I am not one for clichéd tourist destinations, always having preferred to browse the shelves of Shakespeare and Co in Paris rather than visit the Eiffel Tower. I am proud to say I have never been to Egypt or the pyramids, happy to leave that to the 3 million people who go there every year.
Between my husband and myself we have managed to coin a new term ‘rent a crowd.’ Examples of ‘Rent a Crowd,’ include people who go to Glastonbury just so they can say ‘I’ve been to Glastonbury,’ or those who insist on paying extortionate prices for their yearly skiing holiday just to keep up with their corporate friends. I think you get the idea. People who can’t think for themselves and prefer a follow the crowd.
Anyway I digress. Gaping mouths, head shaking, ‘but why?’ are just a few of the reactions we have had to choosing Ireland as a holiday destination this year. This just gives us more satisfaction in knowing that we will never be ‘rent a crowd.’
England may have given Ireland the English Language, but Ireland has sure as hell given them the literature. From Yeats, Swift, Shaw, Bramstoker and Wilde to Joyce, Beckett, C.S Lewis and Heaney, the list of iconic writers who were either born in Ireland, or who hold Irish citizenship just goes on and on.
The Irish literary tradition is one of the most illustrious in the world, famous for four Nobel prize winners and for many other writers of international renown. Dublin is one of only seven UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization) cities of literature in the world, along with Norwich, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa, Reykjavik and Krakow. If you think historically; mass immigration from Ireland following the potato famine and also later during periods of conflict, is probably one of the reasons Melbourne, Norwich and Edinburgh have become literary capitals in their own right.
Located in the heart of Dublin, at No 18, Parnell Square, the Dublin Writer’s Museum is only a five minutes walk from O’Connell Street. The original-eighteenth century house which accommodates the museum rooms, library, gallery and cafe is spectacular and deserves a visit in its own right. No 19, Parnell Street houses the Irish Writer’s Centre, containing meeting rooms and offices of the Irish Writers Union, the society of Irish Playwrights, the Irish Children’s Book Trust and the Translators Association of Ireland.
The brain child of journalist and author Maurice Gorham (1902-1975), the museum opened in November 1991 to promote interest in Irish literature as a whole and in the lives and works of Irish writers.
The writers chosen to feature in the museum are those who have made an important contribution to Irish or international literature or, on a local level, to the literature of Dublin. It is very much a view of Irish Literature from a Dublin perspective. I am afraid you will have to head to Belfast if you want to learn more about C.S Lewis.
Room one presents the history of Irish literature from the beginning to the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the literary revival. Room two is entirely devoted to great writers of the twentieth century. Living writers, even those who have already established a place in history are not included in the display.
At the top of the grand staircase is the Gorham library with its exquisite Stapleton ceiling. Here is the museum’s reserve of books, including rare first editions and critical works. There are also displays of volumes from special collections.
In the museum collections itself are of course the books representing milestones in the progress of Irish Literature from Gulliver’s Travels, Dracula, The Importance of Being Ernest, Ulysses and Waiting for Godot. With most being first or early editions, recapturing the moment when they were first unleashed on the world.
There are books inscribed to Oliver Gogarty by W.B Yeats and to Brinsley Mac Namara by James Joyce, while a first edition of Patrick Kavanagh’s The Greatest Hunger includes in the poets own hand a stanza which the prudish publisher declined to print.
Of course there are the famous pens, pipes and typewriters you would expect of such a museum. However there are some curious personal possessions you may not expect, such as Lady Gregory’s lorgnette, Austin Clarke’s desk, Samuel Beckett’s telephone, May Levis’ teddy bear, and Brendan Behan’s union card, complete with fingerprints.
However for me the two greatest treasures were James Joyce’ piano and Handel’s chair used at the 1742 premiere of ‘Messiah,’ held in Dublin. Interestingly ‘Messiah’ didn’t get its London premiere until nearly a year later.
Another top tip for Dublin would be the ‘Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl,’ which begins coincidentally at the Oliver St. John Gogarty’s pub, on the corner of Fleet St. & Anglesea St., Temple Bar, Dublin 2. It is led by two professional Irish musicians who perform tunes and songs, while telling the story of Irish Music and it’s influences on contemporary world music.
If you are up on your music history you will know that the Irish famine triggered mass emigration to America. The storytelling and traditional music of Ireland went with these people. Out of this merging of cultures came folk music. Bob Dylan still talks about how much he has been influenced by the story telling and music of Ireland. He is particularly fond of Irish myths such as those of Cuchulain.
Irish music also mixed with the music of American Afro Caribbean slaves to produce, blues and then rock and roll. For that we will always be indebted to traditional Irish music. I can also assure you that you’ll only hear authentic acoustic Irish music on this tour and none of that amplified ‘Danny Boy’ rubbish that makes true Irish musicians shudder. Remember it’s not traditional Irish music if there is an amplifier involved.
If you are a creative person like myself then Ireland is a dream destination. I will always be proud of the Irish blood that runs through my veins.