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Plans to turn James Joyce House of the Dead into a hostel put on hold by council

The house was the setting of Joyce’s famous short story The Dead.

James Joyce House of the Dead.
James Joyce House of the Dead.

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL has put on hold contentious plans to turn James Joyce’s House of the Dead on Dublin’s quays into a 56-bed hostel. 

This follows the planning authority seeking a raft of further information and revised plans on the proposals from applicants, Fergus McCabe and Brian Stynes. 

The council has sought the further information after its conservation officer raised concerns that in the absence of sufficient information on the plan “there is a risk that the historic fabric that contributes to the special architectural interest of this significant building may be lost”. 

As part of the further information proposal, the council has stated that any revised plans should show include the omission of the four storey contemporary extension proposed and that “a revised proposal to construct a new two-storey rear return to replace the existing may be considered acceptable”. 

In October, Stynes and McCabe lodged plans to change the use of the former visitor centre at 15, Usher’s Island, Dublin 8 into a tourist hostel. 

The house was once home to James Joyce’s grand aunts and the setting of the writer’s famous short story, The Dead. 

The plan has provoked a backlash with one of the country’s most popular writers, Colm Tóibín claiming that the hostel plan will “destroy an essential part of Ireland’s cultural history”. 

The Department of Heritage has also voiced its strong disapproval of the plan. 

The department has told the council that if the plan proceeds “the experience of the house as the context for The Dead will be lost. Given the house’s standing such a loss cannot be contemplated”. 

An Taisce and the Heritage Council have also outlined their concerns over the proposals. 

Now, in a city council planning report outlining the need for revised plans, it states that its conservation officer “has serious concerns that the proposed 56-bed hostel use would be far too intensive for this protected structure and would give rise to unacceptable wear and tear on the historic fabric”. 

The conservation officer states that “the aspiration to recreate a cultural use for the building to reflect its important literary significance would require a long-term sponsor who would provide the necessary sustained financial support to restore the architectural character of the building, and ensure its ongoing maintenance”.

The officer concedes that the building’s location “on what is at present a hostile, busy traffic artery and its restricted amenities present significant challenges for any new use particularly that of a ‘destination’ use”. 

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They suggest an alternative residential approach – “creating high quality apartment residences, one per floor, with the possibility of a two-storey unit within the 2nd and 3rd floor levels, taking a minimal intervention approach, and respecting the historic floor plan, thus retaining an alternative form of residential use in the building to its historic use”. 

As part of the further information, the council has also requested the applicants to indicate the nature of the proposed hostel use and to confirm the nature of stay of the proposed hostel residents  long or short stay basis. 

The proposal will become live once more when the further information has been lodged.

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Gordon Deegan

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