MoLI is the latest addition to Dublin’s literary map, and a splendid place it is too. It is situated in Newman House (86, St Stephen’s Green), a wonderful building that has been splendidly revamped, and there are exhibits on different floors. This reimaging of the grand, old house’s purpose has been, no doubt, well considered, and deftly achieved.
The museum is a collaboration between University College Dublin (UCD) and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) with the latter supplying many of the exhibits including, most famously, the first copy of James Joyce’s greatest work Ulysses. Joyce signed the first hundred copies (of the original one thousand print run) and the first one he gave to Harriet Shaw -Weaver, the English political activist and magazine editor (The Egoist), who had supported the writer financially for many years.
Early in the exhibition homage is paid to the multitude of Irish writers whose works have entertained, provoked and, no doubt, encouraged others to put pen to paper. For a small island our contribution to world literature is impressive, and undeniable when you see the list of famous names.
A Riverrun of Language shows, through various media, the development and history of Irish writers. Then the Dear Dirty Dublin exhibition (Bayeaux Tapestry-like), which was proving very popular, takes you on a tour of Joyce’s life and writing. The city model, with streets and buildings highlighting scenes from his books, was of particular interest and very informative. It shows Dublin, the muse that he loved but had to leave, when he observed (in An Encounter, Dubliners) ‘I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.’
Upstairs there are items from the lives of George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats, with the telegram informing the poet of his Nobel Prize award. With the extensive archives of both UCD and, particularly, NLI to draw from, exhibitions will change to showcase the collections and the works of Irish writers. So there will be plenty to see for years to come, and of that you can be certain!
The garden at the back of the museum is easy on the eye, and an oasis of calm in the heart of the city. With access directly from the restaurant I can see it being a popular place when the weather permits.
The building itself is a treat and dates from the early 1730s. It was once owned by William ‘Buck’ Whaley, a Member of Parliament, a renowned bon vivant and gambler. It was bought in 1854 for the Catholic University of Dublin (now UCD), and is where Joyce and many other famous Irish writers like Flann O’Brien, Maeve Binchy and Mary Lavin attended.
There is much to see and enjoy here, and I’ll finish with a comment that I overheard as I was looking at one of Joyce’s much-corrected notebooks.
First Voice: So, what do you think?
Second Voice: Well, if you must know, I’m suitably…mollified.’
I had to smile, and I knew that Joyce would be happy that the Dublin wit he so appreciated was alive and well. Oh yes, it’s a wordy place!