Skip to comments.Dublin's a Feast for the Literary Pilgrim [Fall in love with Dublin]
Posted on 09/06/2006 7:54:07 AM PDT by Incorrigible
Dublin's a Feast for the Literary Pilgrim
BY LAURA T. RYAN
DUBLIN, Ireland -- Even before the wheels of our Aer Lingus jet lifted up off the runway at New York's Kennedy International Airport, Ireland's literary legacy made its presence felt.
There, stitched into the upholstery of the seatback in front of me, were the words of Oscar Wilde ("We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars"), William Butler Yeats ("I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree"), as well as James Joyce, John Millington Synge, Sean O'Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, Flann O'Brien and Samuel Beckett.
As the plane flew through the night, across the Atlantic, we slept in a cradle of Irish words.
And the stage for a literary odyssey was set.
The tapestry of Irish storytelling traces back to early Gaelic civilization, when poets and monks used the oral tradition to pass on stories and customs. Today the small nation is proud to have produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Ireland's capital, Dublin, has multiple claims to literary fame. The magnificent illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells is on display at Trinity College. Dublin provides the setting for what the Modern Library in 1998 declared the 20th century's greatest novel in English, "Ulysses" by James Joyce.
Oh, and those four Nobel laureates? Dubliners, all. Beckett, Yeats and George Bernard Shaw were born in the capital city. And poet Seamus Heaney, who won the prize in 1995, hails from Northern Ireland but now lives in Dublin.
As a traveler gazes out at the River Liffey or scuffles across the cobbled courtyards of Trinity College, the ghosts of Swift, Joyce and Beckett seem to lurk around every corner.
Here's where the literary paths of Dublin lead:
-- Dublin Writers Museum, www.writersmuseum.com.
Located in a Georgian mansion dating back to the 18th century, the museum features two gallery rooms filled with photographs, letters, first editions, portraits and assorted writer memorabilia (including a copy of "Ulysses" signed by Joyce, Beckett's telephone with a large red button to block incoming calls, and the typewriter Brendan Behan famously chucked through a pub window in a drunken rage -- or so the story goes).
Visitors slowly stroll past the glass display cases, listening to a digital audio guide available in six languages.
The first room traces the history of Irish poetry and storytelling and the international literary contributions of such 18th-century masters as satirist Jonathan Swift (author of "Gulliver's Travels" and "A Modest Proposal," who also served as dean of Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral); dramatist William Congreve ("The Way of the World" and "Love for Love"); essayist and poet Oliver Goldsmith ("The Traveller" and "The Deserted Village"); and dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan ("The School for Scandal").
Nineteenth-century writers featured include novelist Maria Edgeworth ("Castle Rackrent"); poets Thomas Moore, James Mangan and Samuel Ferguson; and Gothic novelists Sheridan Le Fanu ("Uncle Silas") and Bram Stoker ("Dracula").
And no exploration of 19th-century literature would be complete without an examination of the wit of Dubliners Wilde -- who wrote essays, poems ("The Ballad of Reading Gaol"), plays ("The Importance of Being Earnest") and novels ("The Picture of Dorian Gray") -- and Shaw -- literary critic, novelist ("Cashel Byron's Profession") and dramatist ("Caesar and Cleopatra" and "Pygmalion").
In the second room, visitors learn about the giants of the 20th century, including poet and playwright Yeats, who helped found the Abbey Theatre with poet and translator Lady Augusta Gregory; dramatist John Millington Synge ("The Playboy of the Western World"); Joyce ("Dubliners," "Ulysses"); playwright O'Casey, many of whose plays were influenced by the 1916 Easter Rising; Samuel Beckett ("Waiting for Godot"); and Behan ("The Hostage" and "Borstal Boy").
The museum also has a bookshop filled with specialized books and souvenirs.
