Exploring Literary Dublin

Exploring Literary Dublin photo

The Irish are avid readers, perhaps that's why they've produced so many famous writers. While James Joyce probably is the first to come to mind, there are plenty of others — Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Sean O'Casey, Bram Stoker — to name a few.

Begin at the beginning — at the Old Library at Trinity College and the Book of Kells. The gorgeously illustrated original manuscript of the Book of Kells is the main draw here, but the massive Long Hall of the Old library itself is equally if not even more impressive. Go back into history by viewing two pages of the Book of Kells while feeling the knowledge surrounding you in thousands of original Irish books.

A few blocks up Dame Avenue is the Chester Beatty Library, housed within Dublin Castle. It offers a window into the artistic treasures of the great cultures and religions of the world with Egyptian papyrus texts, beautifully illuminated copies of the Qur'an and the Bible, and European medieval and Renaissance manuscripts amongst the highlights.

Then stroll over six blocks to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Take a moment to visit the grave of Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver's Travels. Within St. Patrick's Close, you'll find Marsh's Library. Built in 1701 and with an interior which has remained unchanged since, it's Ireland's oldest public library and contains some 25,000 printed books relating to the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. It's a magnificent example of a 17th century scholar's library.

Another six blocks further on brings to you the birthplace of George Bernard Shaw on Synge Street. The Shaw Birthplace is a finely restored 19th century house which gives an insight into the early life of the famous playwright. It was here where he began to gather the store of characters that would later populate his works.

Next head over the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the River Liffey and the Abbey Theater, Ireland's national theater. Founded by Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats and renowned as a writers' theater, The Abbey Theater has contributed some of the world's greatest theatrical works from such writers as J.M. Synge and Sean O'Casey to the modern playwrights, Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Frank McGuinness, Hugh Leonard, Tom MacIntyre and Sebastian Barry. This is a great place to see an Irish play. Check the schedule of performances to see if you can fit one in during our stay.

If it's James Joyce and the world of Ulysses you're interested in, then your next stop, The James Joyce Center, will surely intrigue you. The Center is in a beautifully restored Georgian house containing exhibitions and items relating to the life and works of Joyce.

There's also a James Joyce Museum, located in the Martello Tower south of Dublin. It houses a collection of Joyce memorabilia including letters, photographs, first and rare editions as well as personal possessions and items associated with the Dublin of Ulysses. If you have time, why not explore the world of Ulysses for yourself and visit the sights and scenes of the famous novel with the "In the Steps of Ulysses" Walk, part of the Dublin Tourism iWalk series of free downloadable podcasts and maps.

Three blocks over, you'll find the Dublin Writers Museum, an essential place to visit for anyone who wants to discover, explore, or simply enjoy Dublin's immense literary tradition. Situated in a magnificent Georgian mansion on Parnell Square, its collection spans 300 years of books, letters, portraits and personal items belonging to Swift, Sheridan, Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett, the city's most famous literary sons.

No exploration of Dublin's literary heritage would be complete without a visit to the National Library of Ireland, located on Kildare Street just off the Trinity College campus. Housing books, prints, manuscripts, newspapers, music, ephemera and genealogical material, it has the most outstanding collection of Irish documentary heritage in the world.

And to cap off why not follow in the footsteps of Joyce, Beckett, Wilde and Behan on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, an engaging walking tour around some of Dublin's famous watering holes, such as Mulligans, Joyce's favorite, The Palace Bar, with its private "snug" booths, and McDaids, for an evening filled prose, poetry, and song. This is a creative crash course in Irish literature, history, and architecture. It combines street theater with the "craic" that makes Dublin pubs the liveliest in Europe. Performances by professional actors are central to the experience, plus there's a fun-filled quiz with prizes for the winners. There's just enough time for a pint in each pub as well.

Writers like Austin Clarke favored the great black hat that was once, in London and Dublin, the sign of an artist and intellectual. He also wore a dark clerical style overcoat that often caused people to mistake him for a preacher. While you may not be wearing a big black hat and a cape, you'll still have a fine time exploring literary Dublin.