Known for Temple Bar, Guinness and plentiful craic, Dublin’s a city break destination guaranteed to shake off the shackles of corporate life. But like the best-loved books, don’t judge it by its cover alone. Home to Samuel Beckett, James Joyce and Oscar Wilde, Dublin’s literary credentials are second to none. From the Book of Kells to the world-famous Ulysses, the city’s steeped in literary history. If you’re looking for a mini break with a little more depth, now’s the time to delve into the pages of a well-worn classic.
A good starting point for any literary tour of the city is Trinity College’s Old Library. Attracting over 500,000 visitors a year, the library’s jewel in the crown is the world-famous Book of Kells. Dating back to the year 800, the beautifully preserved gospel manuscript contains four Latin gospels scribed on to prepared calfskin. Ablaze in a palate of vibrant red, blues and golds, it could have been published yesterday. Pounced on by James Joyce, who declared it “the most purely Irish thing we have”, it’s thought that the manuscript was in fact crafted by Monks in Iona before being transported to Kells in County Meath, following Viking raids in Scotland. But no matter what the origins, the manuscript is a must-see on your tour of literary Dublin.
Hot in pursuit of more James Joyce, my next stop is Sweny’s Pharmacy on Lincoln Place. A well-known fixture on the Dublin literary scene, the pharmacy first sprung to fame when Leopold Bloom in Ulysses bought lemon-scented soap here for his wife. Opening the well-worn, wooden door, apothecary bottles rattle as a bygone era is revealed. Heavy-weight mahogany dressers are crammed with books, photos and bell-shaped sweetie jars in a world interrupted only by the occasional dustmote drifting by. Preserved by an army of volunteers, the pharmacy just about survives by selling books, craft items and of course the famous lemon-scented soap. For a truly authentic experience, Ulysses fans are invited to attend daily readings from selected chapters of the book with a cup of tea and biscuit thrown in if you’re lucky.
Having worked up an appetite after all this bookish activity, I head to the Winding Stair for lunch. Named after the eponymous Yeats poem, the restaurant nestles on top of one of Dublin’s oldest surviving independent bookshops. Tottering up the famous spiral staircase, I encounter a light and elegant room with polished wooden floorboards and tall windows giving sun-dappled views on to the Liffey. A popular hub for artists, writers and musicians, the riverside haunt transports me back in time to leisurely afternoons whiled away on the Left Bank in Paris.
Ravenously hungry, I opt for the Ha’penny Bridge Breakfast which I’m pleased to note is served by “chefs devoid of ego”. Served up a gargantuan mountain of black pudding, sausages, bacon, beans, tomatoes, eggs and mushrooms, I feel a bit like like a contestant on a man versus food eating challenge. Shamelessly, I manage to scoff the lot. Washed down with copious quantities of fortifying Irish tea, the comforting, indulgent fare is made for the icy Celtic blasts that whip round the city like a stealthy banshee.
On a similarly indulgent theme, literature buffs can sink a Guinness or two on a literary pub crawl. Voted number 4 in the Sunday Times 50 best walks, the Dublin Pub Crawl is hosted by professional actors who inform and entertain with an endless stream of anecdotes from literary bon viveurs such as Joyce, Flann O’Brien, James Larkin and Samuel Beckett.
As I wander back along the banks of the Liffey reflecting on my trip, my attention’s suddenly drawn to a scrap of paper stuck to a lamp post. Speaking of all the stories that have gone untold, it appears that the spirit of literary Dublin is alive and well – Joyce would definitely have approved.
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