Contemporary, Literary Ireland: Donal Ryan

I love the books of Donal Ryan. I don’t mention them much here—to my American friends—because he is an Irish writer and they are very Irish and I think sometimes they are too Irish for many American readers. (He is published on a small press here—Steerforth—and I will forthwith begin buying more of their fiction because, well, Donal Ryan.) That is, the milieu, the mind-set, the contemporary history—all are set in an Ireland I know well.

But, dagnabbit, Ryan is a brilliant writer. Everything he’s written, brilliant. None of this “well, I liked his second one best” business. ALL. BRILLIANT. So, American friends, read them.

They were published (and I read them) in this order:

The Spinning Heart (novel)
The Thing About December (novel)
A Slanting of the Sun (short stories)
All We Shall Know (novel)

I have just finished All We Shall Know. It hasn’t even been reviewed in the States. But it was special.

READ THESE BOOKS. Trust me.

Couldn't find my copy of The Thing About December. It's Around here somewhere.

Couldn’t find my copy of The Thing About December. It’s around here somewhere.

Wanderlust Bites!

In my real life (as opposed to my travel daydream life) I edit books for a living, and I recently edited a wonderful book about a family who spent the better part of a year traveling around the world. (With young children! And it’s not science fiction!)

It inflamed my wanderlust. My wanderlust is off the scale right now.

The stories in the pages of the manuscript made me want to go places I have never, ever had any real desire to see. (China? No. Whiny music. Too much fish in the food. And, you know, evil empire. Someplace in Africa? No. Too hot. Special medical requirements. And I like my creature comforts. But the author made these locales sound appealing, interesting, desirable.)

Just look at this! There are a lot of places/things I’d like to see someday … (Photo from Wikipedia. Baobab trees.)

Just look at this! There are a lot of places/things I’d like to see someday … (Photo from Wikipedia. Baobab trees.)

The travelogue about the young family really moved me.

And this one too: An American couple who lived (separately) in Amsterdam, met, married, and had their child there, return after a stretch of years for a visit to a place they’ve loved well. They spend their vacation living along one of the canals in a home owned by friends. Which is the best way, really, to experience what a place is really like. A hotel can be very sterile, but a private home or apartment drops you right into the life of the place. This New York Times article is a lovely commentary on Amsterdam, and it makes me want to go.

Now, dagnabbit. I’m ready.

Then just this morning a good friend sent me a tweet. “What was the name of that book (from, like, two years ago) set during the war? You loved it.”

Now, I’m good, but I read a lot of books. “Ummm,” I tweet back. “What war?”

“Balkans, orphan girl, hospital, doctor woman—”

“Oh, of course!” The tweets are flying fast now. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.” I loved that book. Loved it.

Turns out my friend had just spent two “magical” days “in DC in an Airbnb Georgetown flat hosted by the warmest, most interesting woman who lived through the Balkan war. If you and G ever get to DC, stay here! She is now an interpreter and expert in war-conflict resolution.” I read the comments in the link—the owner of the flat gets rave reviews.

Why the Marra? My friend wanted to “imagine her world.” Clearly this Airbnb host made quite an impression. And clearly this is a bedroom I need to sleep in, yes? I’m already wondering how soon we can start planning a visit to our nation’s capital. (We have a couple trips, short ones, already planned. Watch this space.)

In the meantime, I am trying to discern what it all means, the convocation of the manuscript, the article, the message from my friend, all in the space of a couple days. Since, you know, I can’t just quit work and take off every time I get bitten by the wanderlust bug!

What I’m Reading Now

“To have any hope of surviving modern Ireland, with its myriad dangers, pitfalls and trapdoors, not to mention sporadic outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug, it’ll help to equip yourself with a very basic toolkit. …

Wellies

Previously the preserve of tillage farmers and eccentric poets from Monaghan, wellies are now bang on trend for the entire population and can be enjoyed by young hipsters and old farmers alike. Indeed, a whole new generation of ‘farmsters’ has emerged in recent years. … Thankfully, no multicoloured, polka-dot welly is too silly, no ironic, stenciled pattern is too naff and no price tag is too exhorbitant.

A Coat

As we have already learnt, Irish weather can vary from the mildly wet to the extremely wet and there are also sudden episodes of apocalyptic wetness, which are almost impossible to predict.

Do not be downhearted.

