Storytelling is central to Irish culture. Literature seems to spill from the nation’s cities, boglands, farms, and cliffs. Therefore, we’ve decided to highlight the country’s key literary locations.
From pubs, castles, cemeteries, cathedrals, towers, colleges, and counties, these sites highlight Ireland’s contribution to the written word.
Davy Byrnes Pub (Dublin)
Situated at 21 Duke Street, Davy Byrnes Pub was one of the settings in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” In the novel, Leopold Bloom adjourns for a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy while wandering through Dublin. Though featured in the massive story, this pub is far from fictitious and is still open today. In fact, both of the above items are still on the menu, so if you feel compelled to follow in Bloom’s shoes, have at it!
Dublin Castle off Dame Street dates back to the 18th century and was once the seat of the United Kingdom’s government administration in Ireland. But did you know that a certain famed author used to work in the castle as a civil servant? That’s right — before Abraham “Bram” Stoker wrote his haunting magnum opus “Dracula,” he walked the halls of Dublin Castle as an employee in the 1870s. It’s often said that his literary career began in the castle, as he based his first book, “The Duties of Clerks of the Petty Sessions of Ireland,” on his experience there.
Dublin Writers Museum
Filled with manuscripts, letters, personal ephemera, and other eclectic bric-a-brac, the Dublin Writers Museum is a mecca for lovers of Irish literature. Located at No. 18, Parnell Square, in a striking 18th-century mansion, this museum highlights the lives and works of essayist Jonathan Swift, novelists James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, playwrights Richard Brinsley Sheridan and George Bernard Shaw, and poets Oscar Wilde and W. B. Yeats, among others. Naturally, the museum also boasts a great bookshop, so if you’re feeling inspired, pick out a story for the plane ride home while you’re there!
Glasnevin Cemetery (Dublin)
Aside from serving as the setting for Paddy Dignam’s funeral procession in James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” Glasnevin Cemetery is also the resting place of several notable literary figures. The English-born poet Gerard Manley Hopkins rests in the Jesuit plot, Maud Gonne — the Irish nationalist and longtime Dublin resident who is said to have inspired W. B. Yeats’ play “Cathleen ní Houlihan” — is buried in the Republican plot, and Irish poet Brendan Behan is also buried on the grounds.
James Joyce Tower and Museum
Located at the edge of the sea in the Dublin suburb of Sandycove, this Martello tower that was once home to Joyce for a short time is now a museum dedicated to his works and greater life interests. The museum opened in 1962, and its interior has since been restored to look as it did when Joyce lived there, complete with the author’s walking stick and guitar. The site also includes a reference library that houses an extensive collection of Joyce’s works, Joycean criticisms, and books relating to Dublin, as well as a well-stocked shop with a vast range of Joyce’s books.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Dublin)
Remembered for works such as “A Tale of a Tub,” “Gulliver’s Travels,” and “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift ensnared readers with his wit and shook political establishments with his sarcasm. But while this Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, and poet was stirring convention, he was also working as the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. If you’re visiting Dublin, explore the cathedral, walk the surrounding churchyard, and visit Swift’s grave, which is located on site.
Trinity College (Dublin)
Ireland’s capital is a UNESCO City of Literature, and Trinity College is arguably its literary heart. Trinity’s cobbled courts have altered little since author Bram Stoker graduated, but the grounds’ greatest treasure remains the Old Library. Set your eyes on the original manuscript of “The Book of Kells,” visit one of the world’s most spectacular reading rooms, and admire the Long Room’s marble statues that depict the likes of various philosophers and writers associated with the college, including Jonathan Swift and Oliver Goldsmith.
This rural county was home to poet and novelist Patrick Kavanagh. His best-known works include the novel “Tarry Flynn” and the poems “On Raglan Road” and “The Great Hunger,” though his writings as a whole are revered for their refusal to romanticize the harsh realities of rural life in Ireland. Situated in the Border Region, County Monaghan has remained relatively unchanged since Kavanagh’s works were first published, so if you appreciate seeing descriptive prose come to life, embark on the county’s literary tour. The tour includes notable stops around the county, readings, anecdotes, and a one-man show performed by a local actor.
Because of its many connections to the beloved W. B. Yeats, this county is a pilgrimage destination for poetry enthusiasts around the world. The county’s landscape shaped Yeats’ writing, and many of its landmarks — Lough Gill, Glencar Lake, Ben Bulben Mountain, and Maeve’s tomb — appear in his poems. Other places of interest associated with the writer include the Yeats Memorial Building, which features both an exhibition and a library, and the Drumcliffe Churchyard, which serves as the poet’s final resting place — as per the instructions in his last poem, “Under Ben Bulben.”
The Bolton Library (Limerick)
This library in southern Ireland houses the country’s largest collection of rare books outside of Dublin, including the Gospels from the first century, the only complete first edition of “Don Quixote,” John Smith’s memoirs, an illustrated travelogue by Albrecht Dürer, the smallest book in the world, literature once owned by Catherine of Aragon, and one-of-a-kind works by Jonathan Swift, Dante Alighieri, Machiavelli, and Geoffrey Chaucer. Although the library was previously located in Cashel, it has since been moved to Limerick for safe-keeping.
Perched on the edge of western Ireland, County Galway is filled with relics of W.B. Yeats, playwright John Millington Synge, and novelist George Moore. It was also the home of Lady Gregory, whose house in Coole Park served as an important meeting place for Ireland’s Literary Revival figures (fun fact: there’s even a tree located in the park that was engraved by Yeats, Synge, Edward Martyn, George Bernard Shaw, and Sean O’Casey). Additionally, County Galway boasts a statue of writer Pádraic Ó Conaire in Eyre Square of Galway city, the summer home of Yeats in Gort, and both the birthplace of novelist Liam O’Flaherty and the setting that inspired John Millington Synge’s most famous play, “The Playboy of the Western World,” in the Aran Islands.