Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 5, 2010

Dublin Writers’ Museum

The Dublin Writers’ Museum is a treasure trove of all things literary in Dublin.  It plays host to a collection of letters, manuscripts, memorabilia, busts and paintings of the Great Men (and occasional Great Woman), and it’s even got James Joyce’s piano, repatriated from Trieste.

It’s located on Parnell Square on the far side of the River Liffey from our hotel but a local bus dropped us almost right outside.  The building (set up with funds from the EU) is a superb Georgian mansion with stunning ceilings and stained glass windows, and the artwork on the doorways is magnificent.

The museum focusses on Irish writing from a Dublin perspective, noting that Irish literature has been disproportionately influential considering that Ireland is a small country and is isolated geographically both from the continent and from Britain.  Although most of its most famous writers write in English and many of them have for various reasons worked from beyond its shores, their writing has a  uniquely Irish perspective.  During the British period much writing focussed on themes of dispossession and occupation while post independence many writers have focussed on liberation from religious strictures and the influence of the church. 

The Irish are justifiably proud of their literary heritage.  Four Irish writers have won the Nobel Prize for Literature: William Butler Yeats; dramatists George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett; and the poet Seamus Heaney.  They’ve done well with the Booker prize too: winners have included Anne Enright (2007), John Banville (2005) , Iris Murdoch (1978), and Roddy Doyle (1993).   Dozens of Irish writers have been long and short-listed for the prize, and J.G. Farrell(born in Liverpool of Irish descent) won the ‘Lost Booker’ for ‘The Siege of Krishnapur’ this year.

Among the writers celebrated in the museum are Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels, and an ancient copy of A Tale of a Tub); Bram Stoker’s Dracula, James Joyce’s Ulysses (of course, though they don’t have a first edition); plays by Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett; but sadly I couldn’t find anything by one of my favourites, William Trevor.  Perhaps this is because he is still alive and writing great books!

It’s a measure of how good this museum is that The Spouse – who reads non-fiction but not novels – found it fascinating too:)


  1. I admit to benevolent envy. This sounds like a fabulous trip. And the Irish are disproportionately represented in English letters. I actually kind of love when a small countries develop excellence in one particular field (I am thinking also of Jamaica and their sprinters; Chile and poetry; Dominican Republic and baseball). There is something about the ability of relatively small countries outproducing and outperforming more populous rivals that I find fascinating and uplifting. I think it shows something of the power of community over sheer numbers.

    Enjoyed the post and now I have another place on my TBV (to be visited) list. I don’t think I have enough years or money for all these lists…..


    • Oh me too, Kerry, I don’t have any hope of seeing all the places I want to see before they lock me up in the Old Folks Home!


  2. I heard Joseph O’Connor speak about why the Irish are such good writers and his theory was that it was because writing/literature was highly valued by the Irish. He claimed if you were Irish and told your family you were ditching your studies or your job to write a novel your parents would revere you and tell everyone your plans; if you’re English and did the same thing you’d be reviled. I thought that was a terrific explanation.

    By the way, I went to the Irish Writers Museum in 1999. I remember finding it slightly dull because it was full of classic writers rather than modern ones. I’d probably enjoy it much more now.


  3. Love it … love Irish literature. The first time I went to the British Isles, we had to decide where to spend our precious 5 weeks. Most of it was spent in England – London, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, the Lakes District, Haworth and York – but where else. While most of my friends had tended to head to Scotland and while my father’s family came from Wales, it was for Ireland (the Republic thereof) that my heart yearned. I wasn’t sorry – even if the weather did its darnedest cloud my rose-coloured glasses!


  4. […] Favorite Lit-Blog Things: October 7, 2010 I enjoyed this post at ANZLitLover LitBlog about Lisa’s trip to the Dublin Writers Museum and the Irish’s over-representation in […]


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