A wide range of outerwear exists to suit a variety of personalities: Penneys coats, duffel coats, overcoats, undercoats, ironic tweed West Brit landlord coats, coats with their own immersions, Údarás na Gaeltachta-subsidized Connemara coats with matching beards, Lycra coats for middle-aged fad joggers (with supporting beer-belly scaffolds) and vinyl hipster smoking jackets that play a wide back catalogue of rare Northern Soul on contact with a record needle.”

—From Surviving Ireland: The weight of history. The self doubt. The constant analysis. The wind. Published 2015 by Colm Tobin. Transcribed by me from pages 30–32.

Renewing My Dublin Girl Card

Monday, 22 June 2015
We settled into a routine: had our breakfast early, then went back to the room to finish reading the paper, check websites for opening times, and so on. This morning I read an article by a well-known Irish journalist/columnist who has moved out of the country—for a time, perhaps—that really touched me, on several levels. For example, even as my husband prepares to emigrate, I still try to get more and more at home in his country, to make parts of it “mine.” The last paragraph, oh—

It’s not really a break-up, Ireland, it’s more of a break. I’ll be home for a holiday soon. Clearly, I still call it “home”. In the meantime, I’ll be stalking Twitter, trying to figure out what the hashtags mean. But if I am to give myself fully to the present, to my new life, to my new job, I can’t do it with one eye constantly trained on a spot 5,078 miles away, on the small, damp, big-hearted, mixed-up, joyful, beloved country that keeps trying to pull me back. So bye now. Bye. Bye. Bye. See ya. All the best. I’ll let you go so. Grand. Bye now. I’ll talk to you soon.

I feel as if I know her, just from the last paragraph. That and the fact that she’s currently living in the state (and region of that state) where I grew up. Ah.

And then we cabbed up to the Garden of Remembrance, a place I’ve wanted to get to for years. Gerry said he hadn’t been there since he was a young man, so it was new or almost-new for both of is. Opened in 1966—on the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising—the Garden of Remembrance is dedicated to the memory of “all those who gave their lives in the cause of Irish Freedom.” Which is to say, Irish independence.

Entrance (east) to the Garden of Remembrance, June 2015.

Entrance (east) to the Garden of Remembrance, June 2015.

The memorial is all that’s left of a much larger garden (opened in 1749) attached to the Rotunda Hospital located in Parnell Square. The hospital has since grown to occupy most of the square. There is a much more detailed history and review here at BuiltDublin; you should definitely read it.

Parnell Square is a very busy location, but when you step inside the garden, it’s very quiet, peaceful.

The Garden of Remembrance, June 2015, viewed from near the east entrance. Some lawn, a flag, a statue …

The Garden of Remembrance, June 2015, viewed from near the east entrance. Some lawn, a flag, a statue …

But step closer, there’s more.

But step closer, there’s more.

Once inside, you can view the reflecting pool from above, or step down and have a seat on one of the benches that line the cruciform walls.

Standing at the west end.

Standing at the west end.

Benches and planters line the wall. Above, traffic rages around Parnell Square.

Benches and planters line the wall. Above, traffic rages around Parnell Square.

BuiltDublin says,

Visiting it as a park or garden, it’s hard to get beyond how often it’s near-empty – perhaps it’s because of the huge number of benches, but it always feels very still relative to the busy streets outside. But it feels like a matter of design, too, with the pristine lawns held behind Marian blue fences (set with representations of artefacts from the National Museum), and the rigid formality of the park’s plan directing movement in sharp turns. Appropriately enough, it’s got a sombre military tone … At the same time, it’s a fascinating space. It’s a very specific representation of Ireland and its history, going heavy on Celtic mythology and religious symbolism, and using the rigidity of military plans. Inevitably, something so specific is going to have an immense power …

The mosaic interior of the pool is interesting, filled with images of shields, swords, spears, and knives. This reflects the Celtic custom, on concluding a battle, of breaking the weapons and throwing them in the river, to signify, if not peace, the end of hostilities at least.

Lay down your dagger and your shield …

Lay down your dagger and your shield …

In 1971, the statue at the end was added. Titled the Children of Lir, it represents an Irish legend: an evil and jealous stepmother turns the children of her predecessor into swans. We know part of the story: the swan-children are exiled to Irish lakes for 900 years until the spell is broken and they die as very old humans. The editor in me wants to know what Lir, their father, did. Did he try to capture the swans to keep them close, or go live among them, or …? Sadly, the wicked stepmother is a fairy tale trope that surely has its origins in the truth of the human condition. My mother was raised by an unloving stepmother; Gerry’s father had one too.

