Dead As Doornails



Usher’s Island, Dublin 8.

Irish actors protest against permission granted by An Bórd Pleanála for 15 Usher’s Island, the setting for James Joyce’s short story ‘The Dead’, to be turned into a 54-bed tourist hostel.

Katie O’Kelly writes:

The photos depicts Joycean characters being evicted from the famous house to make way for the tourist hostel. This is emblematic of how our communities are being pushed out of the city by developers, vulture funds and ever-increasing rent hikes, making the city unliveable for many.

The house is the setting for James Joyce’s famous short story ‘The Dead’, often acclaimed to be one of the greatest short stories ever written.

The house, originally owned by Joyce’s grand-aunts, is a site of international cultural and literary significance and will be a huge loss to the cultural landscape of Dublin.

Actors involved include Oscar-nominee Stephen Rea, who played Bloom in the acclaimed feature film ‘Bloom’ (2003), Rachael Dowling and Maria Hayden who played respectively Lily the maid and Miss O’Callaghan in the John Huston film adaptation ‘The Dead’ (1987), doyenne of Irish stage and film Marion O’Dwyer, actors and singers Sinead Murphy and Darina Gallagher of ‘Songs of Joyce’, writer and performer Donal O’Kelly ( Jimmy Joyced!), performance artist Osaro Azams of ‘Wake the Streets’ based on Finnegans Wake (MOLI), and actors Katie O’Kelly and Madi O’Carroll (Dubliners Women).


A letter from Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston, who played Gretta in her father’s film ‘The Dead’, was read out on the steps of the House…

To: Catherine Martin TD,
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media,
Leinster House,
Kildare Street,
Dublin 2.

Dear Minister Martin,

As you may be aware, An Bórd Pleanála has just granted permission for no. 15 Usher’s Island to be repurposed in to a 54-bed tourist hostel. This four storey Georgian house, while the same as others along the Dublin quays from the outside, is exceptional. It is exceptional because within its walls lies the setting for one of the greatest short stories ever set down on paper, James Joyce’s iconic ‘The Dead’.

The house was owned by Joyce’s great-aunts, the inspiration for the Morkan sisters who hold a party in the house on the Feast of the Epiphany in the story. Joyce himself visited the house on many occasions, and it has miraculously survived through the years intact, almost exactly as it was when he himself graced its rooms.

‘The Dead’ is internationally acclaimed as a work of literary genius. For a site of such major cultural significance to be at the mercy of private owners is heart-breaking. I am writing to implore you to take all measures possible as Minister for Arts and Culture to preserve this site from becoming, as Joyce himself put it, another ‘shade’, lost forever.

As a UNESCO City of Literature, Dublin is championed internationally as a city of literary significance, and every year tourists flock to see the streets and places where the great literary works were based. The cultural sites that still exist should be preserved for visitors to the city as well as for the citizens of that fair city themselves. The House of the Dead is part of the rich fabric of Dublin, and must be protected.

My father John Huston directed the film adaption of ‘The Dead’ in 1987, and it was nominated for several Academy Awards. The house on Usher’s Island is the setting for that ethereal story to unfold, a story that has captured the imagination of so many around the world. As Minister for the Arts you have the power to preserve a vital part of our literary and cultural heritage. I beseech you to do just that.

Kind regards,

Anjelica Huston

All pics by Ruth Medjber

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8 thoughts on “Dead As Doornails

  1. newsjustin

    Happy Bloomsday.

    Can someone explain The Dead to me. Having read it twice, I still don’t get how it’s the greatest short story ever written.

    1. Lilly

      Hard to know where to start… it’s a love story, beautifully written from the opening line. Really atmospheric. Haunting with vivid characters. Perfection!

  2. Mr. T

    If every house with a book or film written about it were to be preserved – we’d be stuck in the last century.

  3. Redundant Proofreaders Society

    Granted that hotels are tending to take over the city but this site would make a great Joyce-themed hotel and support our UNESCO status, preserve our literary heritage and promote cultural tourism.

    Happy Bloomsday, all.

    1. Paulus

      Which, by coincidence, I began reading today!…though in his introduction Cronin makes much of not wanting to be a barrister…despite just having qualified as one. Which begs an obvious question.

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