As a Dubliner interested in art, literature and music, James Joyce would have approved of Culture Night. Though he left as a young man and never returned, Joyce would have enjoyed reading from afar that his home city’s cultural institutions and famous buildings open their doors for one free night. The city was Joyce’s defining theme – its streets, its rhythms and characters. Dubliners, his famous collection of short stories published one hundred years ago this year, was his first major publication.
Among the buildings open tomorrow evening is 15 Usher’s Island, along the river Liffey. This is the house upon which The Dead, Joyce’s most famous short story, is based. It was in this house that Gabriel Conroy spends an evening at the annual dinner and dance of his aunts, the Morkens sisters, in early January 1904. Conroy mingles and gives guests his annual dinner address during an evening of acute self-consciousness. Later on, in a hotel bedroom with his wife, painful realisations unfold about himself, his wife, life and death.
In 1904, the house belonged to Joyce’s great-aunt. His memories of her annual ‘Little Christmas’ party inspired the story, regarded by many scholars as the greatest ever written.
Though most culture night events start at 5pm tomorrow, this four-storey over basement, Georgian house will open its doors from morning to accommodate the large crowd expected. You may not be overloaded with Joycean knowledge there, but you’ll get to walk the room that inspired the famous dinner party, and get a feel for Joyce’s Dublin, which still exists through the present condition of the house. Time has stood still for this building.
For those not in Dublin tomorrow, do not worry. To manage anticipated demand (1,000 people visited over the course of seven hours in 2012), the house can be visited any day over the next two weeks by booking online. Lucky visitors might get to see the centenary edition of Dubliners, commissioned by the owner, which is being printed on an original Letterpress printing press. More information will be available on the house’s website (www.jamesjoycedublin.com), which goes live tomorrow. For those really enthused about reliving that fictional night, the dinner party room can be booked for an evening of dining.
Culture Night offers much for those in Dublin. It’s diverse, well-organised and atmospheric, reminding local and tourist alike about how much the city offers. Among the things you do, read The Dead, then visit Usher’s Island.