Busperson’s Holiday: Dublin Writers Museum

The first thing I noticed about the Dublin Writers Museum was the lack of a possessive apostrophe in “Writers.” But perhaps that’s by design; the museum doesn’t belong to Dublin writers; it’s about Dublin writers, including four Nobel Prize winners for Literature who were born and/or died there: W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett as well as Seamus Heaney, whose work I was unfamiliar with prior to visiting the museum. Not to mention some familiar Irish luminaries: James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan, whose plays inspired a nude interpretation at my college theatre during the early 1970s. (Think “Hair” with whiskey and lots of naval-gazing.)

I’d never heard of the Writers Museum until arriving in Dublin to do a story on pubs and whiskey/wine making, including the city’s highly-rated Literary Pub Crawl, which involves singing, poetry reading and storytelling by the two tour guides, with (obviously) visits to lots of bars. I would say they sounded better as the night went on but that wouldn’t be the truth as they were highly entertaining to begin with and I wasn’t drinking. One of the tour guides, Colm Quilligan, has a published a book (wait for it…Dublin Literary Pub Crawl) for those who get into the Irish spirit(s) and/or are interested in history. It’s a great little guide, especially for fans of the latter.

Having stumbled upon the museum by looking through a tourist brochure, I was immediately intrigued. Imagine that, a museum that actually honors writers and writing! Would that be possible in today’s ‘Murica? The answer, surprisingly, is “yes.” Inspired by the Dublin museum, which opened in 1991 in conjunction with the Irish Writers Centre and Dublin Tourism (now part of Fáilte Ireland, the national tourism marketing agency), Irish engineer and scientist Malcolm O’Hagan founded the American Writers Museum in May 2017 in of all places, Chicago, an impressive feat considering that city’s reputation for crime and the current political climate. On display: “Everything from Walt Whitman’s verse to Octavia Butler’s reflections on writing to Timex’s famous slogan, ‘It takes a licking and keeps on ticking,’” according to Poets & Writers. So far, the museum is on track with its goal of reaching 120,000 visitors annually and has been rated a “best museum” by Thrillist, which should warm the cockles of any scribe’s heart.

But I digress, which happens a lot when one visits Dublin and even more so if one is a Dublin writer. Located in an elegant refurbished 18th century manse, with stained glass windows, soaring ceilings and ornate scrollwork adorning the walls and pilasters, the second floor of the Dublin Writers Museum is more architecturally impressive than the first, as was often the case with homes of that period. Here you’ll find, along with a room dedicated to children’s literature and a library room, a breathtakingly refurbished and impressive “Writers Gallery,” whose hardwood floors, Persian rugs and elegant chandelier create the perfect setting for reading one’s carefully chosen words in front of a rapt audience, which happens quite frequently in this space. You can only reach the second floor by climbing the ornate polished staircase, another reason why Irish folk seem to have lower BMIs than their American counterparts.

But the ground floor is where the real treasures can be found, and I highly recommend taking the audio guided tour, well worth the extra few euros. The remote thingie is a bit low-tech, but then the whole museum is like that, with glassed-in displays, subtle lighting and an aura of quieter eras.

The original of the first exhibit, the Book of Kells, can be found in Trinity College, also in Dublin. An impressive reproduction, the story behind this 9th century medieval illuminated (illustrated) manuscript seems more fascinating than its contents, although I can’t say for sure because it’s written in Latin. From there it’s a chronological journey through this UNESCO City of Literature’s great and lesser-known scribes, with excerpts, artifacts and books galore where you can spend as much or as little time on perusing, according to your tastes.

Standouts (for me) included the first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Frank O’Connor’s spectacles and pipe; short story writer’s Kate O’Brien’s typewriter and notes; the death mask of poet Patrick Kavanagh; and playwright Samuel Beckett’s rotary telephone, an early call-screening system with a red button for blocking outside calls. The list goes on, but I’m running out of space.

Would it be worth a trip to Dublin just to visit the Writers Museum? Perhaps not, unless you’re asked to speak there and they are footing the bill, an unlikely scenario for many of us. But you might want to check out Chicago’s American Writers Museum, which along with modern multimedia displays, offers many of the same types of events and resources.

To be included in any Writers Museum, one must publish, and to publish, one must find an agent or publisher. That’s where ASJA’s NYC Conference (including Client Connections) comes in on May 5 and 6, 2019. Early Early Bird registration is now open, and new details are coming out almost daily. But for certain, the conference will feature pitch slams with agents and editors, plus a mastermind session with a marketing specialist from Random House (on how to write a proposal and land an agent and contract, natch). Don’t miss your opportunity to be there!