 Joyce’s autobiography, Traveller, was published by Gill and Macmillan. Her writing was later included in the women writers’ volumes of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. In 2010, Joyce was awarded a lifetime achievement award by then-president Mary McAleese for her campaigning work for the Traveller community over the previous three decades (The Irish Times).