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September 12, 2011 / sadhbhanu

Dublin: Literature on the Liffey


by Sadhbh Walshe

I spent my first evening in Dublin at Mulligan’s pub on Poolbeg St. with an award-winning young Irish writer called Bryan Delaney, who highly recommended the Guinness there. Delaney runs the new playwrights program at the Abbey Theatre, and so I was hoping to get some insight from him into Dublin’s literary scene. He was in the midst of telling me how Mulligan’s had achieved a form of immortality by making an appearance in James Joyce’s classic, Dubliners, when a friend of his who had recently lost his job stopped by and told us he has been using the down time to read Joyce’s epic work, Ulysses.

Such is the place literature has in Dublin’s life that you can hardly enter a pub, cross a bridge or get into a chat with the natives without some allusion to it. Dublin was officially designated a city of literature by UNESCO in 2010, a rare honor bestowed on only three other international cities, which are deemed to have a rich literary heritage, as well as a vibrant contemporary scene.

There are so many ways to explore Dublin’s literary past that I couldn’t decide between a literary pub crawl or a literary bike tour and so ended up doing both. (With the benefit of hindsight, I’d recommend doing the latter before the former.) The pub tour was led by two actors who entertained us with their interpretations of great literary works and anecdotes about the authors against the backdrop of the pubs they frequented. One of the pubs was McDaid’s of Harry St., where Brendan Behan allegedly threw his typewriter through the window; another was Davy Byrnes of Duke St., also immortalized in Ulysses. (Behan’s typewriter and other literary artifacts can be enjoyed at the Writers Museum on Parnell Sq.)

One of the tour’s highlights, however, was a brief detour into Trinity College, alma mater to an impressive array of literary notables including Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and, more recently, the poet Paula Meehan and novelist Anne Enright, the 2007 Booker Prize winner. We gathered under the Campanile, an imposing bell tower opposite the front arch of Trinity’s cobblestone quadrangle, (a brave move as legend has it that if a virgin walks under it, the bell will ring) and were entertained with a story of Oscar Wilde’s trysts in Leadville, Colo., where he won over gold miners by managing to out-drink them.

The highlight of the bike tour, which is run by two wonderful guides, Cian and Brian, was the trip down the newly renovated Docklands. We stopped off at the Samuel Beckett Bridge, one of several new bridges that now straddle the River Liffey. Designed by Santiago Calatrava to evoke Ireland’s national symbol of the harp, the $59 million bridge rests beside the new $518 million convention center known to Dubliners as the “Tube in the Cube.” (Dubliners like to baptize their buildings—a fountain statue, since removed, was known as the “Floozie in the Jacuzzi.”)

Farther down the Docklands, some of the more negative legacies of the now dead Celtic Tiger economy were on display, such as the unfinished mult-imillion-dollar fiasco that was to be the headquarters of Anglo Irish Bank. Anglo currently holds the distinction of being the most indebted bank in the world, and the building’s hollow shell serves as a daily reminder of Ireland’s current economic misfortunes.

Whatever the country may be lacking in financial capital, it makes up for with cultural capital. The arts have always played a central role in Irish life, but since the economic downturn, its people seem to be embracing culture with a renewed fervor to deal with the accompanying psychological woes. Any month you visit there will be some major literary event, the details of which can be found at the Discover Ireland Website.

I was there in April when the annual Dublin: One City, One Book Festival was in full swing, and I spoke with the renowned Dublin writer Joseph O’Connor whose book Ghost Light had been chosen as this year’s “one book.” I asked him what his prognosis was for his native city, which he described as “the most beautiful bankrupt city in the world.” Just like the “explosion of creativity” that happened in Ireland during the recession of the ’80s, O’Connor sees the Irish working their way through the current crisis in a similar fashion. If that is the case, then it would seem they are well on the road to recovery.

See Original Article in Car & Travel Magazine

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