The Children of Lir by sculptor Oísin Kelly.

The Children of Lir by sculptor Oísin Kelly.

There are four children and four swans; look closely at both photos to see them all.

There are four children and four swans; look closely at both photos to see them all.

After the garden, we stepped across the street to the Dublin Writers Museum.

What a charming entrance!

What a charming entrance!

Wikipedia says:

The Dublin Writers Museum was opened in November 1991 at No 18, Parnell Square, Dublin, Ireland. The museum occupies an original 18th-century house, which accommodates the museum rooms, library, gallery and administration area. The annexe behind it has a coffee shop and bookshop on the ground floor and exhibition and lecture rooms on the floors above. The Irish Writers’ Centre, next door in No 19, contains the meeting rooms and offices of the Irish Writers’ Union, the Society of Irish Playwrights, the Irish Children’s Book Trust and the Irish Translators’ & Interpreters’ Association. The basement beneath both houses is occupied by the Chapter One restaurant.

The Museum was established to promote interest, through its collection, displays and activities, in Irish literature as a whole and in the lives and works of individual Irish writers. Through its association with the Irish Writers’ Centre it provides a link with living writers and the international literary scene. On a national level it acts as a centre, simultaneously pulling together the strands of Irish literature and complementing the smaller, more detailed museums devoted to individuals like James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats and Patrick Pearse. It functions as a place where people can come from Dublin, Ireland, and abroad to experience the phenomenon of Irish writing both as history and as actuality.

It’s a lot like the Little Museum of Dublin. But the interior of the building is just gorgeous.

Lots of artifacts, many provided by locals.

Lots of artifacts, many provided by locals.

The interior is just gorgeous.

The interior is just gorgeous.

Love this yellow.

Loved this yellow.

Gorgeous old banister.

Gorgeous old banister.

While we were in that yellow stairwell, we decided to take a selfie. So we did, and it gave us a laugh. “Good enough!” we thought.

A friend of mine says this is what you call a #badselfie. I think it’s hilarious and fun.

A friend of mine says this is what you call a #badselfie. I think it’s hilarious and fun.

When we were done, I ran across the street to take a photo. That’s the Abbey Presbyterian Church next to the museum.

Dublin Writers Museum, June 2015.

Dublin Writers Museum, June 2015.

On the other side of the DWM is the Hugh Lane Gallery of the Dublin City Gallery. It’s closed on Mondays so we weren’t able to go in, although the doors were wide open. They were having a photo shoot, apparently—the models (it was a fashion shoot, I think) spilled out onto the street so we got a good look. Stood there gawking for a while, and then we walked on. We were headed, ultimately, back to the hotel—we had planned to have lunch with Gerry’s colleagues later—but needed to stretch our legs a little.

We walked past the hospital (it’s huge) and took a slight detour to Chapters Bookstore on Parnell Street. We browsed a little—I picked up some nonfiction, including A Year of Festivals in Ireland (Mark Graham), Staring at Lakes (Michael Harding), and Great Irish Reportage (edited by John Horan)—and then asked the clerk for a fiction recommendation. I’d already bought the new Anne Enright (The Green Road), I said. I wanted a new young Irish author that I would not have been exposed to in America, someone whose career I could, perhaps, “follow.” I told him I’d loved Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart and had bought his latest but not read it yet. He immediately recommended Tender, by Belinda McKeon, and I purchased it. Interestingly, this review of Tender in the Irish Times mentions both Donal Ryan and Anne Tyler, whose A Spool of Blue Thread was the last book I finished before I left for Ireland. Interesting coincidences, and I take that as a good sign.

From the bookshop we retraced our steps across Parnell Square to O’Connell Street. This is one of Dublin’s main retail thoroughfares. Wikipedia says:

O’Connell Street has often been centre-stage in Irish history, attracting the city’s most prominent monuments and public art through the centuries, and formed the backdrop to one of the 1913 Dublin Lockout gatherings, the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish Civil War of 1922, the destruction of the Nelson Pillar in 1966, and many public celebrations, protests, and demonstrations through the years—a role it continues to play to this day. State funeral corteges have often passed the GPO on their way to Glasnevin Cemetery, while today the street is used as the main route of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and as the setting for the 1916 Commemoration every Easter Sunday. It also serves as a major bus route artery through the city centre.

It seems … vast.

O’Connell Street, with the spire in the distance.

