Writers united

Literati

Writers united
It is only right that a city so rich in literature should name its restaurants and bridges after its writers. Preeti Verma lal unfolds the chapters of Dublin's Writers Museum...

What would you say of a city that has had Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw grow in its womb? 
 
A city that gloriously earned the rare UNESCO City of Literature tag? 
 
A city that produced four Nobel laureates for literature — a stat that no other city can possibly surpass? 
 
A city that had an entire novel woven around its one day: Joyce’s Ulysses (June 16, 1904)? 

A city that has bridges called James Joyce, Samuel Beckett? And a restaurant called Chapter One? 

A city that has a James Joyce Authentic Pub Award? A city that hosts One City, One Book event annually? 

This city certainly was to the alphabet born. It is Dublin, the capital of Ireland.

Dublin’s ‘fix-lit’

Walk around Dublin and literature references pop out of nowhere. 

You’d find Oscar Wilde sprawled on a boulder in Merrion Square Park; Joyce on a pedestal in Stevens Green; stories about Jonathan Swift in Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub; Yeats narratives in Trinity College; Sweny, a pharmacy, where Joyce picked lemon soap (mentioned in Ulysses). Perhaps there is literature in Dublin’s loam. How else does one explain Dublin’s ‘lit-fix’?

You could spend an entire life in Dublin scrounging around for all things literary.
 
The next best thing is to step into Dublin Writers Museum, the best place to get up close and personal with writers. 

If you do not look up at the black wrought-iron arch of No 18, Parnell Street, you’d probably miss the black wooden door that leads one into the museum. 
 
It could pass off as a rich man’s 18th-century Georgian townhouse. 
 
That is what it originally was — 18, Parnell Street was the home of George Jameson, production manager of Jameson Whiskey Distillery, who lived in this house from 1891 to 1914. 
 
The stained glass windows, the wooden staircase, the long columns flanking the door and large windows bear testimony to the largesse of the Jamesons, one of the richest whiskey distillers in the continent. 
 
With so many famous writers residing in the city, journalist Maurice Gorham (1902-1975) mooted the idea of a writers’ museum. 

Exactly 23 years after it opened its doors to the public in November 1991, I stepped into the museum. 
 
A man in blue handed me an audio equipment. Spread over two floors and four rooms are the museum rooms, gallery, library and the reception area.

On the ground floor are two museum rooms that detail the history of Irish literature from the beginning to the present time through books, personal artefacts and statues. 

It begins in Room 1 that traces the roots of Irish poetry and storytelling and the emergence of Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan. 
 
On the walls are large posters that detail stories about literary genres and the contribution of individual writers. 
 
There’s the first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which embodies the Irish imagination at its darkest. Room 2 is entirely devoted to the literary giants of 20th century. 

In Room 2, living writers are not displayed — only the dead get display space. 
 
It starts with the Irish Literary Revival — from William Butler Yeats’s mettle in founding the Abbey Theatre to Easter Rising and the publication of Joyce’s Ulysses, in 1922 — a signed copy of which is on display. 

Joyce shares a case with another exile, playwright and Nobel Laureate, Sean O’Casey. His old friend and enemy, the flamboyant Oliver Gogarty is not too far from him in the museum. 

Writers’ belongings

Under glass panes in locked tables are the typewriter of James Joyce, pen and spectacles of Frank O’Connor, Oliver Gogarty’s laurels, Brendan Behan’s union card, Mary Lavin’s teddy bear; a note from Sheridan to a creditor; a signed refusal from Bernard Shaw to provide an autograph; a concise card from Samuel Beckett; and Brendan Behan’s postcard from Los Angeles (‘Great spot for a quiet piss-up’). 

One of the most prominent displays is the specially designed telephone of Samuel Beckett.
 
Walk on the red carpet that drapes the wooden staircase into Gallery of Writers — a splendidly decorated room that was a magnificent saloon with ornamental columns and gilded frieze.
 
James Joyce’s piano stands amidst the bust and portraits of Shaw, Frank McCourt, Wilde and Beckett.
 
At the end of the staircase is the Gorham Library with a fabulous ceiling done by Michael Stapleton, perhaps Dublin’s most-skilled stuccodore.
 
The library has a rare collection of books, first/early editions and copies signed by the authors. 
 
Step down the staircase, open a door and you can sit in the garden with busts of writers staring from window sills. 
 
Or, you can step into the bookshop and pick a copy of your favourite book. 

That’s not all, though. If you time it well, you can also watch Neil O’Shea’s one-man show on Irish writers. 
 
Shea reads/acts extracts from writers such as Swift, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Shaw and others with an incredible dash of humour.

In this museum, you cannot play Joyce’s piano. Beckett’s black rotary phone is safely locked. 
 
The first edition of Molly Malone is sepia with age. In a museum dedicated to the written word, I did not hear the writers speak. 

But as I stood in front of Yeats’s bust, my heart resonated with his A Faery Song: “We who are old, old and gay, O so old! Thousands of years, thousands of years, If all were told: Give to these children, new from the world, Silence and love; And the long dew-dropping hours of the night, And the stars above...”

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