A locals guide to Dublin: literature hotspots and places to visit
New literature museum
The Museum of Literature Ireland,orMoLI (for some the acronym will conjure up images of Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses) has been a long time coming. The National Library of Ireland and University College Dublin began talking about a collaboration in 2010, with the aim of making proper use of two important assets: the NLI’s extensive James Joyce collection, and the university’s historic home, a fine Georgian townhouse on St Stephen’s Green. It was always going to be a big tourist draw, but museums dedicated to books or writers rarely capture the magic of reading. MoLI, which opened last week, is different. Unsurprisingly Joyce, who attended university in this building, features heavily, with a vast array of rare editions and manuscripts that are sure to delight fans of Ireland’s great modernist.
It is anything but a mausoleum for old books though, and an assortment of clever interactive exhibits coupled with a strong focus on living writers give MoLI a real vitality. There are scale models and films that explore Joycean Dublin, and striking arrangements of terrifyingly messy notebooks and manuscripts that give insight into the processes behind works like Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. But there are also recordings of some of Ireland’s current leading writers discussing their lives and their writing, and space for visual art commissions and temporary exhibitions. There are also landscaped gardens at the back of the museum that connect to the Iveagh Gardens, a somewhat hidden green space surrounded by buildings, that are beloved by Dubliners whenever the sun is out. •Adult €8, child €6, guided tour €12, open daily 10am-6pm, moli.ie
Guinness and more
You shouldn’t need any help finding a decent pub in Dublin, but for beer fans looking for something a little different, Guinness’s Open Gate brewpub taproom (entry €9 including samples, open Thur-Sat, booking advised) on St James Street is worth checking out. Visitors are treated to a flight of samples from a rotating selection of experimental beers, such as Hopportunity Ale and Black IPA, and get a chance to chat to the experts. There are also beers on tap and a bar food menu. Traditionalists may prefer Neary’s pub on Chatham Street, which is on the opposite side of St Stephen’s Green to MoLI. It’s a fine example of a Victorian boozer and was a favourite of two of Dublin’s heavy-drinking, 20th-century literary heavyweights – Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh.
A couple of years before his death in 2013, Nobel laureate poet and playwright Seamus Heaney showed up at the National Library of Ireland with a carload of personal documents. He wanted them to stay in Ireland and be available to the public, but it’s unlikely that he thought they would become one of Dublin’s most popular interactive exhibitions. It’s the kind of thing that must be a curator’s dream, and simultaneously a total nightmare – with worries about how to reduce it to a manageable size for public consumption while still conveying the full sense of an artist’s life. It would have been easy to put huge chunks of it on display and, in the process, bore all but the most ardent fan to tears. Instead, it has been cleverly whittled down to about 100 pieces and woven together with audio and visual recordings, interactive displays and personal artefacts to give a view of the poet and his process from a human level, complete with amendments scribbled over first drafts, and revisions jotted alongside newspaper clippings of published poems. The Listen Now Again exhibition, at the new Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre on College Green, will run for three years and does a great job of tracing Heaney’s life from humble beginnings on a County Derry farm to global acclaim. •Free, open Mon-Sat, 10am- 4pm, at the Bank of Ireland Cultural and Heritage Centre, nli.ie
Seafood and noodles
The best of Irish cuisine can be found at The Winding Stair (two-course lunch with wine €29.95) in Lower Ormond Quay, whichstarted out as a cafe and bookshop in the 1970s before being transformed in 2006 into a more serious restaurant. The focus is firmly on seasonal Irish food, but much of the cafe’s old charm has been preserved, including the bookshop downstairs. Potted crab, the superb smoked fish plate, cockles and mussels are personal favourites. Window seats come with a view over the River Liffey and the Ha’penny bridge. For something cheaper that represents the city’s cosmopolitan nature, check out the Vietmanese dishes at Bun Cha (wonton noodle soup €9.50) on Moore Street. It’s surrounded by street sellers and mobile phone repair shops, and the menu has pictures, but don’t be put off. Those noodles are seriously good.