O’Connell Street, with the spire in the distance.

As noted, there’s a lot of public art along O’Connell Street. The Spire was added in 2003, filling the empty place once occupied by Nelson’s Pillar (I’ve written about some of this here and here).

Charles Stewart Parnell: No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: “Thus far shalt thou go and no further”; and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall. (Cork address, 1885)

Charles Stewart Parnell: No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: “Thus far shalt thou go and no further”; and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland’s nationhood and we never shall. (Cork address, 1885)

Along the way we saw two Italian gentlemen trying to take a photo with James Joyce. I offered to take one of them together with Joyce, so naturally they wanted to return the favor. 🙂

Here we are with James.

Here we are with James. That’s Gerry’s I-can’t-believe-I-a-Dubliner-am-doing-this-touristy-thing grimace. 🙂

The other large monument (there are others, but I didn’t stop for every statue) on O’Connell Street, of course, is for Daniel O’Connell himself—the Liberator, they called him.

Daniel O’Connell monument, Dublin.

Daniel O’Connell monument, Dublin.

Closeup of the Daniel O’Connell monument. I thought the angel with a dog was interesting.

Closeup of the Daniel O’Connell monument. I thought the angel with a dog was interesting.

And then we crossed the river.

Looking east from the O’Connell Street Bridge.

Looking east from the O’Connell Street Bridge.

The dome is atop the Custom House; the building beyond it is the IFSC House. Read about it here in Wikipedia; it is controversial, to say the least. It also has a very interesting logo, almost Middle Eastern in flavor.

Screen capture of Google Maps street view. Interesting/strange logo. I find it a little creepy.

Screen capture of Google Maps street view. Interesting/strange logo. I find it a little creepy.

After we crossed the river we walked the short block to Trinity College and grabbed a cab back to the hotel, where we were meeting Gerry’s colleagues, Pat Yeates and Brendan Delany. We’ve had lunch—I call it Lunch with the Gentlemen—every time I’ve come to Ireland (here are two of them). It’s always a hoot. This time we talked a lot about work—Pat’s retired, Gerry’s about to retire, and Brendan’s close to it too—about museums—good ones, not-so-good ones—and about the book I’d brought for Pat (see photo). We also spoke about my friend Margaret; they’d met her in 2012.

Me and the gentlemen—Pat and Brendan. I worked on this book; Pat’s father worked for Guinness his whole life.

Me and the gentlemen—Pat and Brendan. I worked on this book; Pat’s father worked for Guinness his whole life.

This ended up being a very late lunch. We went for a walk later but my feet were hurting and we didn’t stay out long. I used the evening to work on the current manuscript, and to write up …

Today’s Geography Lesson
22 June 2015, Dublin, Ireland:
SUNRISE: 4:57am (in Nashville: 5:30am)
SUNSET: 9:57pm (in Nashville: 8:08pm)

This photo was taken around 10pm from the elevator lobby on the third floor of our hotel. Ten o’clock! There’s very little dark here in the summer months.

This photo was taken around 10pm from the elevator lobby on the third floor of our hotel. Ten o’clock! There’s very little dark here in the summer months.

 

Getting My Feet Under Me: Second Day in Dublin

Friday, 19 June 2015
I mentioned the heat, right? I was awake at 1am and had trouble dropping back off … still awake at 4am, still trying hard to go back to sleep. That’s not like me; I’m a good sleeper, usually. But the heat coupled with an uncomfortable bed made it hard. Thought about getting up and starting to type up my notes but I really wanted to be asleep, dagnabbit. I dropped off right after I looked at my watch but was awake again at 5:30. So then I did get up to write:

It’s just so HOT. It’s only in the mid-60s outside but on the fourth floor of a building with no air conditioning (or fans) in the rooms, it becomes very stuffy very fast. I wonder how they keep Americans happy? I mean, I’m REALLY happy to be here and I’m still a bit cranky about the heat.

(Remember, later this day we’d run into an American couple in the elevator who were also grumpy about the heat, but by that time I was zen with it.)

After I wrote a few notes, I lay back down and finally, to my astonishment, fell sleep. Aaah. So we got a late start—but we had no agenda and nowhere to be. Sleep was the right thing to do. 🙂

When we went down to breakfast, the place was packed. Well, June is tourist season, and the place was hopping. I’ve become very used to my quiet house, and my quiet breakfasts watching the birds outside the window. I like to ease into my mornings.

