Bookish Dublin

A friend of mine posted on my Facebook timeline that a friend of hers, a grad student (English, what else?) was going to have three days in Dublin and wanted some recommendations for bookish activities. Could I help?

Um, hello. 🙂 Dublin is one of the most bookish cities I know (and so does the Washington Post). It’s a UNESCO City of Literature, for heaven’s sake. I laughed out loud.

We had quite a bit of conversation about it, and this is the list we pulled together.

• Bookstores! Everywhere!
There are bookstores all over Dublin, both indy and chains. Seriously, here’s a list of the twenty-eight “best” bookshops in Dublin … and all I can think of is both Dublin and Nashville have roughly the same urban population (a little over a million) and Nashville has one (you read that correctly: one) retail bookstore, while this list implies that these twenty-eight are the best of many more. (sigh) So, yes, shop for books, definitely. Hodges Figgis, the Gutter, Easons, the Winding Stair, Books Upstairs … and remember, there’s no VAT (tax) on books in Ireland. Remember, too, that every museum has a bookstore/gift shop.

• The Book of Kells and the Old Library at Trinity College
The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript created around 800 AD, is something every booklover will want to see. It’s on permanent display at Trinity College Library, and after you see the book, you get to walk through the 303-year-old Old Library.

Gosh, it’s a gorgeous room.

Gosh, it’s a gorgeous room.

I’ll be frank: the wait can get long. My best strategy would be to get there way early and start standing in line. The trouble is the tour groups: last time I was in Dublin I got there thirty minutes before the scheduled opening and the line was already around the building—all tour groups. (I just hung out with one group to avoid waiting forever.) The gift shop at Trinity is nice, but can get very crowded during the tourist season. If you decide you don’t have time, you can view the book online.

Marsh’s Library
Very close to St. Patrick’s Cathedral you’ll find Marsh’s Library, the first public library in Ireland, which opened to the public in 1707. Marsh’s beautiful library has changed little in three centuries; it’s not often you get to see books this old in their original setting.

The National Library of Ireland
Is a reference library; it does not lend. Established in 1877, it has a large collection of books, maps, manuscripts, music, newspapers, periodicals, and photographs.

The Chester Beatty Library at Dublin Castle
Sir Alfred Chester Beatty was born in New York (1875) and graduated from Columbia with a degree in mining engineering. By age thirty-two he was a millionaire—and a collector of things. His passion was books. Honestly, you should not miss this; you’d have to travel the entire world to see as many rare volumes as you can see in this one place.

James Joyce Centre
The James Joyce Centre is a museum dedicated to James Joyce, one of Ireland’s many famous authors; it’s located in a lovely Georgian building in a neighborhood north of the Liffey. The Centre conducts walking tours of the city based on Joyce’s life and works.

James Joyce Tower and Museum
If you find yourself in the Dalkey area (south of Dublin proper), drop in to the James Joyce Tower and Museum. Admission is free. Here’s even more information.

The Little Museum of Dublin
My friend Robert says, “This place is building a great reputation for itself, and it only opened four years ago.” It’s a civic museum, meaning it’s meant to chronicle Dublin life during the twentieth century; its artifacts have been donated or loaned directly. However, just last year the Little Museum acquired an archive of work by artist/poet Christy Brown (of My Left Foot fame).

Dublin Writers Museum
It’s a literary country, you know. And the Dublin Writers Museum promotes interest in Irish lit in general and Dublin writers specifically. Now you understand why I laughed when my friend asked about bookish activities in Dublin.

Dublin Literary Pub Crawl
Yes, this is a thing—a walking tour of literary Dublin, at the end of which they say you won’t be too drunk … or too sober. This is a very popular tour—google it, you’ll see—so I feel comfortable recommending it without having experienced it myself. And if you’re like me and not crazy about tours, check out this article—it may change your mind.

Other Bookish Things
You shouldn’t miss the public art—James Joyce on Earl St. North, Oscar Wilde sprawled in Merrion Square Park, poet Patrick Kavanagh on Mespil Road along the Grand Canal, Brendan Behan on Upper Dorset St., George Bernard Shaw stands outside the National Gallery on Merrion Square, not to mention the many busts in Stephen’s Green—or literary graves in Glasnevin: Maud Gonne, Brendan Behan, Christy Brown, Alfred Chester Beatty, Gerard Manley Hopkins, James Clarence Mangan, Patricia Lynch, Erskine Childers, and many others. (There is, in fact, a literary tour at Glasnevin.) And some things are seasonal: the Dublin Writers Festival (aka International Literature Festival Dublin) happens toward the end of May, and the Dalkey Book Festival happens in early to mid-June.

Bookish enough for you yet? I’m leaving for Dublin in just a few days, so stand by … a new trip is about to begin!

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