Dublin Writers Museum

Dublin Writers Museum

Fri 27 Mar, Dublin

Perhaps the first general impression of Dublin (after the cold, windy weather, that is) is the chaos and congestion in the city centre caused by the extension of the Luas, or tram/light rail service. So far it consists of two separate and relatively small systems, but work is underway to combine and extend them. It looks like a pretty major undertaking but one I think will be well worth while.

Like most big cities, Dublin has "hop on, hop off" buses for tourists - in fact it has two competing services, green and red. They have almost identical routes, pricing, etc. They both sell only 2-day tickets, and as I had used mine briefly yesterday afternoon, I wanted to get my money's worth today!

So I did the entire circuit (starting from a stop less than 100 metres from my hotel), getting off only twice, first near Grafton Street, which is a pedestrian-only shopping precinct, and secondly at the Writers' Museum in Parnell Square, just North of the top end of O'Connell Street. The point being that the road works cause such congestion that progress was so slow that that was all I managed to do during the course of the day. But it was a very good way of getting an overview of the main tourist attractions and familiarise myself with the general layout of the central city.

I hadn't really thought about what one might find in a Writers' Museum.

Much of the info on printed cards on the walls I could have sat at home and read in a book. Ditto their portraits. There were lots of glass cases containing early (sometimes first) editions of their books.

But it got more interesting with more personal things like their actual handwritten letters - Maria Edgeworth's impeccably neat handwriting was striking, for example. Several authors' typewriters. Quite a lot on Brendan Behan (eg letters from prison, his union card, his press pass) as the museum had put together a special display last year to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

James Joyce came from a very musical family. This was his piano.

The publicity for the museum highlights Ireland's four Nobel literature prize winners - Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney (but not Joyce, refer footnote) - but what struck me most forcibly was the breadth of the Irish literary corpus or tradition, even without Gaelic or living authors. That's in part because I am largely oblivious to poetry, which forms such an important part of Irish literature.

The museum is housed in one of the old Georgian mansions for which Dublin is famous. They reckon it dates from 1780, but its present interior appearance is the work of Manchester architect Alfred Darbyshire, who redesigned the house around 1891 - 1895 for its then owner, George Jameson, of the Jameson whiskey family, who owned it until 1914.

By the time I had finished here it was unfortunately too late to visit the nearby James Joyce Centre.

In the evening I went to a concert given by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. (RTÉ stands for Raidió Teilifís Éireann, and is Ireland's National Public Service Broadcaster, the Irish equivalent of the ABC in Australia)

The concert took place in the National Concert Hall, and given my experience working at the Aotea Centre in Auckland, I was almost as interested in the building as in the music. Originally built for the Dublin International Exhibition of 1865, the structure was converted into the central building of University College Dublin at the foundation of the National University of Ireland in 1908. When UCD began to relocate to a new campus in the 1960s, part of the building was converted, and reopened as the NCH in 1981. It has nearly as many steps as the Sydney Opera House, but here they are carpeted!

The main auditorium isn't as big as the City Recital Hall in Sydney, but it is comfortable and attractive, although spoiled by banks of theatrical lighting and speaker boxes hanging everywhere. I suspect the acoustics are deadened a little to suit the orchestra's primary rôIe as a radio broadcaster.

National Concert Hall

I enjoyed the Brahms Symphony No. 4, although the 36-year-old conductor's tempi in the 3rd movement were a bit brisk for my taste. Mozart's 'Exsultate, Jubilate' was surprisingly good, surprising only because of my prejudice that no one could match Norma Burrowes' performance at a wedding in Holywood in our student days!

But I'm afraid the Richard Strauss 'Rosenkavalier' scene isn't my cup of tea - three sopranos competing with each other and with a big orchestra to make the most noise. Not to mention that one of the sops (Celine Byrne - any relation?), dressed as a man, was required to spend much of her time caressing one of the other sopranos. Obviously the control of the Church over public morality in Ireland isn't what it used to be!


Quote from Wikipedia - "Nobel's choice of emphasis on idealism in his criteria for the Nobel Prize in Literature has led to recurrent controversy. In the original Swedish, the word idealisk translates as either "idealistic" or "ideal". In the early twentieth century, the Nobel Committee interpreted the intent of the will strictly. For this reason, they did not award certain world-renowned authors of the time such as James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Marcel Proust, Henrik Ibsen, and Henry James. More recently, the wording has been more liberally interpreted. Thus, the prize is now awarded both for lasting literary merit and for evidence of consistent idealism on some significant level. In recent years, this means a kind of idealism championing human rights on a broad scale. Hence the award is now arguably more political."

In his book 'Celtic Dawn: a Portrait of the Irish Literary Renaissance', Ulick O'Connor offers a slightly different explanation, saying that Joyce "would almost certainly have received the Nobel Prize for Literature, had he not died in Zurich in 1941 when no award was being made owing to the war".

O'Casey on Joyce: "Joyce, for all his devotion to his art, terrible in its austerity, was a lad born with a song on one side of him, a dance on the other — two gay guardian angels every human ought to have." (Sunset and Evening Star, the chapter entitled Shaw's Corner)


National Concert Hall

National Concert Hall

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In