From Nobel Prize-winning playwrights to avant-garde authors, Ireland has produced its fair share of literary greats. There’s no better place to indulge your inner bookworm than Dublin, where many of the country’s most famous writers lived. See how you can follow in their footsteps below.
Visit the house at 1 Merrion Square to see where Oscar Wilde, one of Ireland’s wittiest writers, grew up. His former abode is now part of a university—a fitting tribute to Wilde. He was a gifted student, earning scholarships to both nearby Trinity College and Oxford, in England. At Oxford, he began earning acclaim for his poetry and started his career as a professional aesthete.
Wilde was prolific—writing poems, plays and a novel, The Portrait of Dorian Gray—until he was imprisoned and exiled for indecency during the late 1800s. He lived out his last years in Paris, but it was the social scenes around Dublin and London that inspired much of his writing. Strolling past the Georgian houses that line Merrion Square, you can step back into the world Wilde inhabited. Don’t miss St Stephen’s Green, the park at the center of the block. There, you can see a sculpture of Oscar Wilde, looking right out onto the street where he lived.
Joyce’s boundary-pushing (and notoriously hard-to-read) novels made him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Though he spent most of his life outside Ireland (he left in his early 20s), his work is indelibly tied to the country. From his short story collection, Dubliners, to the story of one man’s day in the expansive Ulysses, Dublin is as much a character in his writing as it is a setting. In fact, every June 16, Dubliners honor “Bloomsday” to commemorate the fictional walk Leopold Bloom, the main character in Ulysses, took through the capital on that date. Take a page from their book, and visit these real-life locales to pay homage to James Joyce’s work:
- Grafton Street, the wide Victorian promenade where Bloom walks during his journey through Dublin, remarking on the colorful awnings along the street
- Davy Byrne’s, a historic watering hole that was once a favorite haunt of Joyce’s. It appears in the pages of both Dubliners and Ulysses—where it’s called a “moral pub.”
- Sweny’s Chemist, the pharmacy that looks much the same as it did during Joyce’s time, thanks to the work of local preservationists.
William Butler Yeats
Yeats spent much of his childhood in rural County Sligo and England but returned to Ireland as a young adult. Despite living abroad, he was committed to writing about his home country; Gaelic mythology and mysticism had a significant influence on his worldview.
The National Library of Ireland in Dublin holds the largest collection of Yeats’ manuscripts—over 100 archival boxes worth. At a special exhibition within its halls, you can learn all about Yeats’ life and work, including his influential role in Irish politics. He and his cohorts were staunch Irish nationalists, opposed to British rule, though Yeats often disagreed with their violent methods—as seen in his famous poem, Easter, 1916.
You can also visit one of Yeats’ lasting landmarks at the Abbey Theatre, which he helped found in 1904. Many of his plays were put on here, with Yeats’ unrequited love, Maude Gonne, in the starring role. After a show, pick up a volume or two of Yeats’ poems at The Winding Stair, a bookstore and (delicious) restaurant named after one of the poet’s paeans to his Irish home.
As a satirist, Swift was well-known for his sharp tongue—today, the term “Swiftian” is a high compliment for humorous writing. Along with his literary pursuits, Swift worked as a vicar in the Anglican Church and was appointed Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. He used his wit and position to fight for the rights of Ireland’s poor, and was critical of everything from the English government to religious institutions. His most famous book, Gulliver’s Travels, has been continuously in print since its publication in 1726—it’s said to be the most widely-read book by any Irish author.
A visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a must for any traveler in Dublin. There, you’ll see Swift’s burial place, marked by a brass plaque on the floor. His self-penned epitaph hangs on the wall nearby, carved into black marble (per his request). Right next door in St. Patrick’s Close, you’ll find Marsh’s Library, the first public library in Ireland. With a collection dating back to the 15th century, it’s a fitting stop for any lover of literature.
Is there a literary landmark you’d love to visit in Dublin? Have a favorite book you’d love to bring to life on tour? Let us know in the comments!