James Joyce and the Dublin Writers Museum

IMG_0484This 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.

IMG_0573Great 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.


Tea at the Merrion Hotel

photoIt’s been a good and full day! I arrived in Ireland yesterday — flew into Shannon Airport (my favorite old haunt from my Fulbright year living in nearby Limerick), took a taxi to the Colbert Station in the Limerick City Centre, and then hopped on a Bus Éireann bus to Dublin — a 4 1/2 hour trip. The bus was nearly 1/5th the cost of the train, and it was lovely, actually, to wind slowly through the towns and villages along the way, reacquainting me with some of my favorite little villages and landscapes — the pretty twin towns of Killaloe (a beautiful restaurant, The Wooden Spoon) and Ballina, and the gorgeous Lough Derg separating them. I got off at Heuston Station in Dublin (a beautiful station, built in 1846), and took a taxi to the hotel on Parnell Square. I walked the area and did some scouting and paperwork, worked to get my wireless up and running, and rested a bit.

This morning (well rested), I was up early and had a delicious Irish brekkie (oh, the rashers!) before I headed out. I walked to the Busáras, the central train station in Dublin, to scout out how long it would take to walk there from our hotel and how much the tickets to Belfast would cost. Then, I walked past the beautiful Custom House, and across the Liffey to Merrion Square (the heart of Georgian Dublin) — for some lovely wee scones with cream and jam, and tea and a read of the Irish Times. Then, across the street to the National Gallery, one of my favorite galleries (with a lovely bookshop and cafe; although their inventory, like that of many places, has been greatly reduced). The new exhibition, From the Archives: The Story of the National Gallery of Ireland, was exquisite — over 100 items from the NGI Archives, Library and Print Room collections, featuring historical records, registers, publications, photographs, correspondence and architectural plans that are an integral part of the history of this gallery.

Next, I headed to the Grafton Street shopping area off of St. Stephen’s Green and picked up an Irish SIM card for my university international mobile and purchased some LEAP bus passes for all of us. Mostly, we’ll be walking — but there are a few places where we’ll take the bus/DART/LUAS. I’m excited for my Honors students to arrive — they’ll be here on Sunday. I have welcome packets ready for them at the desk in the lobby, and we’ll have dinner together after everyone arrives — something cheap and cheerful! Tomorrow, I’ll pick up tickets at the nearby Gate Theatre for Oscar Wilde’s play, An Ideal Husband — an 1895 melodrama. It will be a fabulous opportunity for students to engage with the Wilde wit and Irish culture of a certain era.