Bid to repatriate James Joyce’s remains ahead of Ulysses centenary
Dublin city councillors are hoping to fulfil wishes of the writer and his wife, which were denied after his death in Switzerland in 1941
A plan to repatriate the remains of James Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle and finally observe their last wishes, has been proposed by Dublin city councillors more than 70 years after the author’s death.
Born in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar in 1882, Joyce spent decades living away from Ireland due to his growing animosity towards Irish society and his need to find work. He died in Zurich in January 1941 at the age of 58, after undergoing surgery on a perforated ulcer. He is buried in Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, alongside his wife Nora, who died 10 years later. In 1966, they were moved from an ordinary grave to a more prominent one, where their son Giorgio was later buried with them in 1976.
When Joyce died, Ireland’s secretary of external affairs sent the order: “Please wire details about Joyce’s death. If possible find out if he died a Catholic.” Barnacle later requested that his remains be repatriated but the minister for external affairs refused.
The new motion to repatriate the remains was brought forward on Monday by Dublin councillors Dermot Lacey and Paddy McCartan, who both argued that it was Joyce and Barnacle’s final wish. If it goes ahead, the plan would coincide with the centenary of Ulysses in 2022. The novel was once effectively banned in Ireland, as the Irish government used a customs loophole to prevent it from entering the country.
Speaking on Newstalk radio, McCartan said he had felt it was appropriate to revisit the idea ahead of the the Ulysses anniversary and said they would call on the council to appeal to the Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. He said the decision would ultimately fall with the Irish government and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“There may be people who are not fans of this and want to let sleeping dogs lie. Joyce is a controversial figure, there are no doubts about that,” McCartan said. “Exile was a key element in his writing but for it to follow him into eternity? I don’t think that was part of the plan.”
There have been previous attempts to convince Irish authorities to repatriate Joyce’s remains, such as in 1948, after WB Yeats’s remains were successfully returned to Sligo from France, although more recently doubts have been raised that the bones sent were all Yeat’s.