Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dublin Writers Museum

Whatever you think you know about Irish literature, you’re sure to find something to astound and delight you at the Dublin Writers Museum. Dublin is famous as a city of writers and literature, and the Dublin Writers Museum is an essential visit for anyone who wants to discover, explore, or simply enjoy Dublin's immense literary heritage.

The idea of a Dublin Writers Museum was originated by the journalist and author Maurice Gorham (1902 - 1975), who proposed it to Dublin Tourism. Opened in November 1991 at No 18, Parnell Square, the museum occupies an original eighteenth-century house, which accommodates the museum rooms, library, gallery and administration area. The annexe behind it has a coffee shop and bookshop on the ground floor and exhibition and lecture rooms on the floors above. The Irish Writers' Centre, next door in No 19, contains the meeting rooms and offices of the Irish Writers' Union, the Society of Irish Playwrights, the Irish Children's Book Trust and the Translators' Association of Ireland. The basement beneath both houses is occupied by the Chapter One restaurant.

The Museum was established to promote interest, through its collection, displays and activities, in Irish literature as a whole and in the lives and works of individual Irish writers. On a national level it acts as a centre, simultaneously pulling together the strands of Irish literature and complementing the smaller, more detailed museums devoted to individuals like Joyce, Shaw, Yeats and Pearse.

In the two Museum Rooms is presented a history of Irish literature from its beginnings up to recent times. The panels describe the various phases, movements and notable names, while the showcases and pictures illustrate the lives and works of individual writers. Room 1 takes the story through to the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the Literary Revival. Room 2 is entirely devoted to the great writers of the twentieth century. Living writers, even those who have already established their place in history, are not included in the display.

At the top of the grand staircase is the Gorham Library with its Stapleton ceiling. Here is kept the Museum's reserve of books, including rare and first editions and critical works. There are also displays of volumes from special collections. Next to the Library is the salon, known as The Gallery of Writers. This splendidly decorated room, with its portraits and busts of Irish writers, is used for receptions, exhibitions and special occasions.

The Museum Collection is as fascinating as it is various. As might be expected, there are plenty of books, representing the milestones in the progress of Irish literature from Gulliver's Travels to Dracula, The Importance of Being Earnest, Ulysses and Waiting for Godot. Most of these are first or early editions, recapturing the moment when they first surprised the world. There are books inscribed to Oliver Gogarty by W.B. Yeats and to Brinsley MacNamara by James Joyce, while a first edition of Patrick Kavanagh's 'The Great Hunger' includes in the poet's own hand a stanza which the prudish publisher declined to print.

Among the pens, pipes and typewriters there are some particularly curious personal possessions - Lady Gregory's lorgnette, Austin Clarke's desk, Samuel Beckett's telephone, Mary Lavin's teddy bear, Oliver Gogarty's laurels and Brendan Behan's union card, complete with fingerprints - and such exotic intrusions as Handel's chair and a silver tazza decorated with scenes from the work of Burns.

The Museum acknowledges the generosity of many institutions and private individuals who have lent or given material for display or for reproduction. Support by the public in the form of gifts, loans or sponsorship will enable the collection to grow to the extent where displays can be rotated, material lent out for exhibitions in other venues, and sufficient resources accumulated to supply information on all aspects of Irish literature. While the Museum does not guarantee to accept or display everything that it is offered, it welcomes any contribution which helps it to achieve its aim.

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