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Dublin Writers’ Museum – It’s about words!

Dublin Writers' Museum

Dublin Writers’ Museum

For a city that has given the world so much fine literature the Dublin Writers’ Museum tells a story through its collection of letters, books and personal possessions of many great writers. It was setup in 1991 and with an interesting, chronological layout it is easy to follow the development of Irish writing from the late 17th to Samuel Beckett who died in 1989.

The building, at 18 Parnell Square, dates back to 1780 when Lord Farnham was its first occupant. It changed hands a few times until George Jameson (of the Jameson distilling family) bought the house in 1891. Over the years he made major refurbishments, including the creation of the wonderful Gallery of Writers on the first floor.

Dracula - First Edition

Dracula – First Edition

In the first room you can find out about the beginnings of Irish poetry and storytelling with the emergence of Swift, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan whose play The Rivals gave the world the word malapropism. There is a unique document with Jonathan Swift’s signature and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And you can find out about Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu  and the songs of Thomas Moore.

The second room concentrates of the works from the Irish Literary Revival at the end of the 19th century. The opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 was a pivotal moment with its productions of plays by playwrights WB Yeats, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey and there are many original programmes from the time. The signed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is worth the visit for any Joycean fan. There is plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy on Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain, writers whose short stories elevated the art form. An original Cruiskeen Lawn column (from the Irish Times) by Brian O’Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen) was a delight.

Upstairs in the Gallery there are some fine portraits and glass cabinets with letters, papers and other personal items. The telephone that Samuel Beckett had in his Paris apartment that allowed him chose whether to speak to a caller or not is quirky. There is the piano that Joyce played regularly and the chair that GF Handel sat on when conducting Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in 1642!

James Joyce's piano

James Joyce’s piano

The museum is a popular visitor attraction and it’s easy to see why. It’s a wordy place.

 

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Old & New

Two for one is always good value, and the recent evening that I went to the Smock Alley Theatre was certainly that. The theatre was one of three built in 1662, two years after the Restoration of King Charles II. The others, in London, no longer exist, and Smock Alley became the first Theatre Royal in Ireland.

 

Smock Alley Theatre

Smock Alley Theatre

 

Over the years it showcased the works of Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops To Conquer) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals and School for Scandal, plays that are still part of the contemporary programme. Also, it was here that the greatest actor of the 18th century, David Garrick, first played Hamlet. It operated until the late 1780s when rivalry from newer theatres caused it to close down. It was used as a whiskey store for a number of years before being opened as a church in 1811. When the bell was rung it was the first Catholic bell heard in Dublin in almost 300 hundred years.

The church closed in 2002 and a full archaeological excavation was undertaken in 2009 that revealed part of the original foundations. The newly renovated theatre opened in May 2012 and it has become a popular and busy part of the city’s cultural life.

On the night I visited, John Connolly, the international best-selling author, was launching his new book The Wolf in Winter and being interviewed about his work by Tony Clayton-Lea (Irish Times). The Main Theatre was packed as he talked about his inspiration and the hard work required to ‘get the job done’. It was very interesting and food for thought for all the budding writers in attendance. Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Gutter Bookshop where a long queue of fans chatted as they waited to get their books signed. It was a very enjoyable evening, and although more than three centuries have passed since Smock Alley opened its doors it is still a vibrant part of Dublin’s artistic scene.

John Connolly

John Connolly (left) in interview

 

 

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