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Statue of James Joyce in Trieste, Italy where he lived for a period. Shutterstock/Francesco Rito ph
portrait of an artist

'James Joyce did not wish to go back to Ireland': Head of Joyce Foundation says there would be 'resistance' to repatriation

Joyce is buried in a grave in Zurich with his wife Nora Barnacle and their son.

JAMES JOYCE NEVER showed any intention of returning to Ireland and there would likely be resistance to any request to have his remains repatriated, the director of the Joyce Foundation in Switzerland has warned.

On Monday, councillors on Dublin City Council backed a motion to write to the government and ask that the remains of the Irish writer, which are buried with his wife, Nora Barnacle, and his son and his wife, in Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, be repatriated to Dublin. 

Labour councillor Dermot Lacey, who proposed the motion, said it would be “honouring someone’s last wishes” while others such as Independent Senator David Norris, who previously made a similar attempt, questioned whether it would be appropriate at this stage. 

Speaking to, the director of the Joyce Foundation in Zurich, Fritz Senn said there would be “resistance” in Switzerland to such a request, as the Irish government failed to send a delegation to Joyce’s funeral in 1941, and the grave has become a major tourist attraction. 

“I think there would certainly be some resistance because, after all, Joyce is one of the major tourist attractions that people come to see. Many people go to his grave so there would be an issue. 

The problem hasn’t come up yet but I think there would be resistance, after all, Zurich would claim him as one of their own. Joyce never accepted Irish citizenship and he died as a British citizen. 

“One argument that even Joyce’s grandson would say is that when Joyce died there wasn’t even a representative of Ireland at his funeral. The most important thing is you would need the consent of his grandson, Stephen Joyce, and if I had to bet on it, I bet he would vote against it.”

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, with his novel Ulysses later effectively banned over what was perceived as explicit scenes in the text. 

Much of his acclaimed works, including Ulysses and Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man, were set in Dublin but were penned while he was living abroad in places like Zurich and Paris. 

“I don’t know what the procedure is, and contrary to what I have read, Joyce did not wish to go back to Ireland,” Senn said. 

“He didn’t go back for most of his life so I think it would be with difficulty now. It would be difficult to prove it was his will.

“The other thing is, there are four people buried there – Joyce and Nora, Joyce’s son George, who as far as I know was only in Ireland once at a symposium. His wife is from Germany and has no relation to Ireland at all. So it’s not simply Joyce, it’s his family, and it’s more complex.”

Dublin councillors on the South East Area Committee passed the motion unanimously in a bid to have it brought before the monthly council meeting. 

The motion calls on the council’s chief executive to write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other ministers with an interest in this area, to request the remains bereturned ahead of the centenary celebrations of the publication of Ulysses in 2022. 

Asked if this was something the Department of Foreign Affairs would give consideration to, a spokesperson said they were aware of the motion before the council but said it would not comment further on the matter. 

A spokesperson for Culture Minister Josepha Madigan also said it would be inappropriate to comment on the issue until an application was submitted, adding that it was a matter for the Joyce family. 

“The Minister appreciates the literary achievement and enduring international reputation of James Joyce,” she said. 

“The suggested repatriation of the remains of James Joyce would be a matter in the first instance for family members and/or the trustees of the Joyce estate.”

“Without having received an application from those it would not be appropriate for the Minister to express a view on the matter,” she added. 

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