Watching a mourning dove from the breakfast table at home.

Watching a mourning dove from the breakfast table at home.

The dining room at the Doubletree was the opposite of that. People everywhere. We had to be seated first, then we left our newspaper on the table to go through the buffet. When we came back, the Spaniards at the table next to us had just finished snatching our table and chairs to enlarge theirs. Well, good grief, my cranky, sleep-deprived self thought. And then: “Hey!” I said. “That’s our table!” They put it back. 🙂

After breakfast we decided to walk into town. This is the sight that greeted us every day just outside the hotel: colorful buildings and luxury cars.

It’s a car-rental agency, conveniently located near the Doubletree.

It’s a car-rental agency, conveniently located near the Doubletree.

We retraced more of our steps, crossing the canal at the Leeson Street Bridge.

View of the Grand Canal from the Leeson Street bridge, looking west.

View of the Grand Canal from the Leeson Street bridge, looking west.

Gerry pointed out that we were surrounded by quite a bit of Victorian-era architecture. And what in the world was that pipe business on the bridge?

It looks like something straight out of a steampunk novel.

It looks like something straight out of a steampunk novel.

But there was more Victoriana.

Here are some Victorian rowhouses …

Here are some Victorian rowhouses …

… but just across the street, Georgian-era rowhouses.

… but just across the street, Georgian-era rowhouses.

And on the opposite side of the street, Fitzwilliam Hall, a twentieth-century era office building. (I just thought it was pretty with the ivy.)

And on the opposite side of the street, Fitzwilliam Hall, a twentieth-century era office building. (I just thought it was pretty with the ivy.)

I took other photos for curiosity’s sake too.

The dogs caught my eye. As they would. This is House Dublin, a nightclub.

The dogs caught my eye. As they would. This is House Dublin, a nightclub. Remember, you can click on any photo to enlarge it.

We were headed to Stephen’s Green. As one does when one is in Dublin. I’d never gone through the Leeson Street gate—this is the beauty of a very large park: many things to see—so this was my first time to see the Three Fates, who spin and measure the thread of man’s destiny.

“With Gratitude for the help given to German children by the Irish people after World War II. —Roman Herzog, President of the Federal Republic of Germany”

“With Gratitude for the help given to German children by the Irish people after World War II. —Roman Herzog, President of the Federal Republic of Germany”

And then we rested. 🙂 (Well, I rested, and Gerry humored me.)

First official selfie. (Not my best angle, but I’m also not sure I have a good one.) Note we are wearing jackets.

First official selfie. (Not my best angle, but I’m not sure I have a good one.) Note we are wearing jackets.

We strolled through the park, and I took a zillion photos.

“Spring” was bustin’ out all over.

“Spring” was bustin’ out all over.

The pond is a popular place for humans and … seabirds. Just after this a huge swan landed right there. His wings flapping sounded like the blades of a helicopter: whup, whup, whup …

The pond is a popular place for humans and … seabirds. Just after I took this a huge swan landed right … there. His flapping wings sounded like the blades of a helicopter: whup, whup, whup

A pretty view of the pond from the bridge.

A pretty view of the pond from the bridge.

One of these days I’ll map the park and see (and photograph) everything at once. But for now, we were headed to the Fusiliers’ Arch, which is the Grafton Street entrance to the park. I don’t know how I’d missed it before.

It’s lovely. Fusiliers’ Arch, Dublin, 2015.

It’s lovely. Fusiliers’ Arch, Dublin, 2015.

The Royal Dublin Fusiliers—an Irish infantry regiment of the British Army—was active from 1881 to 1922. Forty-one years. During that time the regiment distinguished itself in the Second Boer War and also in World War One.

Funded by public subscription, the arch was erected in 1907 to memorialize the officers, noncommissioned officers, and enlisted men of the Royal Rublin Fusiliers who fought and died in the Second Boer War. And although some nationalists nicknamed the monument Traitor’s Gate, it should be noted that this memorial is “one of the few colonialist monuments in Dublin not blown up” by the IRA. That’s something.

Detail of the Fusiliers’ Arch.

Detail of the Fusiliers’ Arch.

More details of the Fusiliers’ Arch.

More details of the Fusiliers’ Arch. Click to enlarge.

It’s quite large.

It’s not a wimpy monument.

Nature was calling me, but my Dubliner husband knew exactly where to go: the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre—what you and I would call a mall. A mall built on the site of an old market.

And just look at what they’ve done with the place!

