The Irish have a way with words. This is obvious from your first chat with a stranger in a pub. Then there’s the country’s four Nobel Prizes in literature. Few places in the world can claim to have been home to so many writers and poets, and Dublin has always been their gathering place. From WB Yeats to Oscar Wilde to Sally Rooney, the Irish capital has seen them all and been featured in their work.
So the next time you’re in Dublin, spread out on the grass in St. Stephen’s Green or braving the crowds on Grafton Street, take a little detour to get to know the place through its writers. The city center is small enough to explore on foot and once you start paying attention you’ll realize that literary landmarks abound, each one revealing a deeper sense of place and connecting you to a storytelling tradition that dates back centuries.
The great millennial writer
Ireland’s latest literary sensation is a 28-year-old woman who has been hailed as the first great millennial writer. Sally Rooney has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and profiled in the New Yorker. While she doesn’t have a museum dedicated to her work just yet, her bestselling novels “Conversations Among Friends” and “Normal People” are set among Dublin’s streets and landmarks.
Visit Hodges Figgis, the Dawson Street bookstore that is the scene of the book launch Frances attends in “Conversations with Friends.” If you’re a fan of “Normal People,” Rooney’s second novel about friendship and love, spend some time wandering the grounds of Trinity College. The main characters, Connell and Marianne, studied at the acclaimed university (and so did Rooney). In particular, visit the Graduates Memorial Building, where Connell once waited for Helen. Then head over to the Stag’s Head pub on Dame Street, and do what the characters in the book do: Pull up a seat among the literary types and have a drink.
56-58 Dawson St, Dublin 2, D02 XE81, Ireland
Dublin Writers Museum
To get a more historical perspective, head to the Dublin Writers Museum. Housed in an 18th-century Georgian mansion, the museum showcases the lives and works of the city’s literary stars for the last three hundred years.
The attractions include Samuel Beckett’s telephone, complete with a red “Do Not Disturb” button to keep him in the flow. There’s an autographed note from George Bernard Shaw and a handwritten letter from WB Yeats. For Bram Stoker fans, a first edition of “Dracula” is included among the many other books and letters on display.
The museum also offers tours and hosts special readings and exhibits. If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to check out the children’s literature room.
18 Parnell Square N, Rotunda, Dublin, D01 T3V8, Ireland
Listen Now Again
The country’s most recent Nobel laureate in literature (1995) was the poet Seamus Heaney. Originally from the North, Heaney made his home for decades in the Dublin suburb of Sandymount, where his attic study looked out on the grey waters of Dublin Bay.
If you’re not already a fan, one way to get familiar with his work is by visiting the “Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again” exhibit at the Bank of Ireland on College Green. This free multimedia exhibit is open through 2021 and presents around 100 personal items, including handwritten drafts, audio, video, and photographs spanning the poet’s life. Most of the material was donated by Heaney himself. He drove his papers down to the National Library before his death in 2013. One of his most famous poems, “Digging,” greats visitors on an entrance wall and ends like this: “Between my finger and my thumb, the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.” Throughout his lifetime, Heaney did just that.
2 College Green, Temple Bar, Dublin, D02 VR66, Ireland
James Joyce Centre
James Joyce is one of Ireland’s most celebrated writers. For his fans, there’s no shortage of things to explore in Dublin, considering the city was the backdrop for most of his work. Start at the James Joyce Centre, on the Northside, where you can take a spin through the Georgian townhouse dedicated to him and book a walking tour. There are three to choose from. The general tour showcases how central the city was to his writing. Among the stops are his alma mater, Belvedere College, and the iconic Gresham Hotel, the setting of the final scene in his short story, “The Dead.” For fans of “Dubliners,” there’s a tour dedicated to the short story collection. And for lovers of “Ulysses,” there’s a seasonal tour that follows in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom. If tours aren’t your thing, honor Joyce with a drink at Davy Byrnes. The pub has been serving Dubliners since 1798, and Joyce was once a patron himself.
35 N Great George’s St, Rotunda, Dublin, Ireland
Feeling wordy? We’ve got just the place for you.