Literary lovers fight to protect Joyce's heritage

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The Independent Online
HE MAY be Dublin's most famous literary son, but international scholars have expressed concern that the city's planners are failing to adequately protect the legacy of James Joyce.

Despite being one of the 20th century's greatest writers, most of Joyce's Dublin homes do not carry a commemorative plaque. Several have been demolished and the public house where the author's last novel, Finnegan's Wake, was largely based, is boarded up and covered with graffiti.

Thousands of literary tourists travel to the city each year to follow in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, the hero of the writer's most famous work, Ulysses. However, according to the International Joyce Foundation, they are having to look harder to find the city's Joycean heritage.

Morris Beja, Professor of English at Ohio State University and executive secretary of the foundation, says the rapid disappearance of the Dublin where Joyce based all his writings is worrying. "Of course, we don't want anything to change, we want it to be a museum and naturally that can't be. But I don't think I'm being prejudiced in saying too much has been disturbed - the prime example being the house where Leopold Bloom is supposed to have lived," he said.

Part of the reason why Joyce's former homes have been neglected is the sheer number of them. The writer, whose father was a notorious bankrupt, lived in 14 houses in just under 11 years. All of these buildings now have preservation orders on them, but this hasn't stopped developers bulldozing them anyway.

The house where Joyce set his most famous short story, The Dead, is currently derelict. However after much pressure from environmental groups and city planners, the development company which owns the building has promised to restore it; and Ken Monaghan, a nephew of Joyce and cultural director of Dublin's James Joyce Centre, believes this house will be saved.

"I think people are starting to realise they can't go around willy-nilly and destroy this important part of history. Of course in some cases it's too late, but it is getting better. It was far worse in the Fifties and Sixties," Mr Monaghan said.

Much of the destruction of Joycean Dublin took place when he was still alive. While much of the western world was lauding his talents, in Catholic Ireland his writings were largely regarded as obscene.

Mr Monaghan, who recalls his mother being ostracised for her association with Joyce, believes this attitude prevailed until much later than is acknowledged. "The Irish didn't want to know about him; it was almost a curse to be a Joyce."

This shunning of Joyce by the establishment meant that the first Dublin plaque commemorating the writer was erected by a group of visiting American academics. However the commercial benefits of an association with Joyce have not been lost on some business people since.

Several public houses with no connection to Joyce's writings have erected plaques, claiming that he liked to drink there. "It's true that you make money if your shop or pub is mentioned in a Joyce work," says Prof Beja. " Not everybody seems to have cottoned on to that, and some of the ones that have are a little dubious."

In the Dublin village where Finnegan's Wake is set, residents are determined that their part of Joycean heritage will be preserved. "You don't have to understand Joyce's writings, to grasp the importance of his legacy to all Dubliners," said Nuala Deighan, one of those who fought against Mullingar House being destroyed.