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November 26, 2011

Dublin Writers Museum


Excerpts from Julia M. Klein's November 14, 2011 Wall Street Journal story about the museum follow.

Above, Brendan Behan's typewriter, his National Union of Journalists membership card and a first edition of his "The Quare Fellow," among the exhibits at the museum.

In the homeland of James Joyce, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, where writers still receive special tax breaks, the Dublin Writers Museum is an iconic place filled with charming relics. This fall it is marking its 20th anniversary while planning a major refurbishment of its cramped, old-fashioned galleries.

First proposed in the 1970s by the journalist and author Maurice Gorham, the museum, managed by Dublin Tourism, opened on Nov. 18, 1991, at a location intertwined with culture, history and Irish whiskey.

The museum's home is a stately Georgian red-brick mansion once owned by George Jameson, a scion of the distillery dynasty.

The Writers Museum looks out on Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, a memorial to Ireland's revolutionary martyrs. In its galleries, the museum showcases the possessions and idiosyncrasies of the country's literary heroes, some veterans of those same struggles.

The reverential sampling of objects includes the expected first editions and theater programs, portraits and manuscripts, typewriters and reading glasses. The best of the artifacts offer not just rarity, but deeper insight into particular literary personalities: a scrawled note from George Bernard Shaw, from 1930, declaring, "I never autograph books or anything else for sale"; a telephone, owned by Samuel Beckett, with a button to block calls from coming in; an edition of Patrick Kavanagh's "A Soul for Sale" (1947) in which the poet has handwritten a sexually suggestive verse excised by censors.

The museum doesn't expend too much effort describing what is typically Irish, but certain characteristics and themes emerge. Irish writers tended to be mordant (Jonathan Swift), witty (playwrights from William Congreve to Oscar Wilde) or darkly romantic (Yeats, who yearned in vain and in verse for the beautiful Maud Gonne). "Dracula" (1897), by Bram Stoker, was an Irish creation; the museum has a first edition.

The perception of Ireland as a turbulent provincial outpost helped contribute to a literary exodus. Joyce, Shaw, Beckett and Wilde—the culture's marquee names—were expatriates. The Dublin Writers Museum grandly claims them all.

The emphasis on deceased writers is "partly because we need some historical perspective," as well as "to save us having to update panels every time someone produces a new book," said Mr. Nicholson, who also serves as curator of the James Joyce Museum in the Dublin suburb of Sandycove.

In addition to its quirky artifacts, the museum's charms include its evocative building. The mansion features 18th-century plasterwork by Michael Stapleton, spectacular neoclassical columns and a gilded frieze contributed, in the 1890s, by the architect Alfred Darbyshire and a 1991 stained-glass window by Michael Judd with images of Swift, Wilde, Joyce, Yeats and other indispensable figures.

November 26, 2011 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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"I only drink on two occasions - When I am thirsty and when I'm not thirsty." - Brendan Behan, Irish poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright

Posted by: Joe Peach | Nov 27, 2011 7:06:49 PM

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