What is it about this country that has produced so many great authors, poets, and artists? And what is it about Dublin that draws them to move here and use the city for their inspiration to write books about the Irish experience that move us all? Here is your chance to ponder these mysteries as you pound the pavement in the footsteps of James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, and Brendan Behan, among others.
- The Hugh Lane Gallery: One of the best art galleries in Dublin, the fairly small permanent collection includes some real big hitters from the Impressionist canon—including works by Degas and Rodin. There are also plenty of works from contemporary Irish artists. An unusual highlight of the collection is the studio of the Irish painter Francis Bacon. Bacon, who was one of the true giants of 20th-century figurative art, spent most of his life in London—from where his studio was removed (clutter and all) and painstakingly pieced back together at the gallery, where it's been on display since 2001.
- Dublin Writers Museum: Manuscripts, early editions, personal possessions, and other pieces of ephemera relating to Ireland's most famous writers are on display at this great museum in Parnell Square. Lovers of Behan, Joyce, Shaw, Stoker, Wilde, Yeats, and the other greats of the canon will find plenty to love here—from the trivial (Brendan Behan's postcard from Los Angeles extolling its virtues as a place to get drunk) to the profound (a first edition of Patrick Kavanagh's The Great Hunger).
- James Joyce Centre: This idiosyncratic museum is set in a handsome Georgian house that once belonged to the Earl of Kenmare. Today the center functions as both a small museum and a cultural center devoted to Joyce and his work. Actual exhibits are a little thin on the ground, but there are interesting (at least for Joyce fans) lectures and special events, including a Joyce-themed walking tour of Dublin.
- James Joyce statue: This life-size sculpture of the Ulysses author portrays his characteristic nonchalant stance as he leans on his cane, thereby provoking the locals' unflattering nickname the "Prick with the Stick."
- Marsh's Library: Unlike Trinity College's Long Room, which is largely for show these days, Marsh's Library is still a functioning library. Founded by Narcissus Marsh, the Archbishop of Dublin, in 1701, its interior is a magnificent example of a 17th-century scholar's library and has remained much the same for three centuries. The walls are lined with scholarly volumes, chiefly focused on theology, medicine, ancient history, and maps. You can still see the wire cages in which readers would be locked in with the more valuable tomes. There's a particularly excellent collection of books by and about Jonathan Swift, which includes volumes with his editing comments in the margins.
- National Library of Ireland: If you're coming to Ireland to research your roots, this library should be one of your first stops, with thousands of volumes and records that yield ancestral information. Open at this location since 1890, this is also the principal library of Irish studies, particularly noted for its collection of first editions and the papers of Irish writers and political figures, such as W.B. Yeats, Daniel O'Connell, and Patrick Pearse. Parts of the collection are always on display to the general public (the exhibition devoted to Yeats is particularly good).
- Temple Bar Gallery: Quintessentially Temple Bar, this large art gallery is packed with interesting, often groundbreaking, work by contemporary Irish visual artists. You can also book an appointment to watch some of the artists at work in the studios here.
- Literary Pub Crawl: Of the several good walking tours of Dublin available, this is one of our favorites. Walking in the footsteps of Joyce, Behan, Beckett, Shaw, and other Irish literary greats, the tour visits Dublin's most famous pubs and explores their deep literary connections. Actors provide humorous performances and commentary between stops.