-- Jameson Dublin Literary Crawl, www.dublinpubcrawl.com
In summer, Dublin actors lead nightly walking tours of pubs (short for public houses) famously frequented by some of Dublin's best-known writers, including Behan, Wilde and Beckett.
The tour takes about two hours "depending on how slowly you walk or how quickly you drink," actors Derek Reid and Donagh Deeny told us.
About 40 of us followed Reid and Deeny from the Duke Pub to M.J. O'Neill's Public House, the Old Stand (where Behan supposedly tipped a few, as did Irish revolutionary Michael Collins) and Davy Byrne's (where Leopold Bloom stopped in for a glass of Burgundy and a Gorgonzola sandwich in Joyce's "Ulysses"). We spent 20 minutes in each pub, more than enough time to order a "pint o' the plain," also known as Guinness.
Reid and Deeny also took us onto the campus of Trinity College, stopped at the Dublin Tourism Centre (housed in a former church), regaled us with stories of the city's literary history, performed a scene from Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" and described the trip Wilde once took to a Colorado silver-mining town, to deliver a talk on "art and aesthetics." The miners tried unsuccessfully to drink the Irish dandy under the table.
-- Trinity College, www.tcd.ie
The school -- founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth and situated on 40 acres in the middle of Dublin -- educated many of the world's great wordsmiths, including Swift, Goldsmith, Wilde and Beckett. A visitor can walk the same cobbled courtyards as those masters or stop in at the college's Old Library, whose awe-inspiring Long Room houses bookshelf upon bookshelf of early, leather-bound manuscripts. The collection includes the papers of dramatists Synge, Beckett and J.B. Keane and novelist John Banville.
But the college's biggest tourist draw by far is the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels, painstakingly produced by monks back in A.D. 800. Informative exhibits explain how the holy craftsmen imported pigments from as far afield as Afghanistan to produce the manuscript's bright colors.
-- Kilmainham Gaol Historical Museum
Numerous political prisoners died within the jail's cold stone walls between 1796 and 1924 -- including 15 leaders of the ill-fated Easter Rising of 1916, in which revolutionaries took over the General Post Office and read a proclamation announcing the establishment of an Irish republic under a provisional government.
The rebellion was swiftly put down by the British, but word of the nationalist leaders' executions at Kilmainham galvanized the Irish people's call for independence, which finally came in 1921.
The events surrounding the 1916 uprising not only influenced the Irish literature that followed (including the drama of O'Casey and Yeats' poem "Easter 1916"), it also cut short several sources of such writing. Among the leaders shot down by firing squad in Kilmainham's stone-cutters yard were poets Patrick Pearse and Joseph Plunkett and playwright Thomas MacDonagh.
-- James Joyce Centre, www.jamesjoyce.ie
Here visitors -- experts and the uninitiated alike -- can immerse themselves in the life of Dublin-born Joyce.
Situated in a restored 18th-century Georgian townhouse, the museum displays such interesting artifacts as the door to No. 7 Eccles St., the home of Leopold Bloom in "Ulysses," and furniture from the Paris apartment where Joyce wrote much of his 1939 novel "Finnegans Wake." The museum's bookshop sells various editions of Joyce's works, as well as posters, mugs, films, T-shirts, umbrellas and postcards.
-- James Joyce Museum
Located eight miles south of Dublin, in the tower featured in the first chapter of his masterpiece novel set in Dublin, "Ulysses," the museum houses letters, photographs, first and rare editions and personal possessions of Joyce, as well as items associated with the Dublin of "Ulysses."
-- Abbey Theatre
Established in 1904 by Lady Augusta Gregory and Yeats, Ireland's national theater continues to mount productions of plays from the Irish repertoire, classics from international theater and new plays. A bit of trivia: Synge's "The Playboy of the Western World" caused riots when it was first staged there in 1907.
-- Shaw Birthplace, www.gardensireland.com/shaw-birthplace.html
Peek into the first home of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Shaw, which, according to the Web site, has been "restored to its Victorian elegance and charm, and has the appearance that the family has just gone out for the afternoon."
