Ireland has a rich literary history that stretches back to 800 A.D. to the Book of Kells, one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world. The city of Dublin, which is very proud of its own literary heritage, was designated a City of Literature by UNESCO in 2010, joining previous designees Edinburgh, Scotland, Melbourne, Australia, and Iowa City, Iowa.
The Visit Dublin tourism site has a whole page dedicated to Literary Dublin tours and attractions. For those with literary inclinations there is the James Joyce Center, Oscar Wilde’s house, the birthplaces of Bram Stoker and George Bernard Shaw, and statues of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Oliver Goldsmith scattered throughout the city. All men, I couldn’t help but notice. There are also milk and cookie storytelling sessions for families with children, and literary pub crawls for grownups.
The city also boasts a specialty museum that features the lives and works of those writers who have made significant contributions to Irish literature or the literature of Dublin. It has manuscripts, pictures, letters, and other items from male writers like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, and Oscar Wilde, as well as female writers like Maria Edgeworth (a significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe), dramatist and folklorist Lady Gregory, short-story writer and novelist Mary Lavin, poet Mary Tighe, novelist and playwright Kate O’Brien, and short-story and journalist Maeve Brennan.
It is a Serious Museum, featuring Serious Writers, and not a little depressing. Probably because there is not a single romance writer in the bunch.
After my visit to the museum, I made a Serious Effort to uncover some Irish romance writers during the rest of my trip to balance things out. I thought surely I’d have success at Hodges Figgis, the mother of all Dublin bookstores with books on every conceivable subject, spread over three huge floors.
Unfortunately, this is what their romance section looked like. Three shelves front and back, with about 200 books in total. Sad, really. Surprising too, since in Ireland, just like here, book purchasing and library lending statistics show the romance genre is going strong. It’s enough to drive a person to drink. Thank goodness for all the whiskey.
Ireland does, in fact, have a number of romance writers, including Claudia Carroll, Abby Green, Trish Wylie, Lynne Graham (author of over 60 romance novels), and Elizabeth Hoy (author of over 70 romance novels) to name a few. Perhaps they could go in their own museum, along with other popular female Irish writers like Maeve Binchy (her death was mourned as the passing of Ireland’s best-loved and most recognizable writer), Patricia Scanlan (in Ireland alone she has to date sold over one million copies of her books), Cathy Kelly (one of the most successful female authors to come out of Ireland since Maeve Binchy), and Cecelia Aherne (her first novel at age 21 was P.S., I Love You).
That would be “don’t miss” attraction on my list.
Do you have any favorite Irish authors or favorite books set in Ireland? I’m still in an Ireland frame of mind, so I’m looking for suggestions.