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Dublin was the world’s 4th UNESCO City of Literature (after Edinburgh, Melbourne and Iowa City). But what does this actually mean? Well, it’s not just about having a rich literary heritage (although Dublin certainly has), but what all these cities also have in common is a vibrant contemporary literary scene.

The Dublin of James Joyce

For me, Dublin has always meant James Joyce. His books are full of real places in and around the city, from St Stephen’s Green to Grafton Street to the Martello Tower at Sandycove (which is now a Joyce Museum). On my last visit I took a peek around the door at Davy Byrne’s pub, where Leopold Bloom in Ulysses stopped for a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy (disappointingly, gorgonzola sandwiches are no longer on the menu), and took the train along the coast to see the windswept rocky beaches that haunt Joyce’s work.

The James Joyce Centre offers organised walks around the city. Or you can follow the trail of 14 pavement plaques marking important points in Joyce’s books.

Pavement plaque

One of the pavement plaques. Joyce’s allusion is to Thomas Moore, an Irish writer
whose statue stands above a public urinal

A Pantheon of Irish Writers

But of course there is so much more to literary Dublin than Joyce. All the great writers are featured in the Irish Writers Museum – Shaw, Beckett, Swift, Yeats and many, many more. And there are one or two, like Oliver Goldsmith, who I have to admit I had not realised were Irish at all.

Not to be missed is the iconic Bewleys Oriental Café, a meeting place for artists and writers since it opened in 1927. Joyce, Beckett and Sean O’Casey all frequented Bewleys, and its importance to the literary life of the city continues to this day. The café regularly hosts lunchtime drama and it clearly attracts a literary-minded clientele: I was amused to note lines of poetry scrawled upon the toilet walls, an improvement on the more usual graffiti.

Bewleys Oriental Cafe, Dublin

A busker performs outside Bewleys Oriental Cafe

Contemporary Scene

As the City of Literature website says, “Writers in Dublin are not remote figures… but are part of the everyday landscape”. Apart from several living writers, the city has a full calendar of literary and cultural festivals and theatrical events. Then, of course, there is a long tradition of storytelling, with events in pubs and clubs and even on the Storytelling Bus.

I would have liked to have gone on the Literary Pub Crawl, reputedly a memorable and spellbinding performance experienced while walking around some of Dublin’s most famous literary pubs. An excuse, if I needed one, to go back to Dublin before too long!

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