Statues of Wilde (Merrion Square), Joyce (North Earl Street, across from Spire of Dublin), Thomas Moore (College Street) and Patrick Kavanagh (along the banks of the Grand Canal).
If you happen to be in Dublin on June 16 of any year, you're in luck -- that's the day the whole city celebrates Joyce's "Ulysses."
This year's enormous list of events included Bloomsday breakfasts, a Bloomsday plunge in the Forty-Foot bathing place beside the Tower in Sandycove where character Buck Mulligan swims in "Ulysses," readings, dramatizations, walking tours of Joyce's Dublin, pub visits, and servings of Burgundy and Gorgonzola cheese at Davy Byrne's.
Many events were canceled this year, however, because Bloomsday coincided with the funeral of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
The taoiseach (pronounced TEE-shock) is Ireland's head of government, much like a prime minister.
DUBLIN AT A GLANCE
Population: About 1.1 million (Dublin City and County)
Tourism information: Visit one of the city's many official Dublin Tourism offices, including the main branch on Suffolk Street, housed in the former St. Andrew's Church. Online at www.visitdublin.com.
Getting around: Dublin Bus (www.dublinbus.ie) operates the city's bus routes. I heartily recommend the line's convenient Hop-On/Hop-Off sightseeing bus tour, which stops at many of the locations listed in the story, as well as attractions of general interest, including the National Gallery (filled with objects of art dating back to the 14th century), the Natural History Museum (affectionately called the "Dead Zoo" by locals), Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Zoo and Guinness Storehouse (where you learn the 250-year history of the dark brew and taste a pint).
Sept. 5, 2006
(Laura T. Ryan is a staff writer for The Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Not for commercial use. For educational and discussion purposes only.
It's been a while since I've flown "Air Fungus" (which is finally being pushed out of the government nest!) so the literary upholstery is a new one on me!
Up the Dubs!
You country cultchies don't even rate!
Statues of Wilde (Merrion Square): Fag on the Crag
Joyce (North Earl Street, across from Spire of Dublin): Prick with the Stick
Thomas Moore (College Street): Meeting of the Waters
and Patrick Kavanagh (along the banks of the Grand Canal): Crank on the Bank
Just curious but were any of them Catholic?
Yeats: Church of Ireland
George Bernard Shaw: Church of Ireland
Seamus Heaney: Roman Catholic
Leaving for Ireland Oct.19 looking forward to visiting the Mrs. family. Also got pheasent, duck, and red deer hunting planned. I'll have to stop by Fox's in Dublin for a good cigar. The countdown has started.
"Stab City" always cracks me up!
My grandmother came from Limerick and never talked about her family and never returned despite a few opportunities to do so!
She would have been the same age as Frank McCourt's mother so who knows!
Thanks for the ping. I've always thought that Wilde is tiresome and overrated.
My in-laws prefer to come visit us. Warm, sunny beaches and big amusement parks are of significant interest to my teenage nieces and nephews.
Ireland has changed quite a bit over the past 20 years. Even the west of Ireland.
Snarkiness for snarkiness' sake will not put you in the first tier of authors, especially not in Ireland, where every author is witty.
As tiresome as Wilde can be, he cannot rival his fanbase for the title.
I'd take MD over Ulysses anyday. It's hilarious! If you read it without the whaling chapters its quite awesome.
But you have to "get" him - and it's not a matter of being intelligent or being unintelligent - it's a matter of finding his sense of humor amusing.
Maybe that's it . . . I should add that it's been almost 15 years since I even attempted Joyce, so it's entirely possible that my literary palate has matured, so to speak.
Yes, Borges, I'm gonna go give MD another try, mostly because of the aforementioned palate issue. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out I like it.
(But I bet them prisoners wouldn't cotton to 45 minutes of me going on and on and ON about the whiteness of the whale.)
Thanks. Joyce, I know, was ex-RC.
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