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James Joyce House, the redbrick building, in The Liberties. Google Streetview
dead set against

James Joyce House was 'not designed for intensive daily use' as a 56-bed hostel

It was built “nearly 250 years ago and was not designed or constructed for intensive daily use,” the Irish Georgian Society said.

CHANGING ‘THE HOUSE of The Dead’ into a 56-bed hostel and café would have “an incrementally detrimental impact on its historic fabric”.

A number of objections have been submitted to the development at 15 Usher’s Island, which is the setting of James Joyce’s short story ‘The Dead’, and is described as the “dark, gaunt house on Usher’s Island”. It’s also the former home of Joyce’s grand-aunts.

The building was also used as a cultural tourism and visitor centre. 

The planning application proposes to change the use of an eighteenth-century house “of national heritage and cultural importance” from a visitor centre to a hostel with spaces for 56 beds and a café in the basement.

The applicants, Fergus McCabe and Brian Stynes, have proposed to knock down a “modern two-storey extension” at the back, and to construct a new three-storey extension to accommodate various services and sanitary facilities.

The arch-headed windows will be removed from the main stairwell, mechanical and electrical services will be removed, new electrical and plumbing services will be installed, and fire protection and insulation will be inserted.

First floor Dublin City Council Dublin City Council

Staircase Dublin City Council Dublin City Council

The Irish Georgian Society argued that although changes to protected structures can be “weighed up against and justified” by the benefits of the intended end use of the building, that these proposals would result in the “loss of historic fabric and character”.

“No 15 Usher’s Island was built nearly 250 years ago and was not designed or constructed for intensive daily use,” the Irish Georgian Society said in its submission.

The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the heavy foot fall that would arise from the building’s development as a 56-bed hostel would have an incrementally detrimental impact on its historic fabric.

“This would be contrary to the best interests of the protected structure and would be contrary to good conservation practices.”

Irish and international writers, artists and academics have written a letter calling on the James Joyce House to be saved due to its literary importance. The signatories – which include Colm Tóibín, Sally Rooney, Edna O’Brien and Salman Rushdie – state:

In the decades since Joyce’s death, too many of the places that are rendered immortal in his writing have been lost to the city. Let us not repeat this mistake today.

‘Not an objection to homeless hostels’

Among the other formal objections to the plan, is councillor Deirdre Conroy. In her objection, she states that the application doesn’t mention that it’s a hostel for the homeless, so that “it is clear” that it’s a tourist endeavor. 

“In that regard, there are many empty buildings throughout the city that can be adapted as hostels for the homeless. This observation is not an objection to homeless hostels in general. It is a protected structure observation.”

She suggests that the building should be restored for “cultural purpose”, and would be more significant as a “public and tourist attraction”.

The building is a protected structure, meaning that a planning authority has acknowledged it to be of “special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view”.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage gave this appraisal of the building:

This late-eighteenth-century house was built [around 1775] for Joshua Pim, a grain merchant. In the 1890s it was the home of James Joyce’s grand-aunts and was the setting of his short story ‘The Dead’. It was used in 1987 by Joshua Huston as the set for the film version. Its proportions and decorative doorcase are typical of Dublin Georgian townhouses.

Together with numbers 12 and 14 it contributes positively to the historic character of the south quays, occupying a prominent position which closes the vista from Blackhall Place and the James Joyce Bridge. It has been recently restored, and its top storey reinstated.

A decision will be made on the application in December.

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