I’ve fallen sadly behind with recounting my trip to Europe. Apparently, after seven hours of wandering around in the chill of pre-Christmas London, the last thing you want to do is sit down and try to catch up on blog posts. I promise you, I always wake up with the best intentions, but no matter what I do, by the time I return home at night I fall straight into bed like I’ve forgotten what pillows feel like. Here is a rough idea of the way our day usually ends up going:
7am: Wake up. Look at the clock. Decide that it is ok to sleep for another ten minutes as am ‘on holiday’. Promptly fall into a deep sleep.
9am: Wake up and begin panicking because have already ‘wasted half the day’.
9:15am: Spend forty-five minutes getting dressed, drying hair, and putting on make-up. Perform complicated choreographed dance with sister as both of us try to use one air-raid-shelter-sized bathroom. Continue to panic and swear all the while for sleeping in so late.
10am: Set out from the hotel. Realise have not planned what we are going to do.
10:10am: Return to room to decide which museum/house/park we should visit. Agonise over itinerary and waste another fifteen minutes.
10:30am: Wander round the neighbourhood looking for a café to have breakfast in as the hostel does not serve food.
11am: Head to underground; try to use ticket; realise ticket has expired. Head to ticket counter where grapple unsuccessfully with confusing ticket-machine technology.
11:30am: Finally head towards museum/house/park, only to find that it has started to rain and the place does not open until 12pm. Walk around shivering and cursing lack of warm coat/boots. Swear will buy new coat/boots when finish at museum.
12pm: Enter museum.
1:45pm: Exit museum and walk around city for two hours, occasionally taking the odd, aimless picture.
3pm: Give up on doing anything else touristy. Head towards shops to look for coat/boots.
5pm: Spend two hours elbow-jousting with pre-Christmas crowds only to emerge, empty-handed, at the end of the night.
5:30pm: Throw up hands in disgust; buy salad and chocolate from supermarket and take the train home, dejected.
7pm: Watch Miranda with sister to cheer selves up (“Such fun!”). Swear will plan the next day better, before go to sleep.
10pm: Go to sleep. Wake up in morning and repeat steps.
Of course, London isn’t as bleak as this sounds; I’ve actually seen some amazing things, and been to some beautiful places. But I’m getting ahead of myself; I still have two days in Dublin to account for. And it wouldn’t be Dublin without mentioning the incomparable Oscar Wilde. He is one of the best-known Irish-born writers and certainly one of the best-loved. He is also just one of the people celebrated in Dublin’s Writers Museum. ‘Writers Museum’ is more or less synonymous with ‘Lit Major Nirvana’, so naturally I dressed eagerly last Monday morning and headed out into the chilly air to arrive, shivering and eager, ten minutes before the place was due to open.
Now, at the risk of sounding like a real geek, I have to confess that I already visited the Dublin Writers Museum a few years ago. So why, do you cry impatiently, would I ever want to visit the place again?! Well, for one thing, the space of several years means that most of the information I absorbed has slowly leaked out of my brain like spaghetti sauce through a colander. Secondly, the first time I went a big group was there, making the small rooms crowded and impossible to enjoy without elbowing someone in the face to clear some space. So I wandered back and forth along the street as I waited for ten o’clock to strike. In the meantime I admired a statue in the park opposite, which from the scant knowledge of Irish folktales I had acquired the day before (thank you Leprechaun Museum!) I guessed was a depiction of the story of The Children of Lir.
When ten o’clock finally came, I was the first person in the lobby. The man behind the desk seemed bemused by my eagerness as he handed over the audioguide. I entered the first exhibition room and was thrilled to find I had the place to myself. This meant I could listen to the guide without having to move around because I was hogging the exhibits. I parked myself before the first glass case and began to listen to the audio tour.
Now, most people my age use their smartphones to connect with their peers, form social networks, and arrange fun and exciting group activities. I use mine to take notes in museums. What can I say? I’m just that cool. Unfortunately, my zealous note-taking earned me some dirty looks from a father-and-son pair that had entered soon after I did, presumably because they assumed I was a) texting while in a museum and b) setting a bad example for the future generation. So, if you happen to be reading, my dear sir, here is a list of the fun facts I picked up while I was in the museum (because, I’d like to emphasise, I was not using my phone for anything else):
- Maria Edgeworth set the trend for the realist novel; Castle Rackrent was the first novel about an Irish family written in English.
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula was adapted from a short story called ‘Carmilla’ by Joseph le Fanu.
- Lady Gregory (1852 – 1932) was a well-known patron of the Irish arts and an accomplished playwright. Literary figures would gather at her home regularly.
- When J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World premiered in 1907, it caused riots due to the fact that it mentioned the word ‘shift’ (a kind of underwear) and its ‘immoral’ nature.
- Early editions of Joyce’s Ulysses had blue-and-white covers inspired by the Greek flag.
- Kate O’Brien was a writer in the early twentieth century who wrote several novels about women. Many were banned. Her popularity waned but has recently been revived thanks to her feminist themes and strong prose style.
- Patrick Kavanagh wrote the words to ‘If You Ever go to Dublin Town’, which has since been turned into a folk song.
- Kavanagh’s books were also censored (which seems to happen to a lot of Irish writers, including Joyce and Wilde); when the edited edition was released he went to the bookshop and filled in the missing bits with pen.
See? There’s fun facts for everyone. I especially liked the one about Kavanagh filling in the censored parts of his novels. The Irish writers celebrated in the museum all seemed to have this same mixture of innovation, contempt for the established order, and literary brilliance.
And speaking of literary brilliance, what better time to return to our favourite Irish-born playwright, Oscar Wilde? Yes, Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin Town, in a house on Merrion Square. It’s now owned by a university, but I took a wander down to see it from the outside. There’s not much to see, but Merrion Square boasts a lovely enclosed garden which is open to the public. In amongst the trees is a statue of Wilde himself. Two columns record some of his most well-known quotations, written in the handwriting of contemporary Irish writers. Apparently, the one about good advice is in the hand of the amazing Seamus Heaney:
It’s a peaceful place to take a wander in on a Monday morning. And what better way to wander than with the brilliant words of Oscar Wilde bouncing around in your head?
Next time: Dracula’s House (not really), W.B. Yeats, and a very special front door.