35 North Great George’s Street was built in 1784 for Valentine Brown, the Earl of Kenmare, who used it as his townhouse. 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. No. 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 educational 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. 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 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”.
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.
The Kenmare Room is used for meetings, exhibitions, and lectures. Hung on the walls next to the room are reproductions of portraits of members of Joyce’s family. 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, one year after Ulysses was published).
The Kenmare Room currently houses “Frank Kiely’s Dubliners”. A modern adaptation of each of the fifteen stories found in the book, the exhibition is inspired by the childhood and adolescence sections of the collection, reimagining scenes from the stories in a contemporary setting and probing key themes that remain relevant today: individualism and community, repression and obligation, love and grief.
At the back of the ground floor of the building is our courtyard, which contains the original door from No. 7 Eccles Street. In Ulysses, this is Leopold and Molly Bloom’s address. The house itself was demolished in 1982 to make way for an extension to the nearby Mater Private Hospital. Thankfully, the door was saved and is on loan to the Centre.
Around the walls of the outdoor courtyard you will find the eighteen episodes of Ulysses depicted in a series of murals painted by Paul Joyce, the great-grandnephew of James. Each mural represents a different style of painting as Joyce employed a different style of writing for each episode of the book.