James Joyce’s ‘Dead’ house on Usher’s Island goes on sale

Protected structure on Liffey quays to be sold by receivers with guide price of €550,000

'The Lass of Aughrim' is performed in the 1987 film adaptation of James Joyce's 'The Dead', starring Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann

 

The “dark gaunt house on Usher’s Island” – the setting of the James Joyce short story The Dead, is to go on sale.

The Georgian house at 15 Usher’s Island, facing James Joyce Bridge on the south side of the Liffey, was built in about 1775 for Joshua Pim, who had his business next door at number 16.

During the 1890s the upper floors of the building were rented by Joyce’s maternal great-aunts, who ran a music school and, most notably, held the Christmas parties that provide the scene for The Dead.

The Dead by James Joyce, in John Huston's film adaptation.
The Dead by James Joyce, in John Huston's film adaptation.

During the course of the 20th century, the house fell into increasing disrepair. Its top floor was removed as an alternative to repairing the roof, and its interiors were vandalised and occupied by squatters.

The building was almost lost to fire in the mid-1990s, and firefighters tackling the blaze had to break most of its remaining windows.

The house was boarded up and remained in a derelict state until 2000, when it was bought by Dublin barrister and quantity surveyor Brendan Kilty.

Mr Kilty refurbished the building over a four-year period, recreating Victorian interiors in some rooms which have since been used for Joyce-related events, including re-enactments of the Christmas dinner scene.

In 2012, Mr Kilty filed for bankruptcy in the UK, with debts including £2.1 million owed to Ulster Bank in relation to the Usher’s Island house. The house, which is a protected structure, is now being sold on the instructions of receivers with a guide price of €550,000.

‘Very significant’

Senator and Joycean scholar David Norris said Mr Kilty deserved great credit for saving the house from dereliction. “It is a very significant house. I identified and photographed it more than 50 years ago I don’t think anybody knew of its significance at the time.

“Joyce attended Christmas parties there, and the story is a faithful reproduction of those Christmas parties.”

Brendan Kilty, who bought 15 Usher’s Island in 2000, talking to actor Rachael Dowling who played the part of Lilly in the film version of “The Dead”, at a 2004 recreation of the famous dinner scene in the house. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Brendan Kilty, who bought 15 Usher’s Island in 2000, talking to actor Rachael Dowling who played the part of Lilly in the film version of “The Dead”, at a 2004 recreation of the famous dinner scene in the house. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Mark Traynor, managing director of the James Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street, said while the centre would not be in a position to buy the building, it would be interested in becoming involved in its future.

“We would be very supportive of any activity that would promote its Joycean heritage and would be happy to have discussions with the new owners.”

The centre would also be interested in working with any State agency that might acquire the building, he said.

If James Joyce was alive, I don’t think he’d care

Bob Joyce, the writer’s grand-nephew, said he did not think the building should be acquired by the State. “It has a small connection with Joyce. I don’t think it makes a difference who buys it. If James Joyce was alive, I don’t think he’d care.”

Dublin City Council said it had no interest in acquiring the house, adding that its use as a “public cultural facility celebrating James Joyce would require planning permission”.

Mr Kilty did not respond to queries.