Dublin is famous for many things and over its thousand-year history it saw the building of the first two-chamber parliament (Houses of Commons & Lords) – now the Bank of Ireland, College green – in the 1730s; the construction of the Rotunda by Benjamin Mosse in 1745, which is now the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world, and the production of Guinness, one of the best-known drinks in the world. However, its contribution to the written word is legendary with its three native-born Nobel Laureates for Literature giving it a unique place in history.
WBY – home on Sandymount Avenue
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Sandymount and is considered one of the foremost of 20th century literature. He studied in London and spent summer holidays with his maternal grandparents in Sligo, a place that he often wrote about. With Lady Augusta Gregory he established the Abbey Theatre, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 that cited his ‘inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.’ Voted as Ireland’s favourite poet his poem Easter 1916, written in the months after the event, capture the mood of the nation at that very tense moment. On the other hand one of his earliest works, Lake Isle of Innisfree (from 1888), a twelve-line written in style of the Celtic Revival that was then becoming popular is still the poem that most people are familiar with:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in 33 Synge Street, but went to London where he worked as a theatre critic before starting to write. He is best known as a playwright (he wrote more than 60 plays) with Man and Superman, Saint Joan and Pygmalion being the most famous. In 1938 a film version of Pygmalion was produced in Hollywood and it won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. He is the first person to have won both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar. In 1906 he moved to a house in Ayot St Lawrence, north of London, that late became known as Shaw’ Corner. He spent the rest of his life here and loved nothing more than tending the garden with his wife Charlotte. In 1950 he fell while pruning a tree, and he died shortly afterwards from complications associated with the fall. He was ninety-four! His and Charlotte’s ashes were scattered along the paths and throughout the garden they loved.
Samuel Beckett (1913-1989) was born in Foxrock and went to Trinity College. A keen sportsman he is the only Nobel Laureate to have played first class cricket having featured in two matches against Northamptonshire. He was in France when WWII began and fought with the French Resistance and was awarded both the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance. He described his efforts during the war, rather humbly, as ‘boy scout stuff’. He had met James Joyce in Paris in the 1930s and had begun writing before the war began. In 1949, his bleak absurdist play Waiting for Godot was well-received in Paris. When the play was first performed in London in 1955 it was voted ‘the most significant English language play of the 20th century’. His works consider the tragicomic conditions of life, that often combine a bleakness and minimalism which he captured so well. Beckett was at the forefront of ‘modernist’ writing style and a leading light in the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. He lived and worked in Paris until he died on 22 December 1989 and he is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. And on 10th December 2009 the new bridge across the Liffey was named in his honour.
Samuel Beckett Bridge
The Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, usually referred to as The Hugh Lane, is unique in that it is the first known public gallery for modern art anywhere in the world. This is due to the work of Hugh Lane who was a successful London art dealer and collector. He had a particular passion for works of the Impressionists, and there are a number of fine paintings by such artists as Renoir, Pissarro and Manet on show.
Sir Hugh Lane by John Singer Sargent
Lane was born in Cork in 1875 and spent most of his early life in Cornwall. After school he began an apprenticeship as a painting restorer, but soon began dealing in paintings. Although he lived in London he often returned to Ireland and stayed with his aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory (a founder of the Abbey Theatre), and was familiar with Irish art which he praised and promoted. As such, he decided that Ireland needed a gallery to show these works and he opened the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in January 1908. It was set-up in temporary premises on Harcourt Street, and Lane hoped that Dublin Corporation would take over the running of the gallery. This, however, did not happen, as the Corporation were uncertain about the financial viability of such an enterprise. Sadly, Lane was among almost 1,200 people who died when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed on 7th May 1915 off his native Cork, and never lived to see ‘his’ gallery.
Following his untimely death many years were spent arguing about the 39 paintings in the ‘Lane Bequest’. It was not until 1959, more than forty years after Lane’s death, that a deal was struck between the Irish and British governments for the custodianship of the paintings. Half of the paintings would be shown in Dublin every five years, but this arrangement was altered in 1993 whereby 31 of the paintings would stay in Dublin. Charlemont House (the former townhouse of James Caulfield, owner of the Casino at Marino) was opened as the permanent location for the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, and it is now one of the city’s favourite galleries.
The Abbey Theatre (also known as the National Theatre of Ireland) has had a long and interesting history dating back over a hundred years.
