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Literary escapade: Dublin

Welcome to my personal literary tour of Dublin, the city where the sun shines several times a day. Dublin is a Unesco City of Literature, like Melbourne, Iowa City, Reykjavik and Edimburg. I purchased this marvellous guide, Dublin, City of Literature by Muriel Bolger and it helped me spot the different places I should look for. It includes four literary walks and lists and describes 200 Irish writers. That’s a goldmine for me and to be honest, I didn’t know there were as many writers as that. For a city of this size, there are so many references to writers everywhere that it’s impossible to see everything.

So I decided to do this literary tour my way and show you what I saw while strolling through the city. It started with Swift at the St Patrick’s Cathedral. Swift has been the Dean of the place from 1713 to 1745. He’s buried there with his beloved Stella at his side and you can read parts of his bio.

This is the way I enjoy learning about a writer’s life, being on the premises, seeing and reading things. (That’s the luxury and unrealistic way to do it, I know. I can’t travel all over the globe to see the places where writers came from.) In the nearby park, the literary fest continues with plaques of different writers embodied in a wall. Swift used to live in Dublin Castle, the oldest part of the city and of course, there’s a plaque to draw your attention to it.

Around Merrion Square, it’s a festival of plaques and writers.

I have to admit I’d never heard of “AE”, but I’m not much into poetry or of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Has anyone read him? This Georgian area was visibly a place much enjoyed by artists. It’s quiet with similar houses around a garden which used to be for the sole use of the inhabitants of these houses. (Aren’t there places like this in London as well?)

The garden is pretty and has this big statue of Oscar Wilde.

It looks painted but it’s not. It’s made of different kinds of stones. Honestly, I’m not sure the poor man would be happy about it. Or proud. He’s got a lopsided smirk which is a bit insulting for his wit. Otherwise, you keep stumbling upon his aphorisms in shops and the Olympia Theatre currently features A Woman of No Importance.

Let’s leave Dublin for an instant to say that in Galway, they have a double Wilde statue: Oscar and Eduard, an Estonian writer.

Of course I’ve never heard of Eduard but I will certainly check him out. After all, I still don’t have a writer for Estonia for my EU Book Tour. And of course, there are the inevitable quotes by Oscar painted on a souvernir shop that looks like an American wedding cake. That was for Galway.

Back to Dublin. There you have various statues of writers in St Stephen’s Garden. I never found Yeats but I was surprised to meet with Tagore in an alley. I wonder why he’s in Saint Stephen’s Gardens with Joyce and other Irish writers.

As I haven’t read Ulysses — Yet. I have it both in French and in English and I’m told I need a guidebook, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for — I missed most of the Joyce references while visiting.

I knew I had to look for plaques on the pavement but the only one I saw is the one I included here and I have no idea whether it’s part of the Ulysses pilgrimage or not.

I did figure out that Sweny’s, Drugist and Chemist had something to do with Ulysses when I walked by it since the front window is full of Joyce references. And that’s where the guidebook becomes handy: it gives explanations. This is the shop where Leopold Bloom waited amid the spell of sponges and loofas to buy his four-penny cake of sweet lemony soap. Right. I’ll know what that means when I’ve read the book. This explains why I didn’t visit the James Joyce Centre, I couldn’t impose this on my husband and children.

Then I came accross the hands of Edna O’Brien, on a plaque sealed in the pavement, like famous actors’ hands on Hollywood Boulevard and Trollope was waiting for us at the Post Office since he worked for the post office in Ireland from 1841 to 1844. That was quite unexpected.

I didn’t go to the James Joyce Centre but I paid a visit to the Dublin Writers Museum. That’s a nice place to visit. It’s settled in a beautiful old house and it gives information about Irish writers. They have first editions, clothes and all kinds of relics bookworms long to see. I was a bit in a rush as the rest of the family was waiting outside but I enjoyed the time I spent there and of course, I bought books at the bookstore.

But there’s more to Dublin’s literary side than the constant reminders of the great writers who lived, worked or were born here.  We all enjoyed seeing The Book of Kells in Trinity College, the process of making a book in the Middle Ages fascinated the children. They loved to see how they corrected mistakes with drawings and they had difficulties to wrap their mind around the concept of copying a book by hand. The Chester Beaty Library is also extraordinary, showing books in different cultures: Western illuminations, Ottoman, Chinese and Japanese traditions. The building is fantastic in itself.

I could write more, add more pictures and I would fail to tell you how much I enjoyed my stay in Ireland. True, the weather gods were with us, we had a lot of sun. But still, I’ve seen more statues of Joyce than of the Virgin Mary and it means something in a Catholic country, no?