Pedal to the peninsula
The Howth peninsula juts out into the Irish Sea, enclosing the northern part of Dublin Bay. On a sunny day, the fishing village of Howth is well worth a visit and will feel a world away from the city, with lighthouses, a castle and hiking trails around the coast and up the headland’s wild hillside. It is easily reached from downtown by bus or by Dart train (25-minute journey); or, if you’re feeling energetic, a city bike will take you there in around 40 minutes on a dedicated bike path that runs out along the edge of the bay and past the North Bull Island nature reserve. There is no shortage of seafood restaurants to choose from: Octopussy’s Seafood Tapas – serving Dublin Bay prawns (€16) and Calingford oysters (€2.50 each) – and the Brass Monkey (mini fish and chips with a bowl of chowder €13.50) are two favourites. Both are on the village’s West Pier.
Ancient world history
The Chester Beatty Library is too often ignored, despite being voted the best museum in Europe in 2002. The collection was donated in 1950 by a US tycoon with impeccable taste in Asian and African art and manuscripts, and is now housed in Dublin Castle, overlooking Dubh Linn Garden. Currently there are two excellent temporary exhibits: Thai Buddhist Tales (pictured, until 26 Jan 2020) shows off the library’s important collection of Buddhist manuscripts; and the Mystery of Mani (until 19 Jan), which examines the 1929 discovery in Egypt of seven papyrus books from the lost Manichaean religion, dating from around 400AD. •Entry free, suggested donation €5, open seven days a week, chesterbeatty.ie
Chapters is the largest independent bookshop in Ireland and close to the heart of most Dublin book lovers. A stone’s throw from O’Connell Street, it boasts an immense selection of new and used books. It’s a great place to pick up a bargain and the staff are chatty and knowledgeable. On the other side of the Liffey, Books Upstairs is another staple. It is smaller than Chapters, but easier to navigate, and the selection is still impressive. It is also home to the Dublin Review of Books, one of the country’s leading literary journals, and a charming cafe that regularly hosts book launches, readings, and discussions.
Marsh’s Library is tucked away behind St Patrick’s Cathedral in the city centre, and is often overlooked by both visitors and locals. It shouldn’t be. Built in 1707 by the same architect responsible for the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, now home to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Marsh’s was one of the first public libraries in Europe and the first of its kind in Ireland. More than 300 years on, it is still a functioning library and full of original features, including the oak shelves that are home to more than 25,000 rare books, some of which date back to the 15th century. •€5 adult, €3 child, closed on Tue and Sun, daily tours at 3pm, marshlibrary.ie
The Lilliput Press
More independent literature, but this time away from the centre and right at the heart of Stoneybatter, one of Dublin’s trendiest neighbourhoods. The Lilliput Press is an independent publishing house that has been responsible for discovering some major talents in recent years, such as Donal Ryan, Rob Doyle and Elske Rahill. It is also a beautiful little bookshop, which offers a unique collection of its own fiction and non-fiction titles. It regularly holds events, and is just a short walk from Phoenix Park, which is five times the size of London’s Hyde Park and ideal for anyone who fancies a ramble in the wild without leaving the city. •Sitric Road, open 10am-6pm, lilliputpress.ie
Catch a screening
The Irish Film Institute is another great spot to take refuge if you’ve had your fill of sightseeing. The antithesis of the modern multiplex and at odds with most of Temple Bar’s tourist traps, the IFI is one of the few genuinely creative places in an area of the city that was meant to be its cultural quarter. There are free daily lunchtime screenings of films from the institute’s extensive archive of Irish cinema, and a full calendar of festivals celebrating films from around the world. Coming up: the fifth Dublin Arabic film festival (4-6 Oct), the annual Horrorthon (24-28 Oct), and the ever-popular French film festival (Nov 14-25). The regular schedule is always an interesting and eclectic affair. The best time to visit is for a morning coffee and a matinee screening, before a long lunch (see The Winding Stair, above). •6 Eustace Street, ifi.ie
Getting there Holyhead to Dublin with either Irish Ferries or Stena Line, from around £60pp return (both 3½ hours). There are also five daily ferry crossings between Liverpool and Dublin on P&O Ferries, from £180pp return (8½ hours).
Best time to visit Don’t believe the hype … in terms of annual average temperatures across Europe, Dublin is mid-table, and when it comes to rainfall it doesn’t even make the top 10 of the continent’s wettest cities. Like the UK, it’s changeable; you can be lucky (or unlucky) any time of year.
Prices A pint of Guinness is around €5, coffee €3, mid-range meal for two from €60.
Colin O’Brien is a Dublin-based author
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