Ireland: Dubliners’ fair city

This font of literary inspiration wears pride in its heroes, both real and imaginary, on its streets, as Helen O’Neill discovers.

James Joyce immortalised this misty port city in his literary epic Ulysses, though many Dubliners freely admit they haven’t read a word of the stream-of-consciousness novel.

That doesn’t stop them from throwing a huge celebration every June 16, honouring the day in 1904 when the fictional Leopold Bloom perambulated through the streets of the author’s hometown.

Every year, thousands of Joyce lovers and tourists, many in period costume, flock to the capital to retrace Bloom’s steps. The faithful devour “innards of beasts and fowls” for breakfast, plunge into the once-famous gentlemen-only bathing spot called the Forty Foot, and descend on Davy Byrnes’ pub for that famous literary lunch: a gorgonzola sandwich and glass of Burgundy.

But while Bloomsday is the city’s largest, most colourful literary celebration, it is hardly the only one. With old-world pubs filled with faded pictures of poets and rebels, clattery cafes and cobblestone alleys, centuries-old libraries and elegant museums, Dublin is a haven for those who want to immerse themselves in books and writers and words washed down of course, with the obligatory pint of Guinness. (The old brewery storehouse on the banks of the River Liffey is a major tourist attraction.)

If there is a pub on every corner — Dublin boasts around 1000 of them — it seems there is a poet too. There are statues, busts and plaques commemorating writers, and pubs and restaurants filled with literary references. Walks transport visitors to the worlds of Joyce, Shaw and Wilde. Even the city’s newest bridges are named after Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Casey.

A life-size, colourful stone statue depicts Oscar Wilde lounging languidly on a crag in the park at Merrion Square. Joyce is depicted rather more severely in bronze, leaning on his cane as he strolls down North Earl St. And tourists love to pose for photos sitting next to sculptures of two writers seated on benches: Brendan Behan by the Royal Canal and Patrick Kavanagh by the Grand Canal. “O commemorate me with no hero-courageous tomb,” wrote Kavanagh, “just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.”

“Walking through this city is like stepping back into a novel,” exlaimed Rohini Srinibasan, a Joycean scholar from Cincinnati after a day of sightseeing with her husband. “It’s like reading Joyce or Shaw all over again.”

Other famous Dublin wordsmiths include George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, Oliver Goldsmith, John Millington Synge, Oliver St. John Gogarty, Flann O’Brien and Seamus Heaney.



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