Dublin’s Rich Literary Heritage

Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Dublin’s rich literary heritage can be traced through the many fine buildings still standing in this great city.

Probably the most famous is the Abbey Theatre on Marlborough Street. It was built by Miss A.E. Horniman of Manchester, England, who was a friend and admirer of Irish poet and playwright, W.B. Yeats, to provide a permanent home for the Fays’ National Theatre Co., which had been producing his plays. The theatre incorporated the hall of the Mechanics’ Institute in Abbey Street and an adjacent building and it opened in 1904 with productions of Yeats’ On Baile’s Strand and Lady Gregory‘s Spreading the News. The site had previously been occupied by the old Theatre Royal, which had burned down in 1880.

The theatre’s first directors were Yeats himself and his lifelong friend and the inspiration of so many of his splendid poems, Lady Gregory. Dramatists whose plays were to make the Abbey Theatre famous all over the world include: John Synge, Sean O’Casey and Lennox Robinson. Robinson succeeded Yeats as manager in 1910 and became the theatre’s director in 1923.

In 1951 the theatre burned down and the company played in the Queen’s Theatre until the rebuilt Abbey was opened in 1966.

The great cathedral of St. Patrick‘s in Patrick Street was restored between the years 1864 and 1869. The original church was rebuilt in 1191 on the site of a pre-Norman church and was granted cathedral status in 1213. The grave of Jonathan Swift is in the south aisle and Swift’s own Latin epigraph, along with a translation by Yeats and lines by Alexander Pope, is over the door of the robing-room.

St. Patrick’s hospital in Bow Lane, James Street, has an interesting collection of Swift memorabilia. The hospital, now a psychiatric centre, was founded by Sift in 1749.

Charlemont House, in Palace Row, on the north side of Parnell Square, was formerly the mansion of the Earl of Charlemont. Since 1930 it has functioned as the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art and features paintings by “AE” (George William Russell), Lady Gregory and Douglas Hyde. In Yeats’ poem, “The Municipal Gallery Re-visited,” he wrote: …. come to this hallowed place

Where my friends’ portraits hang and look thereon;

Ireland’s history in their lineaments trace;

The poem is on sale in the gallery bookshop.

One of the first public libraries in the British Isles, and the first in Ireland, was built in 1701 by Archbishop Marsh in St. Patrick’s Close, Dublin. There are four main collections consisting of 25,000 books from the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. One of the most interesting is the library of Edward Stillingfleet (1635-99), Bishop of Worcester, which contains books printed by some of the earliest English printers. There are also over 300 manuscripts, including a volume of the Lives of the Saints (circa 1400), in Latin. A small book of Elizabethan poetry contains a poem to Queen Elizabeth by Sir Walter Raleigh. Here also are many mementoes of Jonathan Swift, who was once governor of the library. His copy of Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion, with many notations, is here along with his death mask and the table at which he wrote Gulliver’s Travelsand The Drapier’s Letters.

The only building of greater literary significance than Marsh’s Library is Trinity College in College Green. It was founded in 1592 by Elizabeth l and was a Protestant establishment from which Catholics were excluded until 1793.

Facing the college is the library, dating from 1712, and housing Ireland’s greatest collection of books, manuscripts and historical papers. Included in the many treasures are the Book of Durrowand the Book of Kells, both famous eighth century illuminated gospel books. The Book of Kells is supposedly from the monastery of Kells, County Meath, but it may have been compiled at St. Columbia’s monastery at Iona.

The Catholic counterpart of Trinity College is University College, Belfield, five kilometres southeast of Dublin’s core. The college is part of the National University of Ireland, which traces its origin to the Catholic University of 1851. John Henry Newman was the first rector and the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, was Classics professor from 1884-9.

The National Gallery in Merrion Square was erected in memory of William Dargan (1799-1867) who was a benefactor of the arts. Playwright George Bernard Shaw, whose statue by Troubetzkoy stands near the entrance, bequeathed one third of his estate to the gallery. The National Gallery includes portraits of Irish writers James Joyce, George Moore, James Stephens and W.B. Yeats.

Finally, the Royal Irish Academy, Academy House, 19 Dawson Street, is Ireland’s foremost-learned society. The library houses a noteworthy collection of Irish manuscripts including the Cathac, a sixth to seventh century manuscript of the Psalter, possibly by St. Columcille; Lebor na Huidre, the Book of the Dun Cow, an 11th-12th century codex (a stitched manuscript) and the StoweMissal, a Mass book from about the eighth or ninth century.

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