Dublin Gothic

Ghosts of Dublin

The film series Ghosts of Dublin showcases contemporary actors, writers and activists performing excerpts from works that are foundational to the city’s literary gothic heritage in places of cultural significance.

These films uncover the ghosts and mysteries hidden beneath the city’s streets, and posit how Ireland’s literary past haunts contemporary politics and culture. Historic buildings like Kilmainham Gaol, the Oscar Wilde House and UCD Newman House provide an atmospheric background for these uncanny tales, demonstrating how the past and present collide as modern furnishings, electric boxes, and fire alarms exist in the same spaces as ghouls from nineteenth and twentieth-century Dublin. 

Ghosts of Dublin premiered at ‘Living Canvas Goes Gothic’ in collaboration with Dublin City Council’s Bram Stoker Festival 2022, and has been featured on RTÉ. 

Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Robert Maturin

Charles Maturin’s gothic-romance Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) begins when John Melmoth is summoned from his quarters in Trinity College Dublin to the bedside of his dying uncle in Wicklow. From a series of fragmented narratives, Melmoth learns the history of his mysterious ancestor known as ‘The Wanderer’. 

Having entered into a demonic pact, The Wanderer has exchanged his eternal soul for access to forbidden knowledge, moving across the globe in pursuit of a victim who, in a moment of profound anguish and desperation, will be tempted to exchange places with the cursed figure in order to escape their current circumstances. 

Performed by actor Olwen Fouéré, the Wanderer visits an Englishman, Stanton, who is incarcerated in an asylum. Staunton has been deemed mad because of his obsession with the supernatural Melmoth. This piece is filmed in MoLI’s atmospheric Bishop’s Room that houses a nineteenth-century library. The books, held in a locked case, ask: what is the price of knowledge? 

‘The Judge’s House’ (1891) by Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker’s ‘The Judge’s House’ (1891) recounts the gradual decline of Malcolm Malcolmson. Seeking a quiet, isolated rental property in which to study for his exams, Malcolmson leases a Jacobean manor rumored to be haunted by a notoriously ruthless judge. Each night, his concentration is interrupted by the squeals of vermin, and he is disturbed by an enormous rat that stares at him with vindictive eyes. Actor Ned Dennehy reenacts the moment the judge’s haunted portrait comes to life, and Malcolmson faces his final judgment. 

This piece was filmed at MoLI’s historic Newman House. Judge Nicholas Ball formerly lived in the building when it was a single family home; thankfully for staff, he does not appear to haunt the ornate lobby where he once received guests.

This story is loosely based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street’ (1851), later rewritten and published by Le Fanu as ‘Mr Justice Harbottle’ (1872).

‘The Prisoner’ from Earthbound (1924) by Dorothy Macardle

This story narrates the experience of Liam Daly, a fictional political prisoner during the Irish War of Independence, who recounts his hunger strike in Kilmainham Gaol. 

Performed by actor Roxanna Nic Liam, Daly speaks to the ghost of a young man imprisoned during the 1798 Rebellion. This apparition encourages Daly to fight for survival and to tell the truth: that the young man did not betray his leader, Lord Edward. The story’s final lines refer to a physical trace of history, an inscription that remains in Kilmainham where this segment was filmed. 

During the Irish Civil War, Dorothy Macardle was imprisoned with several other Republican women, many of whom went on hunger strike to protest unsanitary living conditions. Macardle’s inclusion of this graffiti, which appears at the film’s end, as well as the ghost of a United Irishman, demonstrates her awareness that she was creating history. It was during her incarceration in Kilmainham in 1921 that she wrote this story.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde’s gothic masterpiece The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) famously features a haunted portrait hidden in an attic. In this passage, Dorian first notices that although he himself remains physically unchanged, his cruel actions have corrupted the innocent beauty of his portrait. He contemplates his transition into manhood as a result of his newly adopted experiential philosophy: to cultivate his life as a work of art. A member of London’s elite upper class, Dorian seeks out the city’s forbidden pleasures as he explores the labyrinthine periphery of the city’s impoverished West End. 

Read by poet William Keohane, this piece was recorded at No. 1 Merrion Square, the Georgian townhouse where Wilde was raised. The modern cityscape’s movement of buses and pedestrians can be seen in the background. This house played an important role in nineteenth-century Dublin’s literary culture as the site of Lady Jane ‘Sperenza’ Wilde’s famous salons, attended by writers including Bram Stoker.