Forget the castles and museums, the historic sites and shopping districts. On any given trip to a new destination, I’m the girl who seeks out the nearest used bookstore or library. I believe a place’s collection of literature—like its cemetery—is a fascinating peek into the local culture and values of the local people.
Ireland in general and Dublin specifically have a rich literary tradition. I admittedly did not have time to thoroughly explore it while I was there a few weeks ago, but I would like to return to the city someday to fully learn about and appreciate the wordsmiths who have stomped the country’s literary footprint on the world map.
I bought a postcard of Ireland’s “literary masters” while I was there, and I couldn’t help but notice that it featured eight old white men. James Joyce and Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde: These are the guys who have helped to define Ireland’s literature as the world knows it, but modern day contemporary authors include such esteemed women as Maeve Binchy. In fact, it was Ms. Binchey’s novel, Circle of Friends, that I thought of first when I thought of Irish literature, not Ulysses or Dracula or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Though I plan to return someday, I did hit up a few of Dublin’s literary sites in the short time I was there:
> Book of Kells and the Long Room
The Book of Kells is a 680-page book containing the Latin texts of the Four Gospels. I am not a religious person, but I’d heard about this artfully illustrated tome that was written sometime around 800 AD, and my interest was piqued. Like any book on display, viewing it is a bit of a letdown because 1) it’s a book and books aren’t all that big, and 2) books on display can only be open to a single page. That said, the exhibit leading up to the actual book is stellar and definitely worth taking the time to browse. It discusses the different fonts and lettered artwork, how the book was organized and put together, and what the publishing process was like way back in the day.
Upstairs from the Book of Kells is the Long Room, which was basically my version of paradise. Little is noted about the Long Room because it’s just an added attraction to the Book of Kells, but I actually enjoyed it more for its aesthetic features. The Long Room is a two-story, cathedral-like room spanning several hundred feet that holds nothing but books. It. Is. Gorgeous. There was an exhibit about illustrations in the Long Room while I was there, but most people snapped a few photos in the room before quickly walking through it and making their way to the gift shop. I spent time enjoying the exhibit and peering at the spines of the old books before finally making my way out.
> Dublin Writers Museum
This museum, which celebrates Dublin’s literary history, was opened in an 18th-century mansion in 1991. It features several rooms packed with artifacts and memorabilia of Ireland’s literary greats including Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett, among others. The items in the museum are both common and curious and include reading glasses, letters, journals, press passes and typewriters.
I didn’t get to spend the time I wanted to at the museum as we were rushing around preparing for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but what I did notice in my brief browse was that all of these items were accompanied by informational place cards, which provided background details on the writers and the paths they took to become the literary icons they are today.
> Oscar Wilde Statue
On one of the city maps I had, there was a statue marked in one corner of Merrion Square. As I looked at the map a bit closer, I realized that several literary statues had been marked around the city. Dublin takes its literature seriously, and throughout the city’s streets are memorial markers and statues dedicated to the written word.
The statue of Oscar Wilde features the author lounged across a rock, as if he’s sunbathing in a suit. It’s actually a bit comical because it is so casual. Right across the path from this statue are a few smaller statues that have quotes written on their bases. These were just as interesting as the Oscar Wilde piece, and I was glad I had taken the detour through Merrion Square to take a peek at this little corner dedicated to one of the country’s most famous authors.
For those who want to explore more of what the city has to offer in the literary realm, check in with the Dublin tourism department.