I’m not going to even claim that I know much or in fact anything about Irish literature. And prior to visiting the writers museum, I did not think that Ireland had such an immense archive of fascinating literature. Leaving Cert Gaeilge and English was and is my only real introduction into Irish literature and you know yourself that studying the subject is often a deterrent to actually really enjoying the piece. It’s only years later that I have any real interest in Irish literaries.
The Irish Writers Museum is a great insight to the world of literature. It can be a quick tour if wanted or it can turn into a couple of hours if you listen to all the detailed stories and take time wandering through the beautiful rooms of this 18th Century house (although it needs a little uplifting and good lighting). Two of the museum rooms take you from the beginning of Irish literature right up to present times. Upstairs is the library and the Gallery of Writers where regular talks, exhibitions and receptions take place. In my opinion, the best room is kept for last and if you look up and study the ceiling you will find the four seasons depicted.
You’ll find a nice mix of historical items in the museum, most obvious the books-first editions, manuscripts, ornaments, letters, Abbey Theatre programmes and personal possessions. I attempted to take notes but I ended up getting completely absorbed by the writers personal stories, like Behan’s strugge with alcoholism, his prison experiences and his diabetes. Not to mention Joyce’s Ulysses, his first sexual experiences aged 14, Gogarty’s birth at 5 Parnell Street and his kidnapping. You can also learn about the Abbey Theatre, it’s beginnings, it’s controversial plays like Countess Cathleen (by Yeats) and romantic periods of storytelling in Ireland (Lady Morgan). The banning of short stories in the 1920’s such as Kate O’Briens Land of Spices was another interesting aspect. The story was banned on one sentence alone describing a love act between two men!
This is just a snippet of the kind of knowledge and information available. What struck me was the small few female Irish writers that existed in a very male-dominated world of Irish literature. Writers such as Mary Lavin, Kate O’Brien and Lady Gregory are deservedly highlighted. Maeve Brennan who was and still is relatively unknown in Ireland is also noted in the museum.
It’s a tour I’ll definitely be returning to in order to brush up my knowledge of Irish literature. It’s something that annoys me that I know so little of Irish literature and I’m from this island. But if you are in the city and can spare €7.50 I’d recommend the Writers Museum. It’s just a short stroll from O’Connell Street, on the historic Parnell Square or as it used to be known Rutland Square. While you are there (and provided you have lots of dosh) pop into the famous basement restaurant of the 18th Century houses called Chapter One. It’s superb.
Have you visited this museum? Are you into Irish literature? And what are your favourite museums in Dublin?