Joyce's Dublin: An Exploration of 'The Dead'

This audio podcast series showcases James Joyce's short story 'The Dead' from his collection 'Dubliners' and explores themes within the story drawing on scholarly research and connecting it with the archive collections in UCD, the National Library and the National Archives. The project is designed to draw users into further reading and research with both the original text and archival documents.

Joyce's Dublin; An exploration of 'The Dead' has been commissioned by the UCD Humanities Institute and produced by Athena Media. The series is presented by Barry McGovern. Explore additional James Joyce digital humanities resources around Joyce's novel A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man with a full reading of the book by actors Barry McGovern and his son Sam McGovern.

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We start at 15 Usher’s Island, the house at the centre of the Misses Morkan’s Epiphany dinner party on January 6th 1904. Set in a Dublin of 300,000 souls, on a bitter cold night, we are looking out across the river to the west to the Phoenix Park and to the east towards the Four Courts. As the story begins, Lily, the over-worked housemaid, opens the door. What does the story tell us about Dublin in 1904? Professor Mary Daly helps us step back in time while Professor Kevin Whelan connects The Dead to Dublin’s history, geography and landscape. What do the archives hold and tell us about not just Joyce’s Dublin but also about his own life story? We visit the National Archives and the census records of 1901 with Catriona Crowe while Katherine McSharry opens the National Library collection. Architect Sean O’Laoire helps us imagine Joyce’s Dublin and shares the story of the house itself 15 Usher’s Island.

TS Eliot described it as one of the greatest short stories ever written. James Joyce finished the final story in his collection Dubliners, The Dead, in Trieste 1907. This story of the Misses Morkan’s annual gathering of family, friends and music students is framed by the elderly sisters’ nephew Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta and a personal epiphany triggered by the fragment of a song. Professors Declan Kiberd, Anne Fogarty and Gerardine Meaney help us unpack the story and find out why it has such resonance and power.

Joyce described The Dead as a ghost story. The ghost of Michael Furey, who as Gretta says ‘died for me’ haunts the final scenes. But the story also echoes with the ghosts of Irish history and politics. Professor Kevin Whelan peels back the layers and references from the Battle of the Boyne, the 1798 rebellion, O’Connell’s Catholic Emancipation, Parnell’s Home Rule and the tension in early 20th Century Ireland between the emerging Gaelic Nationalist movement and the Catholic middle classes. Social historian Mary Daly places the story in its contemporary politics and illuminates what is going on behind the dance scene between Gabriel and Molly Ivors when her final retort is ‘West Briton’. We look at the physical landscape of the story and the map it draws from the Wellington Monument to the O’Connell statue and the tensions between east and west both for the characters and the country. What is Joyce telling us? The past is ever present in The Dead and the party itself takes on a wake like quality not just for a marriage but for a city as well. Dr Luca Crispi, working on the Joyce papers at the National Library, shows how the manuscripts illuminate how Joyce wrote.

The Dead is rich in music from Italian opera to popular folk songs. Music and song is the soundtrack to the dinner party while the conversation around the table shares stories of Enrico Caruso and the music halls of the city. The story’s epiphany hangs on a memory provoked by a song ‘The Lass of Aughrim’. Professor Harry White unpacks the power of music in Joyce’s narrative and we discover how central a force music and song was in the author’s life. Professor White sees the story itself as an operatic composition. We visit the National Library to see sheet music of the day and from the UCD folklore collection we hear Elizabeth Cronin’s version of ‘The Lass of Aughrim’ which gives us a sense of how the song sounded in 1904. Singer and musician Noel O’Grady, who performs the music of Joyce, shares his rendition of ‘The Lass of Aughrim’ as he plays the part of Bartell D’Arcy and re-creates that moment which froze Gretta on the stairs of 15 Usher’s Island.

At the end of the night we leave 15 Usher’s Island and follow Gabriel and Gretta Conroy’s journey up river and down O’Connell St (then Sackville Street) to the Gresham Hotel. With Professor Anne Fogarty we re-visit the Gresham Hotel and Gabriel’s own moment of self-revelation. Gerardine Meaney and Declan Kiberd explore the story’s love stories and how they relate to Joyce and his own life’s love, Nora Barnacle. Love and loss are intertwined in the personal epiphanies in The Dead and through the archives we look at what was happening in Joyce’s own life with the death of his mother May and his family’s decline into poverty. Declan Kiberd, Gerardine Meaney, Kevin Whelan and Anne Fogarty explore the story’s ending and that final scene of a snow covered Ireland. Is it one of despair or hope?

James Joyce’s short story ‘The Dead’ is set in the heart of Dublin City on January 6th 1904. As part of our audio podcast series Barry McGovern takes a walk through the city of ‘The Dead’ and explores the landscape which frames the story from 15 Usher’s Island to the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street. What remains of Joyce’s Dublin today and what inspired his locations? ‘The Dead’ brings us on a journey from the quays on the River Liffey looking towards the Phoenix Park and references a city which can still be found today. Have a look at our slideshow of photographs from the National Library collections and from Dublin today to get a sense of the city of ‘The Dead’.