Merry Christmas, my fellow book lovers! Now that the Festive Season is drawing to a slow, quiet end, I thought I’d share some more from my trip. I’ve spent the last few days in Europe visiting family. I’ve been without internet, which can be both liberating and stressful. If you’re the sort of person who checks the weather intermittently on their phone (as though by checking it every five minutes you can somehow control it), or can’t keep track of their spending without firing up a Google Doc, you’ll understand why I use the word ‘stressful’.
But that’s not why I’m here today. I want to talk about my last day in Dublin, which was actually much more than a week ago (but let’s pretend I’m more organised than that and I wrote this up sooner). We managed to get quite a few exciting literary-themed activities into the day. Our two main writers for the day were James Joyce and W.B. Yeats.
In the morning we set off for the north part of Dublin and a nondescript little row house which claimed to be The James Joyce Centre. The sign outside promised a veritable feast of activities:
After buying our tickets we climbed to the top of the house and began by walking through a reconstruction of Joyce’s bedroom in Zurich, where he would often retreat to write. In the next room were interactive screens which told the story of Joyce’s life. There are also screens which told the story of Ulysses, which is very useful if you’ve never yet had the courage to read the book.
On the next floor are paintings of Joyce’s relatives, and on the bottom floor is a little courtyard which is lined with murals depicting scenes from Ulysses. Also in the courtyard is a front door mounted in a plain red-brick door. This is the door from 7 Eccles St, which is Leopold Bloom’s address in Ulysses. When the real house was due to be knocked down the door was saved and eventually put on display as a curious little museum exhibit.
Later in the day we wandered over to the south side of the city and headed towards the National Library. On our way we noted one of those excellent brown plaques which tell you that someone important used to live there. This one was particularly exciting; on the same street as the National Library, the famous Bram Stoker used to take his tea and biscuits (at least, I imagine he used to; does the author of a blood-sucking vampire novel take tea?).
We entered the National Library through a quiet marble hall and headed down some stairs until we reached the exhibition space, where there were displays relating to the life of one of Ireland’s most famous poets, W.B. Yeats. The exhibition was incredibly interesting. Little videos recounted the major parts of his life, including his involvement with the Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s national theatre) and his interest in fascism towards the end of his life. In between are editions of his poems, letters in his own hand, and photographs of him and his family.
Yeats was also very interested in magic and mysticism. He was involved in Golden Dawn, and quite a few of his notebooks are on display with some pretty nifty pictures in them. He managed to convince his wife to participate as well; the notebook that she first tried automatic writing in is also on display. Finally, there’s Yeats’ Nobel Prize, a hefty gold medallion next to a picture of his inauguration ceremony.
A literature enthusiast with plenty of time to kill could easily spend a good two or three hours at the Yeats exhibit. There’s plenty to read and to watch, and in the evening it’s quiet and peaceful. We stepped back onto the busy Dublin street feeling tolerably prepared for any Yeats-related discussion that might arise that night over dinner. Since dinner was in the traditional Irish style (i.e., in a pub), I can’t say that our newfound expertise came in particularly handy, but I live in hope.
Our time in Dublin was short, but I think we managed to taste quite a bit of what this City of Literature can offer. Ireland has a rich and fascinating literary history, and all the poetry readings, new publications, and ‘Irish Literature’ sections in bookshops suggest that it’s only just beginning.
Up next: Literary London and some New Year’s resolutions.