One of 28 UNESCO Cities of Literature worldwide, Dublin is a desirable location for those wanting to discover more about their literary heroes. Whether it’s wandering around the streets of the city, visiting favourite locations of Nobel prize winners Shaw, Yeats, Beckett and Heaney, or slipping into the expanses of one of Dublin’s university libraries, it is a fantastic place to visit on a mini cruise break.
UNESCO City of Literature
It’s easy to see why Dublin is a designated UNESCO City of Literature. The programme’s selection criteria included the analysis of the quality, quantity and diversity of publishing in the city, as well as the role of literature and the existence of festivals and other related events. Reviewed every four years, Dublin was first granted its status in 2010 thanks to the prolific authors, poets and novelists that have hailed from the city, challenging stereotypes and pushing boundaries, using innovation to change the literary landscape.
Dublin’s library service put forward the city for the status, recognising that the impressive collection of Islamic manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Library, as well as the National Library with its extensive assortment of Irish material, were of great importance. With several other collections at locations including The Dublin’s Writers Museum, the Dublin City Libraries now house The City of Literature offices, funded by both Dublin City Council and the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht.
Dublin is home to some of the most prominent literary figures. Spend time roaming the city unsupervised, discovering hidden gems or join the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, to uncover more about the history of Behan, Larkin, O’Brien and many others. Although the tour takes over two hours, it only covers half a mile of the city’s streets, so people of all ages can find out more about the capital’s history. Spending 20 minutes at each establishment, find out more about a few of the important figures below:
Born in 1882, James Joyce is considered to be one of the greatest literary figures of all time. Born and raised in Dublin, he spent his formative years in the city before travelling around Europe, living in Italy, Switzerland and France before his death in 1941.
Raised as a Catholic, his early collection of short stories referenced this, with his first novel, A ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ being denied publication for ten years due to themes that could have upset the King. The novel was heavily influenced by Greek mythology, drawing inspiration from the tale of Icarus. This was something that was also evident in ‘Ulysses’, Joyce’s most notable piece of work.
‘Ulysses’ was viewed as stylistically ground-breaking, with the fragmented prose influencing later figures such as Ernest Hemingway and Henry Roth. The piece is considered to be a masterpiece, and a visit to Dublin would not be complete without heading to the James Joyce Cultural Centre. Here, you can see landmarks from Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ with your walking tour guide offering you new insight into his world.
Born in Dublin in 1854, Oscar Wilde was educated at Trinity College before studying at Oxford University. His early works included a collection of poems, lectures and essays before publishing his only novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ in 1890. The Gothic tale was centred around the aestheticism arts movement, something that the flamboyant Wilde idealised and was viewed as wildly indecent at its time of publication. Although ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ has established itself as a significant text in Irish literary history, it was Wilde’s societal comedies ‘Lady Windermere's Fan’, ‘An Ideal Husband’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ that progressed his career until his downfall.
Wilde spent many years in an unlawful relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, much to the disgust of Douglas’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry. After the publication of his essay, ‘The Decay of Lying’, the marquess sued for libel, with Wilde spending two years in prison as a result. Upon his release, Wilde head to Paris, where he lived until his death in 1900.
William Butler Yeats
As one of the most important poets of the 20th century, William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin. Although he was educated both in Ireland and London, he considered the town of Sligo to be his spiritual home and allowed it to influence many of his works. His Irish heritage was something that Yeats heavily based his identity on, researching Irish folklore, ballads and legends at the request of John O’Leary, an Irish republican who had recently been released from prison.
Over the following years, Yeats published a plethora of poetry and plays before accepting a role in the Irish senate. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and established himself as one of the highest regarded modern poets.
George Bernard Shaw
Dublin-born playwright George Bernard Shaw is known most commonly for his work of Pygmalion, a play which is now conceptualised as ‘My Fair Lady’. Over his career, he wrote 42 plays as well as a collection of less-successful novels. Although many of his works were written in Shaw’s Corner, a small writing hut in the garden of his Edwardian villa in Hertfordshire, visitors to Dublin can wander along Synge Street to view his childhood home, commemorated with a plaque outside.
Points of Interest
Due to Dublin’s varied literary history, there is a variety of different places to visit whilst here. Although there are guided tours available, you may like to take it at your own pace, incorporating a few of these locations into a leisurely stroll.
Trinity College with an extensive list of alumni including Jonathon Swift and Samuel Beckett is open to visitors, where you can wander amongst the rows of books at their library. The 20,000 books that are housed in the Long Room are some of the oldest and most beautiful. However, the Book of Kells exhibition is also worth the visit, showcasing the 9th-century manuscript documenting the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ.
Inside Dublin’s Writers Museum, exhibitions boast the most comprehensive of collections, featuring works from the city’s most celebrated writers. The impressive building is open to guests year-round and includes a gift shop and café. If you’re looking for something more substantial to graze upon, pubs such as Davy Byrne’s, which is featured in ‘Ulysses’, or McDaid’s pub on Grafton Street where famous writers including Brendan Behan used to frequent, make wonderful rest stops, giving you a chance to refresh with a drink or a bite to eat.
Which literary locations should I visit in Dublin?
If you’re planning on heading to the Irish capital this year, make sure not to miss any of these landmarks. From the birthplace of greats to extensive library collections, we’ve compiled a quick list for you to reference when on your travels:
- Chester Beatty Library
- Dublin City Libraries
- Dublin Literary Pub Crawl
- James Joyce Cultural Centre
- George Bernard Shaw’s birthplace
- Trinity College
- Dublin Writers Museum
- McDaid’s Pub
- Davy Byrne’s