In the 1890s WB Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory and Edward Martyn published a ‘Manifesto for the Irish Literary Theatre’ with the intention of establishing a national theatre for Ireland. Allied to this was the work of the brothers William and Frank Fay who formed WG Fay’s Irish National Dramatic Company that helped develop local acting and writing talent, and the financial input and management guidance of Annie Horniman. She was from London and a friend and supporter of George Bernard Shaw and had financed one of his plays Arms and the Man in 1894. She came to Dublin in 1903 and worked as Yeats’ secretary when he, Gregory, Martyn, AE Russell and JM Synge founded the Irish National Theatre Society. She helped fund the new project which was soon augmented by members of the Fay group. The first plays were performed in the Molesworth Hall, but when the old Merchanic’s Hall on Lower Abbey Street became available Horniman and the Fays agreed to buy the premises.
William Fay was the appointed as the first theatre manager with responsibility for training new actors. Jack B Yeats, the renowned artist, was commissioned to paint portraits of the leading actors of the time that were on show in the theatre’s foyer. On the opening of the new theatre, 27 December 1904, three one-act plays were performed; two by WB Yeats and one by Lady Gregory. The theatre thrived for a few years, but after the riots that followed Synge’s play The Playboy of the Western World in 1907 and the split with Fays, the theatre’s fortunes slipped.
The old building was destroyed by fire on 17 July 1951, and the company performed at the Queen’s Theatre until 1966 when the newly built Abbey Theatre, designed by Michael Scott, was officially opened 18 July. With the contribution of new, exceptional playwrights like Hugh Leonard (Da 1973), Tom Murphy (A Whistle in the Dark 1961) and Brian Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa 1990), the fortunes of the theatre improved and helped raise its international profile.
Theatre of Dreams!
WB Yeats – Sandymount Green
Although he did not spend much time in the neighbourhood, WB Yeats still casts a watchful, fatherly eye over the place. His bust in Sandymount Green looks out on the small and pleasant triangular park in the centre of the village. It is an oasis of calm of which the dreamer in Yeats would surely have approved.
He was born only a short distance away at 5, Sandymount Avenue on 13th June 1865 and left with his family for England two years later. He did return to Ireland years later and lived in what was for him his spiritual home in Sligo. With his father, John Yeats, a well-known artist he met many of Ireland’s leading lights in the arts and began writing poetry from an early age. His first book of verse The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems, published in 1889, shows his early interests in Celtic mythology and the occult, themes which he moved away from as he matured. Apart from the title poem two others, notably, The Stolen Child and Down by the Sally Gardens are considered some of his finest early work. Over the years he became a leading member of the Irish Literary Revival movement, and alongside Lady Augusta Gregory, Edward Martyn and other kindred spirits founded the Abbey Theatre, which he served as chief in its early years. On its opening night, 27th December 1904, his play Cathleen ni Houihan and Lady Gregory’s Spreading the News were performed.
In 1889 he met Maud Gonne, who having read his first published poem The Isle of Statues, sought him out. He was smitten with her beauty and outspoken, confident nature and thus began a lifelong, unrequited love. He proposed marriage in 1891, and when rejected admitted that thereafter ‘the troubling of my life began’. She was his muse and although they did briefly become lovers many years later it did not last. I was recently given a book of his poems and particularly like Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven which beautifully captures the essence of love:
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Sandymount Green – tread softly…..
What is the world’s tallest sculpture?
Well you might be surprised to know that it is The Monument of Light (better known as The Spire) on O’Connell Street, Dublin. It’s just one little gem of information that I found when I was researching my e-book ‘Dublin – Walking With Words’ which will be available in May/June!
Trinity College – front entrance
The guide covers Dublin, and in it you meet many of its most famous sons and daughters and hear what the city meant to them – in their own Words. It takes you on a stroll through its history where you meet James Joyce, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Elizabeth Bowen, Phil Lynott, Molly Malone and many others. You will find out where they lived and worked, and how the city influenced them in their artistic endeavors. Whether it was in the Georgian heartland of Merrion Square, along the Grand Canal, Trinity College or some favourite watering-hole, all these places have a story to tell, and with photographs and maps they are brought to life.
The guide is divided into five sections, each one taking about fifty minutes to complete – depending, of course, on how long you may decide to linger in some friendly pub or restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere!
So, if you have a little time in Dublin and wish to ‘get to know the place’ better than some of the locals, then put on your comfortable shoes and ‘Walk the Walk’. (Check out the video below for a preview of your ‘Walk‘. I am very thankful to Derek Gleeson for his kind permission to use his composition as a soundtrack.)