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'Not my right to interfere with views of the family': Councillors drop James Joyce repatriation bid

Labour councillor Dermot Lacey said he did not regret tabling the motion at the committee meeting.

James Joyce statue in Trieste, Italy where he lived for a period.
James Joyce statue in Trieste, Italy where he lived for a period.
Image: Shutterstock/Harald Florian

COUNCILLORS ON DUBLIN City Council have dropped their bid to bring the remains of iconic Irish author James Joyce back to Ireland following criticism of the proposal. 

At a meeting of the South East Area Committee in October, Labour councillor Dermot Lacey and Fine Gael councillor Paddy McCartan tabled a motion to ask Culture Minister Josepha Madigan and Tánaiste Simon Coveney to make arrangements to have the remains of Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle brought to Dublin. 

The couple is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich, where the writer spent the last years of his life, having first left Ireland for Switzerland in 1904. 

He died in Zurich in 1941, with his wife passing away a decade later in 1951.

The move by the councillors in October prompted criticism from Joyceans such as Senator David Norris who at the time said he “wouldn’t be doing anything to encourage it”. 

Lacey confirmed to TheJournal.ie that he tabled the motion “in good faith” after being advised that repatriation was desired by the Joyce family but has since dropped the motion after realising this isn’t the case. 

“I put the motion down in good faith believing that it is something the family wanted and now understand that’s not quite the case,” he said. 

After gathering information on the author, Lacey believed it was the “right thing to do” but has since reneged on that after he “discovered that it wasn’t the general view”.

Director of the Joyce Foundation last month told TheJournal.ie there would be “resistance” to any attempt to repatriate the Joyce family’s remains. 

He also suggested Joyce’s grandson Stephen Joyce would not be open to the idea. Lacey said he tried to contact Stephen to gather his views after he tabled the motion. 

“I tried on several occasions but I didn’t get through. Someone I knew, who knew Stephen Joyce, gave me his number but said he probably wouldn’t answer but I tried and tried.

“I got some info on Nora Barnacle and it was said there was some interest in repatriation there, but to be honest it’s not my right to interfere in the views of the family,” he said. 

The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said it would not have considered such a request unless it was received by the Joyce family directly. 

James Joyce first left Ireland in 1904 and went on to live in a number of European cities including Trieste in Italy, and later Zurich in Switzerland, where he died in 1941. 

Joyce took issue with the Catholic Church, which had a lot of control in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century, and his novel Ulysses was later effectively banned over what was perceived as explicit scenes in the text. 

Asked if he regretted tabling the motion, Lacey said he did not as the experience opened his eyes to the world of Joycean literature. 

“I don’t to be honest. I made a lot of contact with the Joycean groups that I hadn’t been in touch with before and got good insight into the whole Joycean world of literature.

“I don’t regret tabling it. We tabled an idea and it didn’t travel and that shouldn’t be something to regret.”

At the full council meeting earlier this month, Lacey tabled a motion calling on Culture Minister to intervene in the proposed plans to turn 15 Usher’s Island – which featured in the Joyce short story The Dead – into a hostel, and ensure it remains “for future cultural and artistic use”. 

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The motion passed unanimously and a request will now be made to the Minister Josepha Madigan. 

With reporting from Cónal Thomas. 

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