A controversial plan to convert the location of the setting of James Joyce's famous short story, The Dead on Dublin's quays into a 54-bed hostel has been approved by An Bord Pleanála.
The board rejected an appeal by a number of parties including author Colm Tóibín and heritage group, An Taisce, against the decision of Dublin City Council last October to grant planning permission for the project.
More than 100 leading figures from the worlds of literature, film and academics including Edna O'Brien, Salman Rushdie, Richard Ford, Anne Enright, Michael Ondaatje, Sally Rooney, Lenny Abrahamson, John Banville and Kevin Barry supported an objection initiated by Tóibín and academic John McCourt, who claimed the plans for the hostel would "destroy an essential part of Ireland's cultural heritage".
The ruling will allow developers, Fergus McCabe and Brian Stynes, to refurbish 15 Usher’s Island – which is a protected structure – and convert the four-storey building from its former use as a visitor centre into a tourist hostel with a cafe at basement level.
Consultants acting for the developers claimed the building had fallen into disrepair and the plans for a hostel represented an opportunity to secure its historic and cultural value as well as allowing guests to stay “in a unique heritage building”.
They said the cafe would also allow the public to have access to the building and they envisaged some space could be used for displays associated with Joyce.
In its ruling, An Bord Pleanála said the proposed development was in accordance with the policy of the Dublin City Development Plan and would not detract from the visual amenities of the area or adjoining protected structures.
It directed that the hostel should only be used for tourist use on a short-term basis.
The inspector said while “a cultural use may well be the most desirable use in an ideal world,” the desirability for a certain use over another was not a justifiable reason for refusing the application.
“The best way to preserve a structure of architectural heritage is to provide it with an ongoing use in which it is occupied and maintained,” he added.
The inspector noted the plans do not alter the historical layout of the structure or remove any features mentioned in The Dead.
Despite some reservations about the proposed refurbishment, Dublin City Council concluded the change would be “the best way to secure its long-term conservation”.
The house, which was built in 1775, was rented by Joyce’s great-aunts in the 1890s, where he often visited them.
In his appeal, Tóibín claimed the interior of the building had retained the character of the house since the time it was the setting for Joyce’s famous short story from his 1914 collection, Dubliners.
Tóibín said a failure to save the house would undermine Dublin's designation as a Unesco City of Literature.
“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,” the author said.
The council's ruling was also appealed by the Friends of Joyce Tower in Sandycove, while the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht had raised concerns.