This wonderful statue is in the Merrion Hotel gardens — James Joyce, Ireland’s most famous literary export. There’s not a city of comparable size anywhere in the world that compares to literary Dublin — Nobel Prize winners and writers writing in every conceivable genre. I loved reading Joyce in high school and college and have continued to read his incredible writing and reconnect with his poems and prose, in deeper ways. His beautiful love poems (reflecting his interest in music) especially appeal but re-reading his nuanced and ironic stories in Dubliners — having now lived in Ireland twice and having been in Dublin dozens of times over the last decade and a half — is a lovely and better, more personal experience now.
Today, for the first time, I went to the Dublin Writers Museum, just around the corner on Parnell Square. What a lovely place — a compendium of the literary heritage by writers from the past. I learned about many historical Irish women writers about whom I’d previously known very little. It was wonderful to trace the roots of Irish poetry and storytelling — and learn more about the emergence of Jonathan Swift, William Congreve, Oliver Goldsmith and John D. Sheridan — all Irish writers with international status. I loved seeing the first edition of Bram Stocker’s Dracula (a favorite since childhood) — embodying the ‘Irish imagination at its darkest’ and reconnecting with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the brilliance of George Bernard Shaw. There were fabulous artifacts from 20th-century Irish Literary Revival giants — W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge (both of whom I adore — Yeats for his exquisite poetry and Synge for his lovely connection to the Blasket Islands), James Joyce, and Sean O’Casey and his nemesis, Oliver St. John Gogarty.
Great information on Sean O’Faolain (I am just reading an incredible memoir, Trespassers, by his daughter — journalist Julia O’Faolain), Frank O’Connor (who I got to meet in 2006, a wondrous encounter) and Kate O’Brien — all banned and censored in their time. Interesting artifacts from Patrick Kavanagh, Brian O’Nolan, Brendan Beehan, and Samuel Beckett. Upstairs, I got to see the Gallery of Writers, James Joyce’s piano, and the Gorham Library — so fabulous. I also want to visit the Irish Writers’ Center next door (the Dublin Writer’s Festival is on, now), promoting the work of contemporary Irish writers. And, I hope to also visit Marsh’s Library — Dublin’s oldest working library, an 18th-century classic that is supposed to be packed with ancient books and manuscripts, including some of the world’s rarest.
I’m really excited to see my students’ reaction to and engagement with the Trinity College Library, the gorgeous Long Room in the Old Library and the Book of Kells. I’ve visited the library, the long room and the Book of Kells exhibit dozens of times, and every time I learn something new and have a beautiful experience.