From Bram Stoker to Oscar Wilde; Ireland boasts many names of great writers. As a big fan of Irish culture, I invite you to take a stroll through the country with me and discover the most exciting literary landmarks.
Let’s start with the UNESCO City of Literature: Dublin. Home to four Nobel Prize winners: Bernard Shaw, WB Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, Dublin is studded with plaques, statues, roads and bridges dedicated to the writers. Oscar Wilde rests near his childhood home in Merrion Square while Brendan Behan lays near the Grand Canal just down the road from his birthplace, Russell Street. Yes, this is the same canal made famous in Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Canal Bank Walk’. The peaceful stretch of water makes the place ideal for a quiet read – no wonder it was favoured by the writers! Kavanagh also has a memorial dedicated to him on the canal. Behan’s memorial there was inaugurated by Mr.Ahern whose daughter went on to become a writer herself. Cecelia Ahern may be young but has gained widespread fame with novels such as Love Rosie, and PS I Love You, which have been turned into film. Many of her stories take place around the Georgian streets of Dublin.
An interesting site to see is the Dublin Castle where Dracula writer Bram Stoker spent many years of his life, or Trinity College, a mere five-minute walk away, where Stoker and other authors such as Wilde, attended. Between the two sites lies the Bewley’s café on Grafton Street. It offers you a chance to sit where writers the likes of James Joyce, Casey, and Kavanagh once used to relax.
Several other pubs were also graced by noteworthy writers. Behan was a frequent guest at the Neary’s while Davy Byrne’s was featured in Joyce’s Ulysses – both lie close to Trinity, which makes the area ideal to be explored on foot. A little drive southwards will take you to Toners, which was the only pub in Dublin to host WB Yeats, though frequented by Stoker.
Yeats also spent a lot of time in County Sligo, which can be reached via a 3-hour scenic drive following the M4 and N4 motorways from Dublin. Yeats was inspired by the Lough Gill to write The Lake Isle of Innisfree in which ‘peace comes dropping slow’. You can witness the Lough waterfalls for yourself by taking a boat trip. Yeats rests ‘Under the Ben Bulben’ mountain nearby, to which he dedicated a poem just a year before his death. There is a strange peace around his resting place. The mountain can be climbed in just a couple of hours and the view on top is definitely worth the hike.
In the North, Belfast is where CS Lewis took inspiration from the very same shipyards where Titanic was constructed. Today the Titanic Belfast monument stands in its place and is open to visitors – perfect for those who love historical places. Lewis spun the magical tale of Narnia taking inspiration from the Mourne Mountains in County Down which stand just hours away. The best way to explore the range is by car as they are dotted with various car-parks, so it’s easier for tourists. The Cave Hill is another mountain in Belfast you shouldn't miss. Some say Jonathan Swift saw a sleeping giant overlooking the city in it which inspired him to write the famous Gulliver’s Travels. Creative indeed! A twenty-minute drive from the hill is the Queen’s University where noteworthy poet Seamus Heaney polished his skills, and went on to earn such acclaim that they named their Poetry Centre after him.
If you want to explore more of Northern Ireland’s literary treasures, the next stop for you is the Monaghan County, which produced Patrick Kavanagh. The poet captured the raw honesty of everyday life for Irish folk. His novel Tarry Flynn depicted the essence of Monaghan County. There, the Patrick Kavanagh Resource centre honours him at Inniskeen – his birthplace – which houses paintings based on his works, an exhibition on his life and a theatre.
Down a two-hour drive South of Dublin in Wexford, Colm Tóibín wrote his famous work ‘Brooklyn’ about a Wexford based woman and her homesickness for Ireland. Its film adaptation stars Saoirse Ronan as the lead.
Now, we catch the next train to Limerick, where the Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt spent his youth. He wrote the bestseller Angela’s Ashes; a memoir about his personal struggles having to leave Brooklyn for Limerick. He immortalised the city with his words. The Frank McCourt Museum has a large collection of memorabilia from Angela’s Ashes, and it’s just a few minutes’ walk from the Limerick station and can be your first stop upon reaching the city.
If you choose to drive over traveling by train, make sure to also take time to find the most scenic routes and turn your adventure into a literary road trip around Ireland. As they say: sometimes it isn’t all about the destination, but the journey itself, and Ireland has beautiful scenery to offer; from coastlines to mountains.
Ireland is a small country, but the literary talent it has produced and continues to produce is endless. It seems that every corner in Ireland has its own story to tell, and these trails bear witness to Ireland’s literary accomplishments; Shakespeare may just as well have said this for Ireland, ‘and though she be but little, she is fierce.'