Save James Joyce's 'House of the Dead' (Usher's Island) from becoming a tourist hostel.

Save James Joyce's 'House of the Dead' (Usher's Island) from becoming a tourist hostel.

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Cáit Murphy started this petition to An Bord pleanala and

We, as students, teachers, readers, and writers, object to the development of 15, Usher's Island into a hostel. This petition is just one of many efforts and other petitions from scholars, students, and readers to prevent this tragedy. 

The Georgian townhouse at 15, Usher's Island, Dublin is a culturally significant site as the setting of James Joyce's short story, 'The Dead', which appears as the final work in Dubliners (first published in 1914). 'The Dead' is considered by many critics as one of the finest short fiction works in English literature.

In the 1890s, Joyce's maternal great-aunts ran a music school in the four-storey house (originally built c. 1775). Joyce attended festive gatherings at this house, inspiring the Feast of the Epiphany dinner in 'The Dead'. In Joyce's story, Gabriel Conroy attends a dinner with his wife, Gretta, at his aunts' music school. The Morkan sisters host a splendid evening, during which themes of art, death, the passing of time, and colonialism feature in conversation and on Gabriel's mind. Significant literary devices such as free indirect discourse and themes of marriage and loss appear again in Ulysses (1922), considered one of the greatest modern works in the English language. 

As John Huston's final film before his death and an adaptation of Joyce's story, The Dead (1987) is a pensive examination of mortality, spaces, and time and is set in 15, Usher's Island. 

The house's rooms and period furnishings, such as the staircase, bannisters, and other features remain the same as they were in Joyce's time. A hostel would change this time capsule irreparably, damaging its rare, historic state.

Serious attempts were made to revitalise the house as a place for Joyceans to celebrate the story: "A Joyce-loving barrister, Brendan Kilty, bought and tried to rescue it. He refurbished the ground floor, restored period decor, hosted literary events and reenacted the Christmas dinner scene, only to end up filing for bankruptcy and selling the property in 2017." (Rory Carroll, The Guardian, 3 Nov, 2019). 

"The council and the Office of Public Work, after all, had ample opportunity to buy the protected property that Joyce called the “dark gaunt house on Usher’s Island” when it came on the market two years ago. They didn’t. Instead two private investors, Fergus McCabe and Brian Stynes, snapped it up for €650,000 (£560,000)." (Carroll, The Guardian). 

"Planning permission has been granted to turn Joyce’s house of ‘The Dead’ into a 56-bed hostel despite objections from leading cultural figures at home and abroad, from the Department of Culture and Heritage, An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, the Irish Georgian Society, the Heritage Council, and from city councillor, Fianna Fail’s Deirdre Conroy, who is also an architectural historian. In granting permission for the hostel conversion and the installation of ‘a platform lift on front elevation’ as well as other substantial changes that will irreparably alter the building’s interior (which remains today exactly as Joyce described it in “The Dead”), Dublin City Council ignores all objections and does not deign to acknowledge the house’s Joyce connection." (John McCourt, The Irish Times, 19 Oct, 2020)

"If this redevelopment is allowed to go ahead, it will disfigure one of the most famous settings in modern literature." (McCourt, The Irish Times).

A petition, drafted by McCourt and Colm Tóibín, was signed in Autumn of 2019 by many of the world's leading writers, including Salman Rushdie and Edna O'Brien, and by the notable figures in Joyce studies.  

This petition objects to the development of yet another hotel or hostel in Dublin, in a building which could easily become a museum or at least open to the public, and indeed tourists, in some capacity. With the demolition of the O'Rahilly House in Herbert Park in late September, many feel there is an active aggression from private investors towards sites of historical and literary importance in Dublin, while a degree of passivity is shown on the governmental level. Dublin is a UNESCO city of literature, but visibly does not support the living structures in Joyce's work and life which helped bestow that honour upon the city.

"It is time for the government to intervene along with Dublin City Council to block this short-sighted hostel project and to explore ways of acquiring the Joyce house on Usher’s island as a crucial landmark which could, with relative ease, be turned into a museum celebrating Joyce and ‘The Dead’, celebrating Joyce’s Dubliners, a museum interconnected with the National Library, Moli, the Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street, and Sweny’s pharmacy. The house has major tourist potential in an area of town that badly needs a lift." (McCourt, The Irish Times)

This disregard for the house represents, on a wider level, the implicit contempt which exists for the arts and artists in Ireland, a country which Joyce enacted self-imposed exile from. Joyce's themes of national stagnation and self-sabotage proliferate today. 

An effort to remove Joyce's remains from Zurich to be buried here in Ireland, without his family who lie with him, was a misjudged one, likely planned to boost tourism. Thankfully, this has not gone ahead. The writer never expressed his wish to be buried here. As McCourt has highlighted, "when Joyce died in Zurich in January 1941, having made enquiries about whether or not he died a Catholic (he didn’t), De Valera’s government pointedly refused to send any diplomatic representatives to his funeral. Later, when Nora expressed a willingness to allow the repatriation of his remains, the offer was turned down by then Minister for External Affairs, Seán MacBride." (McCourt, The Irish Times, 23 Oct, 2019)

More effort should be put into maintaining the elements of Joyce's life and work which still exist, namely 15, Usher's Island. Although Joyce's bodily presence is not felt here in Dublin, many of the buildings and streets which formed the structures and spaces in his works remain. Our greatest writer, perhaps after Jonathan Swift, is certainly deserving of more respect.

As students, teachers, readers, and writers, we demand that further action be taken against the loss of this house to individual gain and to structural damage. This house belongs to readers, to the city, and to the Dubliners who form the heart of Joyce's work. This is a call for interest, not further apathy, from the Government, Dublin City Council, and other influential organisations. 

"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." 

Le meas,

Cáit Murphy, Senior Sophister English Literature and Film Studies student, Trinity College Dublin (20 Oct, 2020). 






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