Book of Kells, Yeats and a Literary Pub Crawl: Dublin Honors its Irish Literary History and Famous Writers

The Irish are center stage as a literary force, dating back over 1000 years to the Book of Kells, which are housed at Dublin’s Trinity College. The walkable city also exhibits William Butler Yeats at the National Library of Ireland. Other writers shine at the Dublin Writers Museum. Add in a nighttime literary pub crawl with actors performing works from Ireland’s best-known writers and this literary feast can be encapsulated into a one-day excursion.

The Book of Kells

Before the monks of Iona created the Book of Kells in the 9th century, literature was rooted in oral history. But when four scribes and three artists wrote down the four gospels of Christ, their creation changed the world. And thanks to Henry James, Bishop of Meath, for sending them to Trinity College in 1661 for safekeeping. Written in Ogham script and read from bottom to top, it took about 185 calfskins to create the ancient pages.

Black ink came from lamp soot. The use of lapis lazuli for the blue ink still baffles historians since its only source was Afghanistan: how did the monks get it?

“Turning Darkness into Light’ is Trinity’s Exhibition Hall where through photos and video the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow are explained. Even intricate edits done by the scribes are shown. A smaller, darkened room where two Kells’ books are enclosed in glass cases is a hallowed area; one shows a decorated page, the other is text. Three times a year Dr. Bernard Meehan, Keeper of Manuscripts, turns one page in each book.

The Exhibition Hall and well-stocked Library Shop are opened daily. However, the building is closed for a half day when the Kells’ pages are turned. The admission charged also includes access to the Long Room, which is an upstairs hall housing 200,000 volumes, marble busts and temporary exhibitions.

William Butler Yeats Exhibition at the National Library of Ireland

Yeats’ aged voice reading his The Lake isle of Innisfree greets the visitor at the National Library of Ireland’s fascinating exhibit of his life and works. The library holds the largest collection of Yeats’ manuscripts and other items donated mostly by his family. Noted for his poetry, he published as a journalist; helped form the Abbey Theatre; rubbed elbows with the likes of George Bernard Shaw and held a somewhat secret affinity for the supernatural.

“The mystical life is the center of all that I do & all that I think & all that I write,” Yeats wrote to John O’Leary.

On display here is his hand-made magic wand used for his initiation into The Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn. Maud Gonne, the woman who would not marry Yeats and Georgie Hyde, the younger woman who did, share the exhibit with him. Hyde and Yeats had two children, did automatic writings together and believed deeply in mysticism.

An exhibit highlight is The Tower, which is the book’s title of his most famous collection of verse and a visual diagram of the poems showing their publication lineage. Several cubbyhole areas are “film rooms” depicting a typical flat he occupied in London and one about his philandering lifestyle as a married man. All items are beautifully displayed with a touch-screen panel beside each for detailed descriptions. The Library has an excellent site for the virtual visitor.

The Dublin Writers Museum

This museum promotes Irish literature and the lives and works of individual Irish writers. Located in a former 18th-century mansion in Parnell Square, works of Swift, Sheridan, Shaw, Behan, Joyce and others covering three hundred years can be viewed here on three floors. Audio tours are available in several languages. Lunchtime theatre and readings, plus a bookshop and cafe are here.

Dublin Literary Pub Crawl

Meet upstairs in The Duke pub, located on Duke Street, off Dawson, and sip a pint of Guinness as two professional actors introduce the onset of the Literary Pub Crawl. A recent performance was a Waiting for Godot scene. For two hours, the tour winds through the streets, stopping at landmarks to capture the spirit and words of Ireland’s literary giants, one being under the courtyard dome at Trinity College where Oscar Wilde’s letter about his adventures in a Colorado mining town is enacted.

Four pubs known for the famous writers who drank at them are visited, one being O’Neill’s on Suffolk Street, also known for its buffet-style food. Reservations are advised.

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