And just look at what they’ve done with the place!

We wandered a little—I bought a pretty scarf—but our real destination was Grafton Street: I needed to replenish my supply of Molton Brown shampoo (I normally get it at Brown Thomas, an upscale department store) and we wanted to drop by Sheridan’s Cheesemongers on Anne Street.

You can imagine my delight when I looked up and saw a Molton Brown storefront right on Grafton Street—no need to go further down to Brown Thomas! Bought my product, sampled others. Oh my. My husband patiently tarried while I was fawned over by the staff.

From there we nipped around the corner to Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, a store I’d read about and lusted after. Yes, I bought cheese! How could I not?

Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Anne Street, Dublin.

Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Anne Street, Dublin.

Anne Street is just two blocks long … but everywhere you look, there’s something you might explore. Just look: What’s that at the end of the street there?

What’s that at the end of the street there?

What’s that at the end of the street there?

It’s St. Ann’s Parish Church, of course, an eighteenth-century baroque-style Anglican church.

A closer look at St. Ann’s on Dawson Street, Dublin.

A closer look at St. Ann’s on Dawson Street, Dublin.

Just next door to the church is Mansion House, the “official residence” of the Lord Mayor of Dublin. There are public rooms you can tour, and an events venue. I suspect the Lord Mayor throws fabulous parties. 🙂

We did a little more shopping then walked to the cab stand near St. Stephen’s Green, because my energy was flagging. But I had to pause to take a photo of the Bank of Ireland building on the corner.

I love this ivy-covered row of buildings.

I love this ivy-covered row of buildings.

In addition to the bank there’s a restaurant and a men’s club and a lawyer’s office. It is so distinctive, this building, and on such a busy corner, that it often turns up in news stories and movies in which Dublin plays a part. Show this image, and it’s recognized.

Me, I’m just fascinated by the art on the walls. :)

Me, I’m just fascinated by the art on the walls. 🙂

At the hotel we had a little bit of relaxation and quiet time—because we were meeting our friend Robert Doran for dinner. Later we cabbed to the Shelbourne and walked up to Temple Bar. The restaurant we were headed for was Pichet.

Temple Bar is a neighborhood of tight little medieval-era streets just south of the River Liffey, filled with pubs and restaurants and gallerys and so on. Have a look here:

Pichet on the left. The space between Pichet and the oddly shaped building that houses the Bankers (pub) is Dame Lane (an alley, really), and past the tan building is Dame Street. The modern-looking building is actually on the far side of Dame Street. We’re standing on the other side of Trinity Street, where St. Andrews Lane intersects it. (Whew.)

Pichet is on the left. The space between Pichet and the oddly shaped building that houses the Bankers (pub) is Dame Lane (an alley, really), and past the tan building is Dame Street. The modern-looking building is actually on the far side of Dame Street. We’re standing on the other side of Trinity Street, where St. Andrews Lane intersects it. (Whew.)

While I was taking the photo above, a wedding party walked passed us! I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a photo, because they were all gorgeous, the bride and probably three maids, the groom and his groomsmen, all dressed to the nines. It was hard to tell where they’d come from (parking? a neighborhood church?) or where they were going; it was 5:30 so I suspect they were on their way to a hotel for dinner. The bride … oh! She was wearing a beautiful dark-ivory cocktail-length but obviously a wedding dress, a little fascinator hat, same color … and aqua-blue heels! She looked fabulous and tasteful.

And about that moment, there was the delightful Robert Doran, who I hadn’t seen in two years! Robert is, as we Yanks say, good people.

I love this guy!

I love this guy!

Robert is a freelance editor like me, with a background in book retailing and as an editor with an Irish publisher. In addition, he is a principal at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services, and he’d brought me one of their latest books: Entertaining with Andrew Rudd. It’s a gorgeous book.

We had a wonderful meal (thank you, Robert!), a delightful conversation, and a good time on a Friday night, sitting in the window at Pichet, watching the world go by. This is exactly what I wanted my vacation to be.

On our way back down Grafton Street we stopped at a bookshop so I could pick up the new novel from Anne Enright (The Green Road). I’d mentioned this to Robert and he warned me that in Ireland, fiction—even by hot, award-winning authors—tends to come out in trade paperback rather than hardback. I’d gotten an inkling of this in 2013 when I went looking for the Irish edition of Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, so it was OK.

Back to the cab stand at the Shelbourne, then home. I was in bed by 8:30 and lights out by 10.

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!