An Taisce release concerning proposed change of use of ‘The Dead House’, No. 15 Usher’s Island, Dublin 8, to a hostel

Source: An Taisce

29th November 2019
News Item

Conversion of No. 15 Usher’s Island, setting for James Joyce’s The Dead, to a 56-bed hostel would not be appropriate.

No. 15 Usher’s Island is a handsome three-bay house of the late-Georgian period, with four-storey redbrick elevation over raised basement, and columned stone doorcase. The interior retains a good degree of refined early-19th century detail.

The principal importance of the house is its place in literary history as the setting for James Joyce’s The Dead, described by TS Eliot as “one of the greatest short stories ever written”.

The house thus has a cultural significance that few other Georgian terraced buildings of Dublin have – for example the setting of Molly & Leopold Bloom’s house on Eccles Street has been demolished. Having sat vacant and suffered damage for many years previously, the house was purchased and successfully restored in the early 2000s by Joyce aficionado Brendan Kilty, with its missing top storey and pitched roof reinstated. Restored as a visitor centre, the house subsequently hosted a flurry of Joyce- and Dead-related activity in the 2000s, but fell vacant again in the wake of the economic crash and was sold in 2017.

While the rescuing of the building from its current dormancy is welcome in principle, the house is of too great a cultural importance for conversion to a hostel, with the associated extensive subdivision and changes to the historic layout, and the increased intensity of use which would result in wear on tear on the historic fabric. The proposed extension block at the rear is particularly problematic as it would require removal of the arched staircase windows between ground and first floor, and first and second floor.

One of the most memorable scenes in the 1987 John Huston film of the Dead was of Angelica Huston, playing the part of Gretta Conroy, pausing in the half landing against the arched-window backdrop while the strains of the The Lass of Aughrim wafted from the drawing room. This is a key moment both in the story and in the film.

The precedent regarding No. 14 Henrietta Street, Dublin 1, should be considered. In 2001, An Bord Pleanála refused permission for a similar proposal for a hostel and rear extension (reference no. PL 29N.121679). No 14 Henrietta Street is now a thriving and successful museum.

The return of this nationally-important house at 15 Usher’s Island – real-life setting of Joyce’s best-known short story, The Dead – to functioning use is needed. However the proposal currently presented for change of use to a hostel would not be appropriate in a UNESCO City of Literature.

An Taisce therefore urges Dublin City Council to refuse permission in order to find a way forward and secure the future of this key cultural building of Dublin [1].

Further information:

Kevin Duff, antaiscedublincity@gmail.com or ph 087 6500855

Notes

[1] An Taisce full submission to Dublin City Council: https://www.antaisce.org/sites/antaisce.org/files/at-the-dead-house-d8.pdf

Local Association: 

https://www.antaisce.org/AT-release-The-Dead-house