As a Unesco City of Literature, Dublin is associated with four Nobel Prize Laureates – WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney – while modern scribes, such as Sally Rooney, Anne Enright, and Colm Tóibín, are busy ensuring the country’s continued literary prowess. Their collective works offer armchair travellers a vivid picture of the city across the decades, but nothing quite matches a boots-on-the-ground experience to sample Dubliners’ unique propensity for chat where, in one exhale, myriad subjects – from the tragic to the terribly witty and the utterly nonsensical – can be covered.
Make a scholarly start in the literary capital at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland’s oldest university. Alumni are illustrious – roll calls past have included Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, Sally Rooney, et al. The Book of Kells, in Trinity’s Old Library, is a prerequisite pitstop while on campus – as is a visit to one of the world’s most beautiful libraries, the Long Room.
Flanked with austere busts of philosophers and writers, the 65-metre-long chamber has enjoyed legal deposit status since 1801, meaning the library can claim a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. A lengthy catalogue to work your way through, even if you wanted to rummage around the prolific archives (for, say, the rest of your life), you’d need a library reader’s card to do so. Post-library tour, channel your inner Marianne (or indeed Frances) and do a lap of the college campus, conjuring scenes from ‘the Rooneyverse’s’ Conversations with Friends and Normal People as you go. Press pause on your Connell-/Bobbi-fuelled daydreams and scholastic pursuits and head to Kaph on South William Street (a five-minute walk from campus) for a quick coffee (you’ll likely rub shoulders with ‘Trinners’ students as you queue).
Recaffinated, more bookish spots await in the city’s centre: there’s MoLI – ‘a museum of literature for the world’s greatest storytellers’ – and Marsh’s Library, Ireland’s first public library. Hodges Figgis takes the title of Ireland’s oldest bookshop, while Stokes Books in George’s Street Arcade and Sweny’s Pharmacy (which is namechecked in Ulysses no less) are go-tos for second-hand titles. Ulysses Rare Books on Duke Street offers an impressive selection of first editions. For a bit of everything, head to the Winding Stair, a characterful spot which takes its name from a Yeats poem (he crops up a lot in Dublin). Feeling peckish? Sample some traditional Irish fare at the restaurant perched above the bookshop while perusing your latest purchases.
Dublin’s public houses have long been associated with writers (music to the ears of thirsty literary lovers on vacation). Toner’s is said to be the only watering hole visited by Yeats (see?), while writers Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan had a penchant for Neary’s on Chatham Street – both were also known to frequent the Horseshoe Bar, located inside the Shelbourne Hotel. James Joyce met his wife Nora Barnacle at the Lincoln’s Inn, and Davy Byrnes on Duke Street was another of his haunts. Make like the fictive Leopold Bloom, who dropped into Davy Byrnes for a cheese sandwich in June of 1904 and order yourself the very same – some sustenance/soakage in between literary learnings and, well, copious pints of Guinness is well advised.
Further sobering comes courtesy of Dublin’s theatre scene. Witness the works of Éire’s great playwrights presented on stage at the Abbey Theatre; the playhouse is known as the national theatre of Ireland. Founded in 1904 by WB Yeats (yep, him again) and Lady Gregory, their aim was ‘to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland’ – an ethos which carries through to today’s artistic programming.
For a change of scene, venture to Dublin’s trendy Stoneybatter, where you’ll find the Lilliput Press, one of Ireland’s oldest independent publishers. The independent Dublin-based literary press, the Stinging Fly Press – an offshoot of the Stinging Fly magazine (where Sally Rooney was a former editor) – is also worth bookmarking. Always on the cutting edge, both the magazine and the imprint ‘seek out, nurture, publish, and promote the very best new writers and new writing’. Budding authors: pencils at the ready – they also run a workshop programme in association with the Irish Writers Centre.
At the day’s end, rest your book(s) on the nightstand at the Wilder Townhouse. A nod to Oscar, the red-brick hotel is well located, sitting just beyond the city’s centre. After a good night’s sleep, head to the coast, marking the James Joyce Tower and Museum in Sandycove as the starting point for the next chapter of your literary odyssey.
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