Ireland has a rich literary history spanning back all the way into the 19th century. The small island has produced greats like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Kate O’Brien, Oscar Wilde, and Edna O’Brien. And that’s not even scratching the surface. Along with its history of scribblers, Ireland is also full of landmarks and good beer and striking landscapes that were sure to have formed the different (yet all distinctly Irish) writing sensibilities of each artist I’ll go over today.
Perhaps the most famous of all Irish writers, Joyce remains a standard of stream-of-consciousness excellence. He’s best known, of course, for Ulysses, a bible of a novel about his literary alter ego Stephen Dedalus. While there are many things one could do in Dublin to familiarize themselves with Joyce, arguably the best thing one could do is to go on the literary tour in Dublin. It covers pretty much every landmark, pub, and place one could possibly desire when visiting Dublin. It may strike you as a tourist trap, but it is extremely informative and the guides are professional actors who also put on performances.
If tours aren’t for you, then at least stop by the Davy Byrne’s Pub for a pint. This pub is featured in chapter 8 of Joyce’s modernist magnum opus Ulysses. If you’re especially daring, you’ll go on Bloomsday (June 16th), the holiday celebrated throughout Ireland in celebration of this famous author.
The Dublin Literary Tour will have plenty on Oscar Wilde, but to truly get to know Oscar Wilde, I would suggest taking a stroll around the grounds of Dublin’s most acclaimed university, Trinity College Dublin. It was here where a young Oscar Wilde further developed his biting wit at the University Philosophical Society, a student debating union. Trinity College Dublin is so fond of this novelist, playwright, and essayist that they even own the small house where he was born. It’s on 21 Westland Row, which is now owned by Trinity College Dublin (they love him that much)
If you know me well, you know I have a special fascination with this Foxrock-born playwright. Like many college English majors, I read Waiting for Godot, which I immediately loved for its existential themes and absurdist, minimalist style. New Historicism was the fashionable literary theory at the English program within my college, so I naturally dug deeper than just the text and into the time period and Beckett himself. Through learning about Beckett, I became fascinated by him, and even found myself identifying with him a bit. So when I visited Dublin years later, I knew I had to visit the pretty Dublin suburb in which Beckett was born.
Foxrock Village is about 45 minutes south of Dublin City by bus, and only 35 minutes by car on the M50, which I would suggest. While there isn’t as much to do in Foxrock as there is in Dublin, It’s a wonderful place for Beckett stans desperate to see the very village the gloomy literary giant spent his formative years. Ironically, he hated Dublin (for it wasn’t the cultural mecca it is today, then) and Foxrock, and most of his writing career was spent in Paris, but for the Beckett extremists, this is worth checking out.
Also, random fun fact: Beckett visited New York City once in his entire life to collaborate with Buster Keaton in his twilight years on the film called Film. (Super creative title, right?) This short film was his only film
Kate O’Brien is arguably the most impressive of all the writers listed, as much of her work was banned in Catholic Spain and Ireland for writing strong female protagonists and characters along less typical parts of the sexual spectrum. In all of her novels, she wrote female characters bursting with agency and charisma – globetrotters, Queens, expats, et cetera.
This author and playwright heralded from Limerick City, Ireland, and went to university at University College, Dublin (UCB) before leaving to work as a governess in the Bilbao of Basque Country in the north of Spain. She had a particular affinity for Spain and even wrote the political travelogue, Farewell Spain, in support of the leftist cause for the Spanish Civil War.
Though she lived away from Ireland most of her life, she still loved and cherished the natural beauty of her home country, and even returned to Ireland for a time in the 1950’s. She especially loved Connemara, and wrote about it frequently in her novels. For a chance to see Ireland through O’Brien’s eyes, visit Roundstone, Connemara, where she lived for a time. To see the pure beauty of Connemara, check out the Inaugh Valley and Kylemore Tour that guides tourists through, for my money, the most breathtaking place in Ireland.
Also, be sure to read Kate O’Brien’s The Last of Summer, a book about a French actress in pre-World War II Ireland. The main character sojourns alone to the village where her dead father was born, and falls in love with the quintessential Irish Village. It’s a peaceful character period-piece that will prime the traveler looking forward to their visit to the Hibernia.
Books and Movies to consume to get excited for your trip:
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- Damned to Fame: the Life of Samuel Beckett by James Knowlson (the gold standard of Beckett biographies)
- Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
- The Last of Summer by Kate O’Brien
- My Ireland by Kate O’Brien (the far superior travelogue for a deeper dive)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray a novel by Oscar Wilde
- The Dead directed by John Huston
- Film directed by Samuel Beckett