Dublin City Council has launched a controversial plan to convert the house made famous by the James Joyce The Dead story into a youth hostel, with a campaign group backed by writers such as Sally Rooney, Colm Tóibín and Edna O ‘Brien, saying they would appeal the decision.
The property, at 15 Usher’s Island, was built in 1775 and was once home to Joyce’s great aunts. Known locally as the ‘House of the Dead’, it serves as the backdrop to the Irish writer’s 1914 short story, widely regarded as a form masterpiece.
Dublin City Council passed up the opportunity to purchase the property, which Joyce called a ‘dark and gaunt house on Usher Island’, in 2017, with two private investors, Fergus McCabe and Brian Stynes, who acquired it for € 650,000 (£ 560,000).
When plans to develop the property into a 54-room hostel were revealed in 2019, the backlash was swift. Ninety-nine writers signed a letter against the proposal, including Rooney, O’Brien, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. In a separate letter of objection, Tóibín claimed that the development “would destroy a vital part of Ireland’s cultural history”.
The Irish Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht also opposed the plans, saying they would “undermine, diminish and devalue a universal cultural heritage site of significance and included in the City of Literature designation. of Unesco ”.
“Dublin can build any hotel / hostel room it likes, but if it continues to ignore and demolish its unique cultural heritage, it will wipe out what is left of the city core and not much will be left.” to visitors or even to Dubliners themselves. appreciate, ”John McCourt, a Joycee scholar and member of the Campaign Against Development group, wrote to the Irish Times.
But last Friday, Dublin City Council granted a building permit, concluding that while the building was of “particular interest”, “its current condition is cause for concern and the proposed change in use will be the best way to ensure its conservation in long term”. The developers had also revised plans to omit a contemporary extension to the rear, which had raised fears that the character of the building would be irrevocably changed.
During the Observer’s visit to the property last November, journalist Rory Carroll observed: “All the cries of cultural vandalism, of the taint of the great temple of literature obscure a melancholy fact: the building is already vandalized, already soiled , victim of a century of neglect … it fell into disuse and decay, its roof broken, its interiors ravaged by squatters, the entire building was almost destroyed by fire in the mid-1990s.
McCourt told the Sunday Times on Sunday that the campaign group would file an official appeal to An Bord Pleanala.
“Destroy our literary heritage to build another inn during a beggar pandemic believed,” he says.