PS: I have to thank my husband (who took most of the pictures) and my children for their patience. They think I’m nuts but they let me have my way. As always when I write a post with many pictures, I hope it looks fine on your computer, phone, tablet or whatever you use to watch this. It looks good on my computer.

  1. August 26, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Le Fanu wrote gothic fiction, so you have to be in the mood for that.

    The book you bought sounds marvellous–especially for us readers. I agree with you re: the statue of Oscar Wilde. He looks drunk.

    I was just reading how much Trollope’s salary was and it sounds like a fortune when I compare it to poor Reardon’s budget in Gissing’s New Grub Street.

    So where is the list of books you bought?


    • August 26, 2012 at 11:14 pm

      No Le Fanu for me, I don’t think I’ll ever be in the mood for gothic fiction.
      The guidebook is great, most of it is about the writers’ bios and work. It helps discovering new writers or realising that someone you thought was English is actually Irish. (same problem for French-speaking Belgian artists)
      I didn’t like that statue.
      I also saw a Joyce plaque in a pub in the middle of nowhere. For me, it’s still puzzling since he’s no Dickens or Maupassant. His work is difficult, not accessible to any reader. You don’t have Proust statues all over France.

      I wondered if someone would ask the list of books. 🙂 I bought A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien. Not as many books as I would have liked but I had to carry them around for the rest of the day and that stopped me. I’m tempted to read books that were censored. It always makes me curious.


      • August 27, 2012 at 1:46 am

        I have At Swim-Two Birds as well. Haven’t read it yet, but Anthony Burgess named it as one of the Best English Language Books since 1939.

        Yes, interesting how Irish writers are co-opted into seeming to be British. Irish authors were absent in my English lit curriculum at school.


        • August 27, 2012 at 6:59 am

          I liked the blurb. I have a collection of short stories by Joseph O’Connor. They’re good so far.

          Was it deliberate to avoid Irish writers in school?


  2. August 27, 2012 at 1:48 am

    That’s an incredible city! No wonder Cees Nooteboom, in one of his travelogues, described Ireland as one of the countries “where literature and poetry were held in higher esteem than anywhere else in Europe.” Nooteboom even talks about all seats in an Irish flight “upholstered in facsimiles of the handwriting of Joyce and Beckett, Wilde, and Swift”! If only all cities and all countries were that literary! Haha 🙂


    • August 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

      It’s incredible. I wonder where it comes from. History, I suppose. If I’m correct, Ireland has a strong tradition with books and scholars. I read somewhere that Charlemagne “imported” Irish monks when he needed “teachers”. (I simplify a lot)


  3. August 27, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Hi Emma, thanks for the virtual tour! I think the first ever post I read on here was a similar tour you did of Paris. Always enjoy some good photos, and yes, they displayed just fine for me. I’m intrigued by the Tagore statue as well – I don’t know of any Irish connection, and would be interested to hear the rationale behind it. I actually liked the Oscar Wilde statue! It’s so lifelike and attention-grabbing, and so different from the usual stilted-looking statues and busts. I think you’re right, though, that he probably wouldn’t be happy about it, and there’s something a little creepy about that smirk…


    • August 27, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      Sorry for the slow answer, you were in the spam box. I wonder why…

      I did a few “literary errands” posts about Paris, Balzac and Voltaire. It’s a lot of fun to do and nice to share that with people who rave about Balzac’s coffee pot as much as I do.

      I don’t see why Tagore is there. Because he died the same year as Joyce? Or because he was from a British colony?

      The pose is OK, except for the smile. But this colours are dreadful. Nice bronze or stone would have been enough for me. I suppose the colored stone is to remind his clothing and his dandy fashion.


  4. August 27, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Lovely post. Thanks. So that’s where you’ve been. did you mention that before?
    I’ve read Le Fanu and have a book by AE as well. He was a mystic and a poet, not for you either.
    That’s quite a tour you did. I like Dublin a lot, I found it’s a very welcoming city and wouldn’t have minded staying there longer.
    I’ve got Flann O’Brien after my post on Funny Novels. It’s been suggested by quite a few people.
    It’s really worth to focus on non-US, non-UK English books for a while. Ireland, Canada, Australia, there literature is so rich.


    • August 27, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      I don’t think I mentioned it before. OK, so no Le Fanu and no AE for me. There are enough of Irish writers to pick one I’ll like.
      I really enjoyed Dublin. It’s the same size as Lyon (they have the same city bikes as us, btw. Only theirs are blue) but it seems more lively.


  5. leroyhunter
    August 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Lovely post Emma. I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip (and had good weather). You packed a lot in!

    That pavement marker you snapped is actually marking a site where Viking-era relics were found. The Ulysses ones have little snippets of text apt to a specific location – they’re small though, so easy to miss with the crowds.

