35 North Great George’s Street was built in 1784 for Valentine Brown, the Earl of Kenmare, who used it as his townhouse. The plasterwork here was done by Michael Stapleton, one of the finest stuccodores of the time. The house was given special mention by Constantine Curran, a close personal friend of Joyce’s, in his book Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The photographs Curran took for this book were essential to the restoration of the house. In the eighteenth century this area of Dublin was very fashionable but it fell into decline in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1982 twelve houses on North Great George’s Street had been demolished by the City Council including the house next door.
Though Joyce never lived in this house, he has a connection with it through Prof. Denis J. Maginni who ran a Dance Academy here. Originally his name was Maginn, but he added an extra ‘i’ to make it more Italian sounding in keeping with his exotic profession. Maginni was a well-known and colourful character in Dublin and appears several times in James Joyce’s Ulysses. In the ‘Wandering Rocks’ episode he is described as wearing a “silk hat, slate frockcoat with silk facings, white kerchief tie, tight lavender trousers, canary gloves and pointed patent boots.”
Number 35 was saved from demolition by Senator David Norris, a Joycean scholar who also lives on the street. With the help of many others and with funding from a variety of sources the building was renovated and the Centre opened in June 1996. For over ten years the Centre was run by members of the Joyce and Monaghan families, descendants of Joyce’s brother Charles Joyce and sister May Monaghan. It is now run as a limited company, with charity status, and the support of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The Maginni Room was originally the dining room of the house. The plasterwork is original, though the dancing figures in the medallions date from Maginni’s time. Though damaged, the plasterwork was mostly preserved under layers of paint and dirt.
The Kenmare Room is named in honour of the Earl of Kenmare, to whom the building belonged when it was built in 1784. The plasterwork had disappeared completely by 1982 and was restored using photographs taken by Constantine Curran. The ‘Charioteer with Winged Horses’ that can be seen in the Kenmare Room is also found in the library at Belvedere College and was a favourite theme of Michael Stapleton, the stuccodore.
When the Kenmare Room is not being used for temporary exhibitions reproductions of portraits of members of Joyce’s family line the walls. These include Joyce’s mother May Murray (sketched from photographs by her grandnephew Derek Joyce) and his father John Stanislaus Joyce (commissioned by Joyce himself from the Irish portrait artist Patrick Tuohy in 1923, the year after Ulysses was published).
The Joyce family lived in houses similar to this one, and Joyce’s brother Charles lived nearby at No. 30 North Great George’s Street. Two portraits of Joyce hang in the Kenmare Room; a copy of a painting by Jacques Emile Blanche (the original of which belongs to the National Gallery) and an original by Irish artist Harry Kernoff. There is also a reproduction of the portrait of Nora Barnacle by Tulio Silvestri on display.
At the back of the ground floor of the building is our courtyard, which contains a modern mural based on Joyce’s work alongside the original door from No. 7 Eccles Street. In Ulysses this is Leopold Bloom’s address, but the house itself was demolished to make way for an extension to the nearby Mater Hospital. Thankfully, the door was saved and is on loan to the Centre.