The UCD Ulysses Centre – A new literary landmark for Dublin
In 2018 Newman House begins a fresh chapter in its long association with UCD as home to the new Ulysses Centre. The links between Newman House and UCD go back to 1854, when pre-eminent theologian and scholar Dr John Henry Newman located the Catholic University of Ireland there. Since then the building has echoed to the voices and footsteps of generations of students, including James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, and in 2018 it will get a whole new lease of life as home to the Ulysses Centre.
The Ulysses Centre is an ambitious €10m project that brings UCD and the National Library of Ireland together to create a new literary attraction with international appeal. Its focus will be on 20th and 21st century writers with a particular emphasis on James Joyce, arguably the university’s most famous graduate. However Joyce won’t have it all to himself. Other literary luminaries from the past and present ranging from Newman, Hopkins and Beckett to Donoghue, Tóibín and Meehan, will also feature.
“The commitment and enthusiasm of so many people to the project has been fantastic and we are very excited by what’s to come,” says Professor Margaret Kelleher Chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at UCD and the academic lead on the project.
“UCD’s Eamonn Ceannt is the project leader and he has been working closely with Ruth Ferguson, the curator at Newman House and Elizabeth Dunne and other colleagues in Estate Services at UCD to ensure that we respect the history, authenticity and fabric of Newman House during construction. Newman House is undoubtedly one of the most striking buildings on St. Stephen’s Green. It has some of the finest stuccowork in the city and you really couldn’t ask for a better building to work with”.
“The project is also made possible by great cooperation between UCD and the National Library of Ireland, with Katherine McSharry, head of outreach leading the library’s involvement,” Professor Kelleher adds. “Also critical was that our architects, Scott Tallon Walker, and design team RAA (New York and London) completely bought into what we wanted to achieve. I think we are going to have a unique public centre that bridges the gap between Ireland’s literary past and present very successfully.”
The idea behind the centre is twofold: to celebrate Ireland’s extraordinarily rich literary heritage and to create a dynamic, living space where the achievements of contemporary writers can be explored and enjoyed. The centre is seen as a fitting addition to the capital’s cultural landscape and one that complements existing literary attractions and Dublin’s position as a UNESCO City of Literature.
The idea for the Ulysses Centre has been in gestation for some time but was finally made possible by a €5m donation from Glen Dimplex founder, Martin Naughton and his wife Carmel. Fáilte Ireland is contributing €2.5m to the centre and the remainder will be raised by the UCD Foundation.
The centre is due to open in 2018 and will be housed over three levels in the Aula Maxima, the university’s former main assembly hall. The hall has not been used for some time and architects Scott Tallon Walker were given the task of reimagining the space to provide permanent and temporary exhibition areas, an atrium with spectacular views over St Stephen’s Green and creature comforts such as a café and bookshop.
The ground floor will house a permanent Joyce exhibition while the newly constructed mezzanine floor will focus on other twentieth century writers and contemporary literature. The top floor will explore the continuing legacy of Joyce and his inspiration for national and international writers.
“Vitality is one of the qualities that has always distinguished Irish writing and it is this sense of energy and living in the present as well as enjoying and learning from the past that we want to achieve,” Professor Kelleher says. “The centre will also allow us exhibit a wealth of archival material from both UCD and the National Library and this will provide a focal point for continuing research and scholarship and will be an important agent of renewal. We also want to create a great visitor experience by using the most up-to-date exhibition technologies, hosting a stimulating programme of events and co-creating content with living Irish writers and bringing them into conversation with each other.”
Professor Kelleher is also hoping that the Ulysses Centre will help build links with other “happening” literary hubs including Shanghai (a major translation centre where many Irish writers are translated into Chinese for example), Paris, New York and Buenos Aires. The centre will have its own director and the position will be advertised shortly.
“UCD has its roots in the city and the Ulysses Centre will reinforce that footprint and open up the treasure that is Newman House to a much wider audience,” Professor Kelleher says. “We also hope the Ulysses Centre will answer one of the questions that visitors to Ireland often ask: why has a country of this size had such a disproportionate impact on the world literary stage? The Ulysses Centre will give lots of answers!”
This story first appeared in the summer 2016 edition of UCD Today, the university magazine.