Cyberworld rallies to defend house of artist as young man


OBJECTORS to the proposed demolition of James Joyce's boyhood home in Drumcondra, Dublin, have used the Internet so effectively that Dublin Corporation has been "swamped" with protests from Joyceans around the world.

Elgin Estates Ltd is seeking permission to demolish No. 2 Millbourne Avenue (one of 17 Dublin homes lived in by the family as their fortunes declined) and the house next door.

This would make way for two purpose built blocks containing 14 one and two bedroom apartments. The planning decision is due by June 28th.

Ms Anne Holliday, a local resident and spokeswoman for the Campaign to Save Joyce's Childhood Home, said the Internet - or World Wide Web to be more precise - had been the "perfect instrument" to draw international attention to this scheme.

The campaign has received more than loo messages of support which have come from Joyce scholars in Britain, Australia, Canada and the US. Dublin Corporation has seen all of them. "The planners said they were so swamped that they weren't taking any more," Ms Holliday said.

The Drumcondra house, she conceded, "doesn't have an awful lot of architectural merit. It's semi detached Victorian house with a lovely long garden, but there isn't even a plaque on it".

Neither is the house listed for preservation in the Dublin city plan. Although Joyce's nephew, Mr Ken Monaghan, has described it as "the most important of the Dublin homes of the Joyce family", there is no statutory provision to protect houses with literary or historic associations.

"It is horrifying that a house where James Joyce spent some of his childhood and which obviously made quite an impression on him should be let fall into a state of semi dereliction and have the immediate threat of demolition hanging over it," Ms Holliday said.

The Drumcondra house is vividly described in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which Stephen Dedalus "pushed open the latchless door of the porch and passed through the naked hallway into the kitchen. A group of his brothers and sisters were sitting around the table.

"Tea was nearly over and only, the last of the second watered tea remained in the bottom of the mall glass jars and jampots which id service for teacups.

Mr Monaghan said: "I know how close to the truth it is, as my mother was one of those drinking tea from the jamjars."

Fine Gael councillor Mr Brendan Brady said Joyce's time in No. 2 Millbourne Avenue was pivotal to his future. "We must win the day and save the bricks and mortar out of which came such genius," he said, adding that the building should not suffer the same fate as Leopold and Molly Bloom's house in Eccles Street.

Dr John Killeen, head of the English department at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, said the house gave "a very clear understanding of the conditions under which he and his family were living at that time, while he was attending Belvedere College".

Further messages of support came from actors David Kelly, Rosaleen Linehan, Laurie Morton and Milo O'Shea, and from theatre producers Barry Cassin and Fred O'Donovan. Local TDs and councillors, including the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Mr Bruton, are also backing the campaign.

But most messages came via the Internet from scholars such as Prof Morris Beja, secretary of the International James Joyce Foundation, Prof Donald Theal of Trent University in Canada and author of two books on Joyce, and Prof Ruth Bauerle of Ohio Wesleyan University, who has written three books on Joyce.

Other pleas came from Joyce enthusiasts in California, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin in the US, as well as from Ontario, Canada, and Brisbane, Australia.

One e-mail correspondent, Mr Pete Radovich of Kansas City, said he was "willing to suit up in army gear and head over to Ireland and start a way to save the Drumcondra house. "There has never been a single home in this world that has been the root of more artistic thought than this one.

Mr Michael Nugent, who organised the e mail campaign, explained the process: "First we went through UseNet to find people who were interested in Joyce and mailed them. Then called up Web sites relating to Joyce and put notices in them. And it snowballed from there."

Attempts to obtain a comment from Fenton Simons, consultants for the developers, were unsuccessful.