Joyce, O’Casey, Beckett – you can’t even cross the Liffey without acknowledging Dublin’s literary heritage in the names of its bridges.
The ubiquitous blue plaques marking writers’ birthplaces and residences are in such abundance, we can lose sight of how spoiled we are for old haunts of the literary greats: Wittgenstein on Parkgate Street, Bernard Shaw on Synge Street, Bram Stoker on Marino Crescent – even the Irish Writers’ Centre on Parnell Square.
So yes, for a thorough literary tour, there is the option to get out the map and go wandering. Make a Yeatsian pilgrimage to Sandymount Avenue to the house where William Butler was born.
Travel south a bit along the coast to see the Martello Tower where Joyce spent six nights in 1904, before Oliver St John Gogarty fired a gun in his direction, prompting not only Joyce’s swift exit, but also the opening scene of Ulysses.
At Merrion Square, see Oscar Wilde’s statue recline on a rock, looking off in the direction of his birthplace on Westland Row.
Or cross the river up to Mountjoy Square, where Sean O’Casey once lived in a tenement house and soaked up the atmosphere he would reproduce in the Plough and the Stars. This being only one of O’Casey’s six Dublin homes, you could base a literary tour here on him alone.
A Beckett fan would make their journey out of town, far from any dismal garret, to his birthplace on Foxrock’s leafy Brighton Road.
And then there are the Dublin addresses that are inextricable from Joyce: the ‘Dead’ House on Usher’s Quay where the famous story was set, and No.7 Eccles Street, where Leopold Bloom relished his breakfast of kidneys.
Or you could place yourself in the hands of a learned storyteller.
Every single night, as the city empties of office workers, Colm Quilligan, with one other actor, puts on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Beginning in The Duke pub, it is an engaging piece of street theatre with nods to many of our city’s literary heroes.
The night Dublin.ie attends, Quilligan is joined by television and theatre actor Frank Smith. About fifteen tourists have gathered, mainly from the US and UK, butterfly-sipping from glasses of stout. A pub-crawl it may be, but drinking is somewhat beside the point. This is a rapid-fire journey through the literary history of Dublin.
Quilligan introduces himself and Smyth as “not literary experts but enthusiasts”, more entertainment than academia, and yet we soon know we are in capable hands.
To warm us up, Quilligan sings a few verses of The Waxies’ Dargle and then the duo don bowler hats and do a short vibrant scene from Waiting for Godot. Quilligan tells us about the history of Duke Street, how its pubs were frequented by James Joyce and James Stephens and then later Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Myles na gCopaleen.
We hear how The Bailey next door became the home of the door of No 7 Eccles Street, “a great literary relic” from the pages of Ulysses. It was rescued from a skip when the house itself was torn down and once instated in the Bailey, Patrick Kavanagh declared the door ‘shut’ on Bloomsday in 1967.
I decided to put it on a continuous footing doing it three times a week in the summer months, and it took off straight away. People responded to the idea of the pub, the poet and the pint, and the live element, the indoor/outdoor aspect
And then off we go, down Dawson Street. We’re reminded that up the road is Finn’s Hotel where Joyce pursued his great love Nora. In Trinity College, we stop on the steps of the theatre on Parliament Square beside a Snapchatting student who makes way for our little crowd. Here, we are beguiled with stories of Trinity graduates: Smith acts out a despatch from a bemused Oscar Wilde on going down the mines in Leadville, USA. Then Quilligan softly recites some poetry from Michael Longley and Eavan Boland, and everyone leans in. A security guard walks past, half-listening.
Then more pubs and more history. We soon find ourselves at the steps of St Andrew’s Church on Suffolk Street. People climb up and rub Molly Malone’s bosom for luck before gathering to watch the duo perform a scene from James Plunkett’s great novel of Dublin life, Strumpet City. Smyth and Quilligan pass lines between them like a gift.
Quilligan as Rashers Tierney sings The Parting Glass, and stops passers-by in their tracks. A man attempts to film it, and is chided. This is to be enjoyed in the here and now. It’s enchanting to see Dublin like this, through the eyes of a visitor, all charm. We end our tour, two hours later at the ‘moral pub’, Davy Byrne’s, where Leopold Bloom ordered his gorgonzola sandwich.
Afterwards, Colm Quilligan tells Dublin.ie that he was a history graduate and working in theatre when in 1988, he became involved in a Dublin Millennium event that would change his life. Another student “was going to bring people from pub to pub where writers went. Myself and another actor jumped in with a couple of the performances, and that kind of turned the thing upside down and made it sort of actor-driven,” he says. “I decided to put it on a continuous footing doing it three times a week in the summer months, and it took off straight away. People responded to the idea of the pub, the poet and the pint, and the live element, the indoor/outdoor aspect.”
Quilligan “put all my savings into starting the business on a stronger footing. Matt McNulty, who was Director General of Failte Ireland, saw a literary pub crawl as a lively street way, a very direct way, of giving the language to people who came in from abroad. So he got behind the idea as well.”
Now 20,000 people go on the literary crawl every year, a total of 600,000 people since its inception. And copycat crawls have sprung up in Brooklyn, London and Edinburgh. “They all got the idea from us originally. Dublin Literary Pub Crawl was the first one to do it. Our one is there 29 years.”