    The Chester Beatty is wonderful isn’t it? A remarkable man.

    It was really great to get to meet you all, even just briefly….


    • August 27, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      Thanks for the info about that plaque. OK, I totally missed the Joyce signs. I’ll have to come again after I’ve read the book. (that’s a reward and a motivation)

      The Chester Beatty Library is exceptional, very educational and even the children got interested in the manuscripts.

      And yes, it was great to meet. Now you’re the only one in this virtual literary salon who knows what I look like. 🙂


      • leroyhunter
        September 3, 2012 at 11:40 am

        I can say the same about you!

        I was going to investigate the Tagore statue but I see Doug has done the needful.

        Can’t wait to see what you make of Flann O’Brien…he’s one of my absolute favourites, a flawed genius if ever there was one.


        • September 3, 2012 at 10:27 pm

          I’m looking forward to reading Flann O’Brien. But when??? I’ve been reading Broken Harbour for a while now, and I haven’t read half of it.


  6. August 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I was wondering why there was no mention of Flann O’Brien! Then I saw you bought one of his books. That’s a mischievous, funny one; but then, they all are.

    The best guide for “Ulysses” is probably a copy of “The Odyssey.” And be patient; once we meet Bloom, it gets better.

    The soap is a charming detail: It travels over Bloom’s body, from pocket to pocket, as he wanders through Dublin…


    • August 28, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      I’m glad I made a good choice with Flann O’Brien. There’s no picture about him because I just took what crossed my path. I didn’t follow the literary routes of my guide.

      I was planning on reading Homer to prepare my exploration of Ulysses. If it’s enough of a guidebook, that’s perfect for me. I’d rather read Homer than an academic book.

      Thanks for explaining the soap reference.

      To all: Has anyone tried Brendan Behan? Which one is the best to start with?


  7. August 29, 2012 at 12:39 am

    What a delightful sounding visit! I almost always find it rewarding to track down those places where my favorite writers have set foot, and should I ever make it to Dublin, I now have some idea of where to start. That bit about the soap in Ulysses is fascinating; while I haven’t read it, I seem to recall that there’s a similar thing with pebbles in Molloy, by that other Irish writer, Samuel Beckett…


    • August 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      It was a delightful visit, it’s worth going.

      Have you tried visiting Paris with David Burke’s Writers in Paris, Literary Lives in the City of Lights?It’s great, detailed by neighbourhood and it mixes fictional places (like the pension Vauquier) and real ones (places where writers used to live)


      • August 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm

        I think I may actually have been given this book at some point, so I should see if I can dig it out. One can barely walk a block in Paris without stumbling onto some writerly thing.


        • August 29, 2012 at 11:24 pm

          I did a “literary errand” with that book once. It was a fun walk.
          In France, almost everything literary is in Paris, unfortunately.


  8. August 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    great place I spent many hoildays in my youth there as my grandfather took a stall at the antique fair every year ,my favourite writers be O’brein and Doyle,all the best stu


    • August 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      Thanks Stu. I’ll keep Doyle in mind, thanks for the recommendation.


  9. August 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    It does sound rather wonderful. My impression is that Joyce is a big part of the city’s tourist trail now, which doesn’t of course mean he’s widely read there…

    The thing of co-opting Irish writers as British is surprisingly common. I think it’s sometimes just plain ignorance, an assumption of Britishness because they’re not American so what else could they be?

    I’ll second Stu’s recommendation for Doyle. The Van is great (though the third of a trilogy, think it would stand alone though) and I’m a big fan of his Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which is a tremendous book.

    Must re-read The Dubliners.


    • September 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      American, British and Irish writers are all on the same shelf here: littérature anglophone.
      Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll look for Doyle (in French though)


  10. September 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for that fascinating post, and for the pictures. Makes me wnt to book a ticket for Dublin right away. Dublin, is, I suppose, *the* literary city … even though Joyce preferred to spend most of his life in Paris!

    And the presence of Tagore amongst all the Irish luminaries does seem a bit odd, doesn’t it?


    • September 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      Thanks for the message Himadri.
      Yes, it would be the right city to gather European book bloggers for a meeting.

      I don’t know why Tagore is there, it’s not in my guides and he’s the only foreign writer I saw.


  11. September 3, 2012 at 9:32 am

    You made me curious about Tagore! I looked it up: the statue was put up last year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, as part of a celebration organized by the Indian Embassy. Apparently, some of Tagore’s plays were premiered in Dublin; and Yeats championed his writings; but it probably has more to do with Irish-Indian relations.


    • September 3, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      Thanks for researching this, Doug. Very much appreciated.

      I expected some kind of solidarity between Irish and Indian people: they had the British domination in commong after all.


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